Kick starting the circular economy
By Darren Patterson
This is the third article in a series about councils and the circular economy. In the previous two, I challenged cites (and districts) as to who would be the first to embrace the circular economy and where they could find the funds to do this.
Typically, councils in New Zealand only manage around 30% of the waste stream and that tends to be waste produced by householders. The vast majority of waste is produced and managed by the private sector, so it’s tricky for councils to directly influence these waste producers. However, there are still plenty of ways that councils can help to reduce waste within their district and encourage a shift towards a circular economy. This article highlights a few of those.
REUSE AND REPAIR
A number of councils provide reuse shops where items that have been dropped off at the transfer stations are repaired and then sold. This not only gives the item a second life, but also creates local employment and generates income to make it self-sustaining.
In Sweden, this has been taken to new level; a shopping mall has been opened selling only used and repurposed goods.
In Scotland, there is the Edinburgh Remakery, a social enterprise that repairs and sells ‘waste’ products and runs workshops to teach people how to repair their own broken products. This is a great way to reduce the “buy, damage, replace” paradigm that we currently live in.
In New Zealand, The Formary runs “On the Mend” workshops, teaching people how to repair clothes and material products to address “fast fashion” and reduce the amount of fabric waste sent to our landfills.
Matching the repair skills of our reuse stores with the needs and desires of the public to learn how to repair things can make these facilities more than just buildings that provide waste services. They can become community hubs that deliver much much more: learning opportunities, social opportunities, employment and resilience.
Within our communities there are many people with great ideas; a lack of funding is generally the only thing stopping them from realising their vision. These can be individuals, community groups, social enterprises or businesses.
A number of councils already have contestable funds where these ideas can find the support they need. Auckland Council has its successful Waste Minimisation and Innovation Fund, as do the Wellington and Canterbury councils. There are also other organisations that provide funding in this area such as SIFT in Canterbury.
All over the country (and there are too many to list) individuals and community groups are rescuing thousands of tonnes of unwanted food from cafes, restaurants and supermarkets, and redistributing it to those in need. Many of these operations are run on good will and donations yet provide a huge service in reducing the amount of food waste that is sent to landfill as well as meeting a critical social need. These organisations are an important cog in the circular economy and would benefit significantly from greater financial support.
PRODUCT STEWARDSHIP PROGRAMMES
One of the key components of any circular economy are product stewardship programmes. Providing seed funding and support to get these off the ground to become self-sustaining is essential for any council who wants to divert unwanted goods from being waste to becoming a resource
Education is vital for the circular economy to succeed and what’s more, it’s ongoing. But education can’t be a series of pamphlets put on display or included with the latest rate demand, only to immediately become part of the waste stream without being read. Research, and the human experience, shows that knowing something is beneficial doesn’t mean we do it! It needs to be a series of ongoing targeted behaviour change programmes that engage the audience and create action, whether that is at the public, community or industry level.
The options I have outlined here are by no means exhaustive; they are just some of the things that councils could do within their communities to promote a circular economy.
Your local council may be doing some or all of these. If they’re not, the important thing is to encourage them to start!