YOU may not have noticed it, but last July, the Irish government passed the Circular Economy and Miscellaneous Provisions Act.
The goal is to “move away from our current linear economy and move towards achieving a ‘circular economy’, where resources are re-used or recycled as much as possible, and the generation of waste is minimised.
The circular economy is an alternative to today’s ‘take-make-waste’ economy, where great quantities of natural resources are extracted to make things that may be used only once before being thrown away.
In a linear economy, we take materials from the earth, we make them into products, and eventually we throw them away as waste. It’s the way we’ve done things for a long, long time.
Unfortunately, this was not such a good idea as we now know (i.e. climate emergency). If we want to achieve our environmental targets and avoid a climate apocalypse, we need to radically change our linear economies.
Enter the circular economy, an idea based on a few principles:
Eliminate waste and pollution.
Circulate products and materials at their highest value, and regenerate nature.
In a circular economy, products are clearly separated into either the Technical Cycle (non-biodegradable) or the Biological Cycle (biodegradable).
One of the first steps, for example, is to stop mixing the two up, as in when you make a t-shirt from a cotton (biodegradable) and polymer (non-biodegradable) mix or use toxic ink to print on paper making it non-compostable.
The Technical Cycle gets re-used, re-machined and recycled, while the Biological Cycle is composted to regenerate the earth.
In its simplest form, a yoghurt pot gets recycled into a new yoghurt pot, you repair your toaster instead of chucking it, and anything organic gets turned into compost.
It’s that old mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle, with a few more Rs thrown in for good measure, like repair, re-machine and regenerate.
I would like to propose another one: regift. It may sound ungenerous, or even downright cheap, but regifting manages to hit all three Rs.
It reduces buying new stuff that will end up as waste, it re-uses stuff that you might have ended up chucking out, and regifting your stuff to someone else to enjoy is a great way of recycling.
By regifting, I don’t just mean giving an unwanted gift to someone else. I also mean to consider the stuff you have before you go out and buy a present for someone.
The idea first came to me after my mother (who had a huge amount of stuff) passed away. Rather than go out and buy a present for a good friend, I gave her one of my mother’s funky necklaces. She was only delighted, and it looked lovely on her.
I have since regifted a fancy coffee table book which I knew would make a perfect birthday gift, and a bling photo frame that my bling-loving friend loved.
I was also on the receiving end when a different friend’s mother died. His mum had a big collection of scarves, and he asked me to pick one. I’ve since worn it many times, remembering my friend’s mum each time someone notices it, though I never actually met her. Which I think is rather lovely.
Let’s face it - we all have more stuff than we need. I know that I do. Not only do I have a lifetime collection of stuff, I have also recently inherited a lot of my parent’s stuff as well.
If I’m honest, I’m set for life for many items. Even if I never buy another thing, I will still have plenty of plates and mugs, knickknacks and vases, clothes and books (so many books!).
I don’t need more stuff. In fact, I could do with less.
The obvious solution is to buy less. In other words: Reduce - aye there’s the rub! The desire to buy something is seriously engrained into our psyche. To buy is to be alive. We are all the products of consumerism.
We have been trained to find great pleasure in buying stuff. It has become one of our main leisure activities. To buy a gift for someone is almost a cardinal rule. To gift something you already have seems a bit shabby.
I think it’s time that impression changed. Regifting can be really meaningful. “It’s the thought that counts” has become a throwaway phrase which basically indicates a shoddy present. But with regifting, it really is the thought that gives the present its value. Which I also think is rather lovely.
Tis the month before Christmas and many of us are starting to face the challenge of buying presents for friends and family. Perhaps money is tight. Or perhaps it somehow doesn’t feel right to buy more disposable stuff, in disposal packaging, that will eventually end up in a landfill.
Perhaps you could try engaging in a little circular economy of your own by regifting?