The Circular Economy focuses on using what already exists or creating new products that will last for a long time. Going circular requires a shift in mindset for businesses and consumers. But the implications go far beyond the individual.
At a time where our planet desperately needs us to adapt and evolve, we have never been better placed to do so. As an individual it doesn’t have to mean radical change, it’s about adopting principles we already use in our everyday lives. Stopping to think before we buy, do we need to own this? Is there a way we can own less but potentially ‘have’ more?
But before we understand where we’re going, we need to recognise where we’re coming from and take stock of why ownership means so much to us.
“I would prefer to buy my son his first bike”. This is what a friend of mine said to me at a pub a few months ago during a conversation we were having about The Pedal Club. He wasn’t trying to disparage my business and similarly I didn’t take offence. I know the service won’t suit everyone and that buying your son his first bike is a special shared experience. That was something I understand and empathise with.
Days later and upon reflection I started asking myself why? Why did his comment resonate with me so much? What makes what he said so relatable? His son doesn’t know who actually owns the bike. All his son knows is that the bike is his, he’s been given the bike and that’s all that matters. This is of course because children don’t actually own anything, everything they have is owned by their parents. Nevertheless, they still have a sense of ownership, we can all hear a child screaming “That’s mine!” whilst wrestling over a toy with a sibling or a friend.
We still hold onto this notion or sense of ownership into our adult life. It’s seemingly so deep rooted in our psyche that when someone mentions they want to buy something for their child we can relate without hesitation. Subliminally, we conform to the idea of actual ownership being a prerequisite of having something to use as your own.
Let’s break it down for a second. My friend’s son is nearly 2 years old. His first bike will most likely last a year, possibly 18 months before he’s too big for it and needs a new one. So is there really any benefit of owning it? If my friend merely adopted the same sense of ownership that his son does and subscribed to a bike from The Pedal Club instead of buying one, would he or his son be any worse off? Possibly not.
When you ask someone whether they use, need or even want most of the stuff they’ve got in their home I can all but guarantee they would say no. Hoarding for a lot of people is just a by-product of living and growing up, something that has been discretely passed on through generations. In part I’m sure, because we are told not to waste, that waste is bad but instead of buying less, we waste less, meaning we hold onto more. I’m sure most of us have at least a cupboard in our home that’s full of stuff we don’t need, want or rarely use. For parents it’s probably more like a garage or a spare room. Kids grow so fast that stuff becomes redundant quickly and clutter builds in the blink of an eye.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, Leonardo Da Vinci. Maybe he was right. Maybe less really is more. Marie Kondo developed the KondoMari method of decluttering for exactly this reason. We could probably all take a leaf out of Marie’s book but truthfully I know that even if I tried to incorporate a bit of Marie’s wisdom into my day to day life it wouldn’t take long for my energy and enthusiasm for it to wane. Maybe that’s a poor reflection on me but maybe it’s because the idea of decluttering is overwhelming and the process seemingly
So instead I want to take a step back and look at the root cause of clutter and waste. Ownership. We come back to the curious desire to own ‘stuff’. A rhetoric passed on through generations or just an innate response we have as a toddler before we truly understand that there are others in the world and that not everything is “Mine!”?
Whichever of the two it is, we still carry that notion of ownership into our adult life. Today it’s clear we are open to the idea of separating the sense of ownership from actual ownership, even if we’re not aware of it. Alternatives to outright ownership have snuck their way into our everyday lives without us noticing. Why would you own a DVD or even a softcopy of a film when you can get almost anything via streaming platforms like Netflix. Similarly, why would you own a record or MP3 of your favourite song when you can just download it on Spotify.
These are circularity principles that we’ve already adopted without necessarily realising it. Full circularity is a model of consumption that includes sharing, renting, subscribing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling. It allows us to ‘have’ rather than own, with little or no detriment to our own life.
Everytime we go to the gym we use the equipment as if it was our own without feeling the urge to own and keep any of it, when we use Car Next Door we have the freedom to drive wherever we want without owning the car.
Somewhere along the evolutionary road of Consumerism we began to become more flexible and adaptable, valuing things like convenience, a sense of community and the experience itself rather than the products and materials and it’s this that will help us adopt a more circular mindset. Just because something is tangible doesn’t mean we have to own it outright and not owning something outright shouldn’t detract from its ability to be used as if it was yours.
Have more, own less.