How growing our own veg can teach us to be better consumers
Welcome to the first edition of Live Circular, a weekly look at how living by circular principles can make us better consumers, save us money, and save the planet.
This week: what the circular economy shares with urban gardening; a podcast recommendation; and what’s coming up next week.
How growing our own veg can teach us to be better consumers
Our family got an allotment this month. For the non-British reading this, an allotment is a package of land rented out to allow individuals without access to land to grow fruit and veg. We’d been on the waiting list for three years. I’d like to say we waited anxiously by the phone this whole time, but the truth is we forgot. Life happened. The allotment was a pleasant and exciting surprise when it did come.
It being March, the land is only lightly overgrown with weeds and we have a smattering of legacy plants from the previous holders: spinach, rhubarb, mint, and some mystery plants. The remaining land is ripe with potential, if not yet produce.
We see opportunities to learn about horticulture and agriculture. We see opportunities to teach our daughter about nature and food, and her place in the ecosystem. We see a quiet place to escape with the family.
Importantly for me, and the reason I opened this document, I hope to use this allotment as inspiration to write about the more responsible use of things.
I have thoughts about how we can apply Circular Economy principles as an individual and I think the allotment might just be the field in which to grow these ideas.
First, what is the Circular Economy?
It’s a way of viewing the economy that realises there is value to be found in the materials that we would normally destroy, throw away or otherwise waste: by using products for as long as we can, by creating less waste, and by ensuring we have a positive impact on natural systems.
Our current economy – a linear economy – does not make use of valuable resources to their full potential. We extract the resources, create products with them, use them and then we throw them away. Often this is done at great expense, and all the time, money and energy that has gone into creating them is lost.
A key aspect of any circular system is intentionality; how we must actively create systems that make the very best use of materials and resources. We cannot wait for it to happen, we must make it so.
Another important part of the circular economy is its mimicry of the natural world. Consider that in our natural ecosystem, nothing is wasted. Material is constantly cycled in and out of the system. Waste and dead matter are recycled back into the system to feed the next generation. It’s only when humans interfere that waste occurs. Consequently, it’s clear that our human systems need to emulate natural systems.
For some time, I’ve thought “allotments” when I think of the circular economy. I think of hard times, when the allotment had a significant role in sustaining a family. Nothing was wasted. People looked after their tools, used the same fencing and twine and pegs year after year, and repurposed things from the home, from work, found things from the town: bottles into bird feeders, broken pottery to line flowerpots and beds, cardboard into compost. Seeds were harvested, dead plants were mulched or composted, and excess yields were shared with neighbours.
It’s definitely a nostalgic view, but this approach worked. We can always look backwards for solutions, particularly to environmental problems. Look to how people solved problems when they had nothing or there was nothing to be had.
It ties in to what Walter Stahel says: there was a time when stewardship of our things was a necessity not an aspirstion. When something broke they couldn’t afford to replace it, so they made do. They mended or repurposed. We’ve become divorced from the true cost of things.
Circular principles for individuals
Which gets me on to why I think the circular economy is important to all of us, and what I think working somewhere like an allotment can teach us.
A global circular economy is inevitable. There aren’t enough resources for us to continue our current wasteful practices. Systems change is required, by which I mean a change to near everything we do, or buy, or use.
The trouble is, systems change is large and hard and messy and, in places, unpopular. They will not happen overnight, which is why I think there’s a role for individuals to cover the shortfall whilst industry catches up. It serves at least three purposes:
It teaches us that change doesn’t have to be a horrible experience
It teaches us that change can be beneficial, maybe even profitable, and
It shows businesses that their customers want and are willing to change, and it may even hasten that change along.
So with this in mind, I propose six guiding circular principles that an individual can live by. Regular application of these can make us better consumers, save us money, and save the planet:
Use things for longer
All of these can be exemplified by working an allotment if you get the approach right. For example, one can plant flowering plants to attract pollinating insects (support nature), or encourage hedgehogs or birds. By composting, one can find alternative uses for weeds and clippings and inedible produce (waste less).
That’s not to say that this newsletter will be all about the allotment. I hope to draw on examples and lessons from around the home, as well as to showcase the best practices I see out in the world. The allotment is just the catalyst for this project.
A fascinating conversation about how a shift to a locally-focused economy can address some of the crises we face today, from the climate crisis to global inequality and more. It’s clear how much responsibility for these ills can be laid at the feet of globalisation.
The case for local economy in supporting sustainability is clear: from reducing shipping emissions to reducing waste, from switching our diets to more seasonally appropriate veg to eating local meat with smaller footprints, from supporting out local economy to become more invested in our local ecology. Its for these reasons that I’ve included it in the principles I mention above.
It was a thought-provoking listen and I shall definitely check out Helena Norberg-Hodge’s book Local Is Our Future: Steps to an Economics of Happiness
Coming this week
National community garden week (UK) starts on Monday, 4 April. This sort of event is really closely tied to an individual approach to the circular economy, and I consider it good fortune that it happens so soon after I start this newsletter.
The main difference between allotments and community gardens is in how the land is worked. Both are communal areas, but in community gardens everyone pitches in and works all the hand together. In allotments, everyone looks after their parcel of land, though there may be some cooperation between neighbouring plots.
Both initiatives can bring people together through productive labour and both have a role in educating the users. Both offer opportunities to interact with nature, in particular in urban or semi-urban environment where access to wildlife can sometimes be limited.
For a full listing of all sustainability related holidays, events and observances, why not check out the sustainability calendar.
Thank you for reading. I look forward to sharing this journey with you. Please consider subscribing, and if you want to check out more of my writing, visit medium.
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