Here to jump start this conversation and prime us for the forthcoming episodes is Catherine Weetman, who literally wrote the book on the subject!
A Circular Economy Handbook for Business and Supply Chains details the lessons that Catherine has learned over the last ten years in the field and we get to hear all about her work, from the role of software and digital to examples of companies doing their part to move things forward.
Apart from being an author, Catherine is an international speaker, workshop facilitator, coach, and the host of The Circular Economy Podcast! She helps businesses, social enterprises and community groups to use circular economy approaches to work towards a better world and has a vast knowledge of the subject, which she unpacks clearly and concisely in our wonderful chat today.
We are sure you will find this an extremely helpful exploration of the topic and one that sets up the rest of the season brilliantly, setting the scene for more in-depth conversations and learning.
Catherine helps us find a way to describe exactly what the circular economy is, the reasons for its existence, and why it goes far beyond recycling. Listeners can expect to leave with a firm grasp of the topic as well as some renewed hope for sustainability and what can be done to propel this project.
Be sure to join us and stay tuned for the rest of this fascinating season, on Happy Porch Radio!
Catherine is an international speaker, workshop facilitator, coach and host of the Circular Economy Podcast.
She helps businesses, social enterprises and community groups to use circular economy approaches to build a better world. Catherine's award-winning book, A Circular Economy Handbook for Business and Supply Chains, explains the what, why and how of the circular economy. A new edition, due out in November 2020, includes a new chapter on packaging, over 100 new examples, and many more updates.
“People are starting to become more aware of the wasteful nature of business and are expecting companies to behave differently.” — @cjweetman
Tune in to find out:
- Catherine's beginnings in the field of the circular economy; a project in 2010.
- Some information on Catherine's podcast and her book, A Circular Economy Handbook for
Business and Supply Chains.
- The problem that the circular economy addresses — contrasts with the linear economy.
- Moving from fast to slow, away from ownership, regenerating resources, and safer materials.
- More than just sustainability; the design of the circular economy and a new approach to
- Specialist platforms for the reselling of items — recovering possible profits.
- Availability and affordability and how this plays into rising prices for limited resources.
- Benefits for businesses that get ahead of the curve and embrace the need for less waste.
- The role of technology in this work and the updates Catherine has made to her book.
- Arising issues in the circular economy; exploitation and the rebounding effect.
- The path that digital industries need to take in order to align with their claims.
- The example of Patagonia clothing and how they are approaching reuse and reselling.
- Looking at the global circular economy and how this model fits into developing countries.
- A more open-sourced future with community approaches to sustainability.
Links mentioned in this episode:
Read our follow up article:
Ways Technology is Facilitating the Shift to a Circular Economy
“All that waste is lost money. Every time we don't utilise something properly, every time we use more water, more energy, more materials than we need to, we are wasting something." — @cjweetman
"We try and design waste out of the system, just by taking a different mindset.” — @cjweetman
Barry O'Kane 0:05
Welcome to HappyPorch Radio season five. This season is all about the circular economy and the role of software and digital. In this first episode, Emily and I have the great pleasure of speaking to Catherine Weetman. Catherine is an international speaker, workshop facilitator, coach and host of the Circular Economy Podcast. Catherine helps businesses, social enterprises and community groups to use circular economy approaches to build a better world. And one of the reasons that we really wanted to speak to Catherine was that she's written literally written the book on circular economy. The book is called A Circular Economy Handbook for Business and Supply Chains. And it explains the what the why and the how of the circular economy. Emily this was, I think, a really awesome conversation to kickstart the season.
Emily Swaddle 0:50
Yeah, it really was. Catherine's knowledge on this subject is vast, but more than that, she's really got a knack of describing it in clear and concise language. that I think was really helpful. Certainly for me set it all out for us
Barry O'Kane 1:06
Yeah, I thought I competed agree she was able to help us find a way to describe what the circular economy is the reasons for it, why it's much more than just recycling. And all of the kind of default questions that I hope those listening will help us prepare and set up for them. The more sort of detailed use cases and case by case examples and conversations that we have through the rest of the season.
Emily Swaddle 1:30
Yeah, she brought up a lot of examples. As she was talking through some of the topics that we touched on, that we will kind of dive deeper into as we get into the season. But we didn't by any means kind of answer all the questions that I have or that I think the listeners will have about this topic. So it was a real kind of, you know, left us, wanting more, I would say,
Barry O'Kane 1:52
barely scratched the surface, but give us a good introduction.
Emily Swaddle 1:54
Barry O'Kane 1:56
Awesome. And for those listening, we do mention both Catherine's book and her podcast, we'll link to those on happyporchradio.com. Please do go and check them out, particularly if you're wanting to go and learn some more about what the circular economy is, and some broad, I guess, background and informational stuff about the circular economy. So without any further ado, let's meet Catherine.
Catherine Weetman 2:22
I'm Catherine Weetman. And I've been working on the circular economy since about 2010 2011 when I was working on a on a talk for work all about the issues of sustainability. And after lots and lots of research, I was thoroughly depressed and couldn't see any way out other than we were all going to have to have less and I couldn't see who was going to buy into that. And along the way, I'd come across various new bits of terminology and sort of parked those till I got to grips with the problem. And that list included things like industrial ecology, 3d printing, which was pretty new, then. And the circular economy. And when I started looking into that, reading one of the first papers from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that was aimed at school kids, it was suddenly, you know, an epiphany moment where I thought, well, there is a way of solving this. And then that just led me deeper and deeper into understanding what the circular economy was all out, and helping other people to become aware and, you know, understand how we could use it to make a better world where there is enough for all of us forever. Now I've set up Rethink Solutions, and we help businesses understand and use circular approaches, so they can build a better business and through that a better world. And I guess, you know, I often start by explaining what the problem is. So I don't know whether you want me to talk briefly about that now or
Barry O'Kane 3:48
Yeah, that is exactly where I'd like to start. And but before saying that, I just wanted to preface by saying how great it is having, to have you on the podcast. In my deep dive into circular economy over the last few years. You're podcasts has been, I think, an important part of that journey. So it's really, it's kind of fun to have you here talking about the topics you talked about, but use the guest rather than the other way around.
