We are the “inner circle” of the circular economy

We were privileged to get a slot at TEDx Brixton in July and we thought we would try to  say something that has been on our minds for a while.

The global conversation for sustainability in manufacturing is shifting to the “circular economy”, like at Davos, where the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has promoted the concept and the opportunities for companies in this field. Up until now, the focus of the circular economy has been primarily on design products for easier disassembling and recycling – the outer circle – which implies creating a closed loop of materials and in the case of electronics, recovering metals in our gadgets.

This is something only feasible at scale, something the big companies can profit from. The mainstream activities of the outer circle of the circular economy – shredding and melting — are very energy intensive, and the jury is out about how efficient they are. But more importantly, this kind of “outer circle” is hard for people to relate to on a human scale.

The “inner circles” of repair and reuse seem to have been fairly mute in these public discussions on the “circular economy”. For us, these are the circles where we can approach a future economy on a human scale: making sure that the products we buy are more repairable, long-lasting by focusing on creating local opportunities flourish for repair, reuse and refurbishing. This is where we can transform our reality.

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What we are throwing away

Our e-stuff is a goldmine. Recently the United Nations University and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) estimated that electronic waste now contains precious metal “deposits” 40 to 50 times richer than ores mined from the ground. Annually $16 billion in gold is built into our electronics and at least 85% is not recovered – lost forever.

WRAP estimates that in the UK, between now and 2020, 3 million tonnes of IT equipment, consumer electronics and display screens will be disposed.

This is roughly the weight of 30,000 Routemaster buses EACH YEAR.

According to WRAP, at least 25% of this waste could be reused.

But statistics are often abstractions. What actually happens on the ground? What does this look like? We visited Camden’s waste disposal and recycling site at Regis Road earlier this month.

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