In 2022, the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts, from the York University’s Ecological Footprint Initiative, estimated that if all human beings lived like US residents, we would need 5.1 Earths. “Reduce, reuse, recycle” is the mantra many strive to live our lives by. Sure, we do our best to responsibly discard waste, by recycling, and dutifully collecting our green waste for composting. But what about our consumption of Earth’s resources which dramatically depletes the planet, while generating more waste? How to tweak our ways of living while preserving the sacrosanct convenience we want in our lives?
I have written in past about circular micro-economies such as Buy Nothing and Freecycle which allow for donating goods to one another, without financial or bartering considerations. Let’s dig into an innovative large-scale solution where goods can serve many lifetimes.
Dr. Garry Cooper, neuroscientist, entrepreneur, CEO, and co-founder of Rheaply, a climate tech company, started noticing that within his workspace, people were not aware of excess or unused lab material or furniture that could be used by others, avoiding the need to buy new. What he recognized as “double-waste”, or the unnecessary expenditure of energy, pollution, transportation and purchases, made him think of developing a system of “exchange of value” where a need would be matched to a resource. This system would be at the opposite end of our well-known and widespread linear economy: extract, manufacture, transport, purchase, use, throw away. Hence, a structured circular economy would design products with their end-of-life or reusability in mind, catalog them to facilitate finding a destination for their second or third life, and avoid losing such resources. Cell phones and more recently, electric vehicles, are already made heavily using recycled or recyclable components and metals; it would be a widening of the practice to many more spheres of our economy. Jobs could be created through the need to assess an item’s condition and refurbish it for its next life.
San Francisco is currently running a pilot of the program with 200 businesses participating, along with the strong support from a set of city ordinances facilitating and encouraging its implementation.
Steps to protect our planet are often impeded by political agendas, misinformation, and fear of being sued. Yet, Dr. Cooper’s initiative is one that will create jobs, while denting the impact of our heavy consumerism ways that is suffocating Earth.