Can You Save Money With The Circular Economy?
You might have heard the term “circular economy” when reading one of those articles about families who only generate one small bag of rubbish per year, or who haven’t bought anything other than food for the last six months. That level of eco warrior-dom might seem out of reach for most of us, but what if we told you the circular economy could save you – and everyone – money, as well as saving the planet?
Let’s get back to basics. Right now, the human race is operating in a linear pattern of take-make-waste. We take our diminishing natural resources, make stuff out of them that soon breaks or goes out of fashion, then dispose of those things, adding to the toxic landfill dumps that are poisoning our children’s planet.
The circular model re-purposes the market according to the mantra RE-USE, RE-NEW, RE-CYCLE. Just like in nature, where things eternally grow, get used as fuel for other growing things, die and return to the earth as fertilizer for the next cycle of growth. We can easily frame this as an economic system because for us modern humans, our way of life is all about money, production and power.
The circular economy is about never buying a new tumble dryer again. Instead, it’s about getting it fixed and doing so in a way that also benefits big business, so maintains healthy financial markets. According to some of the forward-thinking economists working on this new world order, global manufacturing companies could work together to take back their broken stuff and either fix it or re-purpose its components, leasing back to you - the woman with the broken tumble dryer - a machine that works.
It’s an ambitious plan, not least because it means we have to re-think the whole concept of ownership: what if all our stuff were not really ours, but only borrowed from the manufacturers? It might sound insecure at first, but if it meant we never had to buy new stuff again but could get all our favourite things fixed and updated, wouldn’t that feel good? And of course it ties into the truth we all know (and see on inspirational fridge magnets so often that we can’t forget), that we are only looking after the world for the next generation.
So will the circular economy work? It’s not enough to say “well it works in nature, it must be good”. After all, it’s no good feeling smug about saving the planet if your children are wearing cereal boxes on their feet instead of shoes. But millions of eco-minded people (us included!) are giving it a try and finding that yes, this new way of shopping can really save you money.
We often talk here about changing small daily habits to see a big saving over the course of a year. You’re probably sick of us banging on about how that Starbucks habit of yours could translate into thousands of pounds for your pension pot. But it’s true! Now think of all the things you pay for out of your monthly living expenses that could go circular. Here are our top three:
Books – most of them we read only once, so it’s mad to buy them new (apart from the Vestpod book of course!). Use your local library for free – they can get any book in print, you know. Or buy second hand, either online or in a real, gorgeous actual bookshop where you might make serendipitous literary discoveries and even make new friends.
Clothes – fast fashion is seriously wasteful. Stella McCartney is spearheading a campaign to deal with this – check out her inspiring website to learn more about how the means of clothes production is broken and in need of a global, fully joined-up fix. Kids clothing is one of the most harmful markets because of how often we need to buy new sizes, so it’s mad – economically and ecologically – not to buy second hand.
Make friends with your local charity shop (literally - if you get to know them they’ll phone you when the next Prada bag comes in). It’s not just grubby old 70’s tat in these places anymore, and upmarket pre-loved shops like Mary’s Living and Giving, Traid and numerous independent used designer clothes stores are full of awesome finds. Especially if you go to a branch in a wealthy neighbourhood...
Oh, and you know how your local dry cleaner has that person sitting at a sewing machine with huge spools of thread in the window? Use them! Fix your old clothes, re-heel those winter boots, and get second hand clothes made into bespoke designs that you will love forever.
Food – reducing food waste saves you hundreds of pounds a year, and it can be done easily enough by sitting down and working out what you’re actually going to cook before you do the weekly shop. But for fruit, veg and meat, don’t be tempted to buy that big plastic multi-pack if you know from experience that half of it will go in the bin. Or at least put it on Olio: a mobile app for food-sharing, aiming to reduce food waste. It does this by connecting those with surplus food to those who need or wish to consume such food.
We think it makes sense to embrace the circular economy, both for the long-term health of the planet, and for your own financial wellbeing. Ultimately, even the biggest, richest global companies will have to get with the program as a way to stay solvent, because the resources they are using now will run out.
Yes, it’s hard to change your shopping habits. Buying stuff is the new religion and is (unfortunately) tightly bound up with our sense of status and self-value. We know that shiny new treats are lovely, but when you’re thinking of splashing out on that new pair of shoes or glossy coffee-table book, just take a moment to visualize it sitting squashed, sad and grubby in the bin in a couple of years’ time. We bet there’s a less temporary treat that could make you feel better for longer, and save you money too. Go on - give it a try!