A CIRCULAR ECONOMY – THE UNDOING OF CONSUMERISM – SELYCIA CURWEN

Image: Mathieu Stern (Unsplash)

Consumerism by and large has contributed to economic growth in the current linear economy. This “take-make-waste” model has now led to a problem of overconsumption, overproduction and of course, waste. To give some perspective and context, more phones exist than people, all the plastic ever produced since the 1940s still exists, and it is suggested that 99% of goods purchased are discarded within six months without the material thereof ever being recovered. Let’s consider this overproduction problem through an analogy of bathwater. What does one do when they run a bath and the water starts overflowing? Use buckets to empty the bath? No, you simply turn off the tap. The water here represents the goods and waste produced. A circular economy is thus “redefining”  production and consumption into a more sustainable and socially responsible economic model, by turning off the tap and using as much of the “water” available as possible. No overflow, no waste. 

Consumerism is a direct result of capitalism; a for-profit political and economic model driven by private partners. Consumerism encourages the accumulation of goods to feed the belief that the more you own, the happier you will be. The most pressing consequence of this overconsumption and the resulting waste is climate change. But, the responsibility to combat this issue does not fall on the individual alone. Only 100 companies are said to be responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions. The top 10 companies are in the fossil fuel industry, namely coal and oil. Businesses and corporations need the individual to purchase their goods in order to make a profit. Naturally then, once they were exposed for their environmental wrongdoings, their marketing campaigns and business models changed; sometimes for the wrong reasons. BP, a fossil fuel giant, was accused of “greenwashing” by misleading the public with the impression that they are transitioning to cleaner energy. The motive being, to maintain or maybe even increase sales while masking their true environmental damage.  

Africa is hit the hardest when it comes to climate change and experiences dumping and resource extraction as a result of the linear economy and consumerism. The circular economy could undo this. It aims to design waste out of the production process and recycle, remanufacture, and repurpose products in order to conserve the Earth’s finite resources. Yet, as more developed countries are aiming to rely less on raw materials, it is a concern for developing countries as they could be eliminated from the supply chain almost completely. Furthermore, developing nations have less access to the knowledge and technology that would make a circular economy possible. Be that as it may, many African countries have already experienced resource deficits and have developed innovative ways to use what is available to them. These methods could prove advantageous for developed countries who may adopt certain aspects in exchange for labour relations and contracts. For example, Ghana connects stakeholders and encourages partnerships to provide waste management data and reduce policy implementation gaps through their Waste recovery Platform. Thus, inclusivity in the circular economy should be at the top of the agenda to ensure the safeguarding of the well-being and growth of developing nations. 

Admittedly, this model is not perfect. A circular economy could potentially have an adverse effect on manufacturers who would need to overhaul their processes of design, logistics, and waste recycling. Consideration will need to be given to the quality of products. Plastic for example, becomes brittle after being recycled too many times, therefore the materials used will need to be designed to last. In order for these ideas and solutions to come to fruition and have a circular economy be fully functional, transformational and reform policies will be at the forefront. In developed nations such as Spain, France, and Sweden policies such as energy efficiency standards, recycling targets, and emissions trading are being implemented. They do, however, need strengthening. 

There are countless other factors involved in making a circular economy possible. With this, it will take many years, perhaps decades before the damage done by the linear economy can begin to be reversed. Major strides in the right direction have already been made by companies, individuals, developed, and developing nations alike. It starts with informed decision making of purchases at an individual level, fair and ethical practices at the corporate level, and inclusivity in policy formulation in the national and international arena. COVID-19 has shown us that it is possible to bring about swift change, especially environmental, if all actors participate and work together. It is now necessary to keep the momentum going and make as many improvements as possible, every day for a more sustainable future. 

Selycia considers herself a jack of all trades, with her interests and abilities widespread. She wants to pursue as many of them as she can in her lifetime. She believes life is not meant to be a straight “normal” line but a beautiful journey of segues. Selycia is one of the permanent writers on The Art of Politics team.

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