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So what is the Circular Economy anyway?!

At Switch you'll hear us talking about building circular products for a circular world. It can be a little inside baseball at times we know, but we also believe it is where the world is heading, and part of our job in advancing that world is to talk about it, familiarize people with the concepts, and hopefully be a small part of shifting (Switching?) the way other people see the world.

In short, the Circular Economy is the idea that rather than designing for obsolescence, (making objects that will one day outlive their usefulness and get tossed), we design for end of life thoughtfully in a way that allows us to recover materials instead of throwing them away (and as Nic is fond of saying, there's no such place as away!). Ideally we design objects that are made to be reused and have lifespans that outlive us, but where you will need to eventually replace something, keeping those materials out of the Earth and useful is key. The simplest analogy I know (and I'm open to suggestion here) is we as humans inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Trees absorb that same CO2 and produce oxygen. It's a cycle where there's no waste and everyone is better off as a result.


The alternative, where we are now, is a linear economy. Materials are created, they're used to make something that eventually reaches the end of its life and enters a waste stream, most likely never to be seen again.

 

We didn't come up with this idea of course. The Wikipedia entry is dense, and cites sources back to the mid Sixties, but for me it began with Cradle to Cradle that my friend Austin turned me onto. The authors, William McDonough and Michael Braungart came out of architecture and chemical engineering respectively, but put forward a point of view on how we could design for end of life the way we currently design for use, and in doing so become better stewards of the Earth and the materials we've already pulled out of it.

The Upcycle is the sequel to the book, written after a decade of putting the ideas contained in Cradle into practice, and takes the ideas one step further to where the design of objects and the world around us becomes a method for improving our lives and the planet at the same time. Sure, it's heady stuff, but once you start seeing the world in this way it's impossible to go back.

 

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation are also an enormous source of inspiration in this field and do a great job demystifying a lot of these concepts. In this video Ellen unpacks the above diagram and talks about how to move beyond beyond our linear world to a circular future.


A weird thing happens to you when you start seeing the world this way, or at least it happened to me. I went down a rabbit hole of wanting to know where and how products were recycled, wanted to know why more things weren't re-used, and it ultimately led us along the path Nic and I were on to starting Switch. We're under no illusion that we've got it all figured out, but we do know that starting to try to change the world is the most important step we can take.


After all we can't switch planets, so let's Switch everything else.

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