Nature can teach us a lot about economies.
When we go to the store, we often don’t think about how products are created. We also don’t really think about where they go after we’ve thrown them in the trash. So, let’s take a minute to think.
Every product we use is created from resources that were extracted from the Earth. Those resources were then created and manufactured into products. Those products were then transported into stores where we buy them. Then they are consumed and disposed of by us. And the cycle continues on and on, resulting in a lot of toxic waste in a landfill. But, it’s not really a cycle is it? This is known as a linear economy and is often referred to as the take, make, and dispose model and it is not at all sustainable. On a planet where our resources are finite, this linear system cannot support us for much longer.
In more recent years, we’ve started to adapt to a recycling economy, where we recycle existing materials that have already been extracted. As we all know, this system is very flawed as very little gets recycled, and the pressure and blame is left to the consumer instead of the producer. Because producers use tactics such as planned obsolescence, creating products that use nondurable materials so that they will fail after use, and perceived obsolescence, creating products that are less appealing rendering them obsolete, it’s hard to imagine why we blame consumers.
In reality, we should be ditching linear and recycling economies and taking notes from nature. In nature, there are no landfills because resources always make their way back into existing systems. The sun provides energy for plants to grow, those plants become food for animals, animals eat other animals, and eventually those animals die and decompose back into the earth. Waste never really becomes waste because it’s used to sustain something else. So how do we reshape our current economy to one where resources cycle?
We can start by creating a circular economy, which is a production and consumption model that keeps all forms of “waste” in circulation as long as possible. There would be incentives for everyone to reuse products, and resources that would otherwise end up in a landfill, would be returned to the economy to be used more efficiently. Much of the circular economy relies on less material, because consumers are encouraged to use services, rather than purchase goods. For example, if your pants were to rip, instead of buying a new pair, you would take them to a tailor to get repaired. Circular economies can only occur if everyone starts to adjust to triple bottom line thinking, which puts people and the planet before profit. Consumers would need to trust businesses to care about their environmental and social impact and producers would need to create high quality products through skilled labor. The relationship between the producer, the products, and the consumer would have to be a lot stronger just as they are in nature.