Closing Out the Circular Economy

For our closing thoughts on the Circular Economy model, it’s important to consider how much of what is being produced under our current economic system goes to the landfill. In 2018, 9.1% of materials were recycled but today, that number has shrunk to 7.2%. And while most landfills are out of sight and out of mind for many of us, some neighborhoods and even countries bear the brunt of having to deal with the negative effects of the garbage in their backyard.

Landfills occupy as much as 1.8 million acres of land in the United States alone. This is land that could have been preserved as natural habitat or used for agriculture or development that is instead being used to sequester our waste. Landfills release methane, a greenhouse gas that is 100 times more potent than Carbon Dioxide. They also release ammonia, which is converted to nitrate by bacteria which can then cause algal blooms and eutrophication. They can also release a variety of toxins like mercury. These emissions are known to cause health hazards for people who live and work near landfills. For these reasons, landfills lower property values; large landfills by an average of 12.9% and small landfills by 2.5%.

This makes landfills unwanted in more well to do neighborhoods. However, many minority and low-income communities don’t have the resources to fight the placement of landfills in their neighborhoods. This means our waste is both an environmental and a socio-economic injustice problem.

Source: University of Colorado Boulder

However, by participating in a circular economy, we can reduce the amount of waste we produce, reduce the environmental impact of that waste, and slow or even stop the expansion of landfills, which protects undeveloped land and historically marginalized communities.

We’ve already talked about a number of ways that you can (or maybe already are!) participating in a circular economy. Here is a list of things we’ve discussed and a few more for good measure:

  • Grow your own food and compost food waste. This is a fantastic example of a circular economy. By composting, you are creating nutrient rich soil that you can then use to grow future crops that will feed your family. You are also reducing the amount of food that ends up in landfills where it produces methane gas.
  • Also related to gardening is utilizing seed saving and sharing, either through plant swaps or a seed library. In this way, we are reducing the amount of stuff we purchase from big box stores and instead are focusing on sharing resources within our community. This helps reduce the carbon footprint of the plants we have in our yards. Also, by landscaping with native plants, we are increasing natural food sources and habitat for wild animals including birds and pollinators.
  • Using a library, whether it be just for books or also for tools and other items. In this way, we are sharing resources across an entire community, rather than leaving items unused and stored for most of its life. Whether a book or a tool, we need fewer copies of that item in circulation if they are a shared resource rather than everyone owning their own. This cuts down on the amount of stuff that needs to be produced in the first place. You can also visit The Bookthing of Baltimore for free books and any books you don’t want to keep might be good candidates for leaving in little free libraries near you.
  • Prioritizing purchases that use recycled or recyclable materials over single use plastic. This might mean purchasing foods that come in a glass jar, rather than plastic, or plastic containers that specify they are made from 100% post consumer recycled material. By using our purchasing power to tell companies that we don’t want single use plastics, we are encouraging more companies to switch to sustainable packaging. By purchasing items that are made from post consumer recycled materials, we are also helping ensure that recycled material is actually used, rather than ending up in a landfill because there’s no market for it.
  • Prioritizing refillable containers is another way to support the circular economy and reduce waste. Whether that means a reusable water bottle, coffee cup, or even purchasing items from stores that take the packaging back for reuse, every reuse of that item prevents single use versions from ending up in the landfill.
  • Reusing what single use plastic you do purchase. From washing ziploc bags and plastic cups for reuse, to using chip bags and other packaging as waste bags, by giving more life to single use items, you are reducing the amount of raw material being used to make more of those items and reducing how many of those items end up in landfills.
  • Recycling clothing, whether by passing on items that still have life, or ensuring that textiles are property recycled at the end of their life, helps ensure that usable materials don’t end up in the landfill. Even clothing that’s unwearable can still be used for other purposes, such as insulation. You can also cut ragged, stained clothing up to use as rags around the house and get more use out of these items.
  • Participating in local Buy Nothing groups can help you pass along unwanted items that still have life or find needed items secondhand. These groups help spread resources amongst community members and ensure that items from furniture and clothing, to tools and decorations end up remaining in circulation and use longer than they otherwise would.
  • Using scraps and other unwanted materials for home craft projects, such as recycled cards wall art, helps keep you and your family entertained and make for good gifts for loved ones.
  • While single use plastic bags are now a thing of the past here in Easton, there are still many counties that continue to allow them. Bringing your own bags helps ensure that you get enough uses out of your reusable bags so that you use less virgin material and energy per use over the life of the bag, as compared to single use plastic bags (for reusable plastic bags, that means 14 uses – for paper bags that means 4 uses – for cotton totes that means 400 uses). There has also been legislation to enact a statewide single use plastic bag ban here in Maryland. It hasn’t managed to pass but as plastic bag bans are gaining momentum and getting passed in more and more counties, it seems likely that a statewide ban will pass in the next few years.
  • Finally, as the holidays draw closer, thinking carefully about gift giving and prioritizing handmade or reusable gifts, as well as experiences, over the commercialized spending chaos retailers want us to participate in. Handmade gifts often show how much we care and reusable gifts provide our friends and family with something they will use over and over and hopefully be reminded of us each time they do. Some favorite homemade gifts of ours include homemade vanilla extract for the home baker in your life, infused olive oils for the home chef, or infused spirits for the happy hour fanatics (try apple pie whiskey).
Let us know in the comments if you were already doing some of these things or if you tried them for the first time this year! Thank you so much for joining us on this year long discussion into the circular economy model and we hope you’ve gotten interested in or have joined the movement to reduce waste and encourage reuse!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jonathan Williams

    Great article! Maryland’s landfills generate 16% of our state’s greenhouse gases mostly in the form of methane, which as you point out, is many times more harmful than CO2. And virtually all that organic waste could be aerobically composted or anaerobically digested creating a little CO2 but lots of ‘black (garden) gold’ which can be sold or used to replenish declining quality cropland. It fact, the number one most harmful pollutant in our Bay is run-off from chicken manure – another ‘waste product’ that a start-up business in nearby Ridgely is processing for improving soil and profit.
    There are dozens of proven solutions, many of which are being implemented locally. We don’t need to change the whole world or invent something new.

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