04/13/2021 | Spotlight

The perfection of circularity

A true story

This is a true story. About a year ago, I saw an advert for a bag in a glossy magazine at the hairdresser. It was a particularly colourful and somewhat eccentric bag that was available only from an online shop. As I spontaneously fell in love with it, ordered it via the internet.

When I was informed that delivery is imminent, I alerted my family to open the door should the delivery person ring, but nothing happened. We went about our usual business, clearing out the postbox and putting the recycling bins out to be collected in the morning.

The next day, our doorbell remained silent. I went to retrieve the post. Somewhere between brochures for wine from the south of France and the electricity bill, I found a nondescript piece of paper that said, “Package in wastepaper bin”.

I sprinted to the street corner, where our wastepaper – miraculously! – was still waiting for collection. Buried by a package of newspapers and some pizza cartons, I found a somewhat crumpled white parcel (paper, perfectly matched to its surroundings) containing my missing bag.

Since then, I have been wondering whether this was not actually a revelation of a future where the circular economy will have been perfected: Instead of buying things, using them (thereby dirtying the material and adding all sorts of impurities) and then wondering about where to put them in the sophisticated German recycling system, wouldn’t it be much better to close the loop without actually using the products? It wouldn’t put the economy under unnecessary strain, as consumers would still regularly buy new goods. Even better, products could be designed for optimal recyclability: No compounding, no additives to make a bottle softer or nicer to look at, but just a simple bottle made of one pure material that doesn’t have to meet any requirements for holding liquids or protecting vitamins and can be recycled with minimal cleaning and no sorting.

One might take this thought even further: The German automotive industry is worried about being left sitting on thousands and thousands of cars with combustion engines. However, using combustion engines is regarded quite unfavourably by many due to the negative impact on climate. So why not buy cars, send them directly to recycling and ride your bike instead? This would be beneficial to the global climate and to the personal health at the same time. And the car could be produced so that it could be dismantled without much effort, and it would contain no oil or other fluids that pose problems in recycling.

A true win-win-win-win situation!

Somehow, though, I doubt whether our mail delivery man intended to open my eyes in quite this fundamental way. Maybe he just thought “package – dry place – easily accessible – check!” But sometimes big ideas start small – a first step on the way to perfect circularity.

Author

Kathrin Rübberdt

kathrin.ruebberdt[at]dechema.de

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