Remember growing up and being told to finish your food because there were ‘starving people’ out there who would love to enjoy what you have? Well, what if there was something that helped us put our excess to use in a real, tangible way? Or a tool that made sure you never had any unwanted ‘left-overs’, figuratively speaking?
The circular economy is a system that focuses on doing just that, making sure that excess doesn’t go to waste and, better yet, by preventing that excess from being created in the first place.
What’s not to love about that, right?
Here, I’ll explain how the circular economy works to make a more efficient planet and happier consumers. Let’s get started.
Take smartphones — they are one of the most difficult items to recycle safely and effectively, so there aren’t a lot of options once a phone is finished with.
Imagine mountains of old tech being crudely melted down in the middle of dust clouds in Afghanistan as desperate people wade through the troubling scraps looking for circuit boards to burn. Unfortunately, this is a likely destination for that old iPhone 7 you got rid of.
In order to extract the non-renewable and valuable elements from an old phone, the world’s poorest people are having to melt down phone components. Consequently, they're being exposed to deadly carcinogens and dangerous conditions.
A circular economic approach seeks to avoid this type of waste production by avoiding waste in the first place. At Hulii, we're implementing a circular economy approach by making it easy to buy high quality refurbished devices. Our phone disposal solution knocks phone-cremation out of the park.
Think about it — retiring to South Beach and playing golf and bingo once a day. That's the kind of retirement, we offer, but for a phone. Refurbishment is currently the best thing we can do to deal with the phone-waste crisis.
Fighting Off Planned Obsolescence
Now, you might not have heard of planned obsolescence but you’ve definitely seen this sinister business model at work. Have you ever bought a cheap t-shirt, only to have the hem start unravelling as soon as you get home? And did you end up considering it disposable and head back to the same store (cough, cough, fast-fashion retailers...) for a new one a few months later?
If the answer is yes, you have probably experienced planned obsolescence. The basic tenet of planned obsolescence is creating products that will deteriorate from normal use, encouraging the consumer to return to stores to buy another. It is a way businesses ensure their customers keep coming back — create an invaluable product and then make sure it doesn’t last very long.
In the technology and smartphone industry, this is done in a myriad of ways including making new software incompatible with older phones or making batteries difficult to replace at home. And, meanwhile, marketing keeps buyers wanting the latest and greatest tech as a status symbol.
The circular economy will get rid of the practice of designed deterioration. But, for now, we are waiting for the tech giants to get on-board. Preferably, smartphones would be designed to last so we could use them longer. At the moment, our best option is to turn old smartphones into a reusable product. How? We bring that second-hand iPhone 7 back into perfect condition and sell it as an affordable refurbished phone.
Reducing Climate Change
The latest report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has shown that radical changes to production are required to avoid a catastrophic 2°C global temperature increase.
In the US, manufacturing is responsible for 19-30% of the country's total carbon emissions. A circular economy would force companies to consider the climate costs of continually manufacturing new products that are destined to be thrown away.
While waste is obviously a huge issue, mass global destruction due to climate change might be an even bigger one. Not manufacturing new products, especially in the tech industry, could be one significant way to reduce emissions. Basically, as you consider car-pooling, flying less, and planting trees, also think about making your next iPhone a refurbished one.
Providing Economic Security
One of the best reasons to implement the circular economy is that it will untangle economic growth from resource use. Currently, most industries are deterred from making real changes because of concerns that a move to more sustainable practices will also affect the bottom-line of large companies. Governments worry that large numbers of jobs will, in turn, be lost because of socially and environmentally conscious practices.
The circular economy attempts to combat that thinking. You see, it's true that in the future we might need fewer people working in direct manufacturing. But a simple transition in employment will occur as individuals who used to have manufacturing jobs move into refurbishment and repair industries.
But that's not all. By removing the need to source new materials for, say, every new iPhone, the circular economy will actually save the industry the painful human, political, and financial cost of precious material extraction.
As for the consumer, renewing old products means a reduced cost for you. Just imagine spoiling your teen with the latest iPhone without having to fork over nearly a thousand dollars. Sounds like a win-win to me.
So, how can you promote the circular economy?
In order to encourage the circular economy, there are many things you can do. You can vote for policies that will discourage businesses from planned obsolescence. You can try and return broken items to manufacturers instead of throwing them out. And you can support the growing maintenance and repair industry by buying and selling refurbished products.
Doing this can discourage large companies from maintaining their unsustainable business models and drive competition where it is desperately needed. And, maybe more poignantly, save you a buck or two!
Hulii is one company looking to fix itself to circular economic processes in order to provide a much needed public service. So, next time you’re in the market for a new phone, consider a refurbished version of the model you’re looking at buying. You’ll be surprised to find that, with the right provider, you can get exactly the quality you are looking for in a phone while also supporting the circular economy.