Thinking in Circles

Imagine giftwrapping your trash and giving it to your children and grandchildren as presents on their birthdays and holidays. In a manner of speaking, that’s what we’re doing with most of our trash — gifting it to our kids. We simply discard things we don’t want, dump them in land and water, and leave the mess for future adults to clean up. Now try to imagine there’s no such thing as trash. When you want to discard something, anything, it’s sent to a manufacturer that will use it to make something else. That’s the circular economy.

Discarding stuff we don’t want anymore was perfectly natural for tens of thousands of years. Ancient people left behind bones, pottery shards, wooden implements and stone tools they made with their hands from materials they found in their environment. When they discarded those things they expected them to be absorbed back into Nature. They didn’t worry about making a mess because their world seemed limitless. But the world isn’t limitless anymore.

Today discarding our trash is becoming expensive, perhaps too expensive. It’s not the first time in our history that we developed a bad habit we need to break in order to survive. About the same time windows were invented, we started to throw shit out the window, literally. For hundreds of years, even in busy cities, people emptied their chamber pots into the street. It was a hard habit to break until outrage, civic organizations, scientists and entrepreneurs built public water and sewer systems. But we did it, and today we take that circular infrastructure for granted — from soil to food to waste to processing systems to soil again.

Billie Best Blog post: Thinking in Circles
Movie poster artwork from The Blob, 1958

Of course, the armies of the status quo will cry out against change. But if we don’t get a grip on our trash problem we’ll be living like medieval peasants again. Fatbergs are coming after us like low budget sci-fi monsters. Blobs of non-biodegradable material, sanitary wipes and “flushable” diapers, glued together with grease and cooking oil, are clogging our plumbing and sewer systems, trying to ooze back into our homes. We’ve even trashed outer space. One of the first industries being developed between Earth and the moon is trash pick-up for all the junk we’ve left floating out there among the stars. If outer space becomes as congested as our oceans, it’ll be raining Greek yogurt containers and beer cans.

The circular economy is a way to use the Earth more efficiently. If it sounds crazy to you, imagine telling medieval peasants to replace their chamber pots with storage tanks and underground pipes that carry fresh water and waste water in and out of their homes in separate systems. They would think you’re nuts. Why would they replace a simple bucket they dump out the window with something so complicated? And yet, here we are. The future is complicated, but somehow it arrives. To push it along, reconsider your stuff and start thinking in circles.

10 thoughts on “Thinking in Circles

  1. Yes, Europe is way ahead of us with the circular economy. Their land mass is smaller and their population in denser, so they have to be more conservative with their resources. Thanks for reading.

    1. Yes we are smaller but we are more connected to each other (countries) and consider the health of the universe as a whole, not just one country.

  2. I’m reminded of a cartoon I say a long time ago. It started out with an apple and one fruit fly. After a few seconds there were more flies, and the apple started to spin. As the apple spun and spun more and more flies appear, and the apple starts to be eaten away. The cartoon pans out away from the apple and it starts to look like earth from a distance. As the apple (earth) becomes a core with no remaining flesh the last fly death spirals out of control and falls on to THE END!
    Thanks for the reminder that we all need to change if there is a future for our planet!

    1. Yikes, Roger. That cartoon is bleak. I admit sometimes I fear we are going past the point of no return with destruction of the planet. But there are brilliant young people working on new solutions and they give me hope that our species will adapt to living within the limits of Earth’s carrying capacity. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Thanks for sending the link on the NPR fatberg story. It’s a shocking phenomenon, so primitive, so backward, so stupid, and the photo makes it worse.

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