What is a circular economy?
A circular economy is a restorative system that is based on the principles of “designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems” (What is the Circular Economy?). This means that whatever is produced within a circular economy is fed back into the same system in order to reduce and eliminate waste. The goal of a circular economy is to build and rebuild the health of the overall system, which can be accomplished through the continued reuse of materials and products. In this sense, a circular economy is always forward-thinking in that it considers that actions in the present will impact the future (The Circular Economy in Detail). At this point, implementing circular economy models would be an attempt to mitigate previous and current harm done to our communities and environment while simultaneously creating a more sustainable future. To do so, a circular economy considers and includes all components of the economy and community in the process- individuals, big and small businesses, companies, and organizations.
A circular economy focuses on designing out economic activities that cause damage to the environment, including pollution and the release of greenhouse gases and hazardous substances. Biodegradable materials can be absorbed back into the environment without causing damage, so they are able to be composted or thrown away. Circular economies also seek to reduce the amount of energy, labor, and materials expended, which results in an emphasis on durable, reusable design rather than technology that quickly finds itself in the garbage, never to be reused. Circular economies also put an emphasis on protecting and improving the environment by using renewable energy and avoiding non-renewable resources like fossil fuels (The Circular Economy in Detail).
Notably, many aspects of the core principles of circular economy and other popular sustainability initiatives have a lot in common with Indigenous sustainability practices (Tsosie).
It is crucial to center and uplift the practices of Indigenous peoples and communities as we work toward implementing sustainable practices, particularly for those who support decolonization and Indigenous land sovereignty (Pacific Summit). Simultaneously, it is important to acknowledge the way that scientific and academic research often replicates colonial violence by extracting the most “useful” information, rebranding it, and publishing and/or implementing it as if it is a completely new idea, without crediting Indigenous communities with the knowledge and resources they have provided.
It is crucial to avoid this type of exploitation with any conservation, research, or implementation of sustainable practices, including with this project.
Incorporating a Circular Economy at Barnard
One of the goals for this project is to find ways to incorporate a circular economy at Barnard. With this idea in mind, we were able to find that Barnard students already implement the circular economy principle of keeping products and materials in use by participating in the Barnard Buy Sell Trade Facebook page, attending the annual Ecoreps Green Sale, using Depop and getting clothing from thrift stores, as well as by using the multiple donation bins for books and clothes that can be found on campus. On an administrative level, Barnard continues to follow these principles by having recycling bins accessible everywhere on campus, composting at the two dining halls and the cafes, limiting/reducing the amount of office supplies purchased yearly, and encouraging students and faculty to use reusable mugs, water bottles, and tupperware.
On the other hand, there are many areas in which Barnard could currently improve in regard to sustainability. For example, when students move out of the residence halls at the end of each academic year, many personal items are trashed in the hallways. Many of these items are in great condition, but students do not (or can not, in some cases) choose to bring them home or store them over the summer. This is not only wasteful, but it also creates significant work for the facilities workers responsible for cleaning up students’ mess. Other examples include using single-use utensils and plates in the Diana Center Cafe, the BCIT policy of not allowing faculty and staff to repair their school-bought Apple devices after 4 years, and printing materials for classes, workshops, and meetings unnecessarily
- What Is the Circular Economy? 2017, www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/what-is-the-circular-economy.
- The Circular Economy In Detail. 2017, www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/explore/the-circular-economy-in-detail.
- Tsosie, Rebecca. “Indigenous Peoples and Sustainability Policy: Exploring the Politics and Practice of ‘Indigenous Sustainability.’” Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, 25 Aug. 2014, sustainability.asu.edu/news/archive/indigenous-peoples-sustainability-policy-exploring-politics-practice-indigenous-sustainability/.
- Pacific Summit. 2019, www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/pacific-summit.