• Mark Strong

circular economies

A diagram of three different kinds of production economy, from linear consumerism to sustainable circular
Credit: R/fittingroom

I took a business class recently and learned about how operations get funding for eco-friendly ventures. While it isn't quite enough to simply have some recycle bins on premises, there is money set aside for projects that promote reduced waste and creative processes for materials that are normally thrown away. I remember talking about all of this with my mom and she had never heard about circular economies. The EPA defines a circular economy as production model that "reduces material use, redesigns materials to be less resource intensive, and recaptures waste as a resource to manufacture new materials and products." The pic on the right is simplistic, but illustrates three economies of production.

This is a rarity

Clothing sits squarely in the dreadful linear economy. An abysmal 3% of clothing gets recycled, so SKTL clothing swaps and secondhand use are pretty much the best way to disrupt that economy. One primary difference between a recycling economy and a circular one is the amount of new materials needed. New aluminum cans and car parts are made up of 75% recycled material and doing that costs merely 5% the energy it does to make new aluminum. That is much closer to closing the production loop than, say, plastic bottles, which reuse under 10% plastic and saves 25% of the energy.

In the context of SKTL: tools are donated into our stream, get used as much as possible, and repaired or scrapped when broken so that useful parts live on to be used. Our model is a lot more circular than buying things new and throwing them away before they get used to their potential. Our famous Repair Cafes (next one 8/20) are another great example of SKTL being pro-circular economy.

The examples have probably led you to the same conclusion: the above three paradigms are more of a spectrum, and that even the best recycling still produces waste. In summer of 2021, we had a class about a closed-loop kitchen, where fruit scraps combined with herbs can make flavorful extracts. You still ultimately have to throw out the food, but these items have been twice-used and that cuts down on the (in)TAKE part of the stream. If you've boiled a chicken or turkey carcass to make broth, that's another example. For an extreme case, I recently came across the video below! Gross, but how plentiful is that intake stream?