Catherine Weetman 4:11
Yeah, thanks, Barry. I think it's, it's interesting that it's more nervous being on somebody else's podcast,
than doing doing your own.
Barry O'Kane 4:20
And also, we should mention that you have literally written the book, so to speak about the circular economy. So that's something we will can mention, make sure we link to at the end. I think that's an important potential resource for people who are interested in learning more about the circular economy and kind of covering a very broad swath of topics and and examples and use cases.
Catherine Weetman 4:40
Yeah, thanks. And earlier this year, I was finishing off the second edition. So the books published by Kogan Page, and the second edition should have been out in the summer but like lots of things in the UK was furloughed. So now it's due out on the third of November. And there's a new chapter on packaging. And I realised just how much has changed since I was writing that in 2016, as I was going through things, having, you know, looked briefly at the chapter and thought, Well, that's all pretty much okay. And then you start thinking, I'm sure there's some up to date figures on this or, you know, better examples of this particular circular approach. So, it ended up being not quite as much work as the first edition, but a big rewrite. So I'm looking forward to that coming out.
Barry O'Kane 5:23
Yeah, definitely. I'm looking forward to reading that too. And seeing as you say, what's changed. That is one of the things that I find really fascinating is how the number of guests that we talked to in the season, talk about their journey over a number of years and how right now is a potentially really exciting time in the circular economy. However, before jumping into that, one of the reasons that we want to have you on the show Catherine was to talk to kind of set the scene for the rest of this season. We're hoping to focus and talk a lot about the impact of different technologies and digital solutions and design and so on, on circular economy, and on economy business models, but in order to sort of help us understand that I thought it'd be really interesting to start, just as you suggested, on kind of the problem and what circular economy is.
Catherine Weetman 6:08
Yeah, happy to. So as most circular economy enthusiasts do, the easiest way to explain it to people who look at you as if, you know, circular what? what on earth is that is to contrast it with the way we do things now, which is sometimes called the linear economy because materials flow through it in a straight line. So we take some materials, make something out of it, we use it and then we chuck it away. But you could also call it a waste economy, because it is so wasteful in in every sense. And I think there are three ways that we tend to waste things. First of all, we're driven towards fast everything so you know, fast fashion, fast technology, fast cars, even fast furniture now apparently, a sofa as a kind of, you know, seasonal purchase almost not something that you you buy keep for 20 30 years, and a lot of that has been driven by evermore sophisticated marketing that developed really after the 1950s. So once companies started to realise that, you know, everybody had a washing machine in America and their houses, and everybody had a car, how were they going to sell more? So the business model became all about persuading you that you needed the latest new thing. And of course, there's the excitement of the new. So we have that as a business model, that kind of planned obsolescence. So things aren't durable. The second strategy is that we're encouraged to want to own things and have our own personal, you know, car, tools, power tools, all the kind of stuff that you might not use every day. I only use my car probably, you know, once a week, because otherwise I'll walk or cycle but we're driven towards that feeling of security and status and so on to want to own things when actually we could be sharing them. So that means we can consume a lot more resources than we really need to. And then, of course, at the end of all of that, we just chuck things away, and an awful lot of the useful materials that we could begin recovering, as well as all the embodied resources. So the energy, the water, the human labour, even the knowledge that went into creating that, when we chuck it away, we're wasting all of that. So really inefficient economy, you know, driven on this take make waste thing. So the circular economy has a range of different strategies. But the essence is we try and design waste out of the system, just by taking a different mindset. So we can overcome the fast everything by creating products that are more durable, so they're repairable and often they might be upgradable. So you're not missing out on the latest technology. To give Fairphone is an example that can be repaired by the user using just a single screwdriver and some helpful videos online to help you swap out parts is built in modules. So it's not fiddly things, you just buy a microphone module. And they produced an upgraded camera module. So if you particularly wanted to focus on taking really good selfies or or landscape photos, you could upgrade the camera module for about 30 euros. And, you know, swap it out in five minutes, and you've got the latest gadget. And, you know, there's nothing fundamentally difficult about designing things to be modular. And it can help with supply chains and inventory for you know, having less spare parts to keep and so on. So that's the first thing is move from fast to slow. The second strategy is moving from a culture where we want to own things ourselves to a culture where we're using things, so car shares, bike shares, tool libraries, all those kind of things. And that can either be a real Sharing strategy where you and me might be part of a tool library, as co owners or as members of a cooperative. And we're putting in the hours and the time into making those resources available for our community. Or it could be more of a pay per use system, like the Boris bikes in London or Santander bikes in London, or Uber cars or Airbnb. And here, there's a platform, helping connect the supply and demand. But I would argue that's not really sharing that that's pay per use. And there are other ways of doing that. So Olio, for allowing people with leftover food in their fridge that still in good condition to make that available to their neighbours. And so there are, you know, lots lots of solutions there. And the third strategy is changing that waste and discard system so that we're recovering and regenerating the resources that we need for the next set of products. But that should be our last resort. As a strategy because by the time we come to recycle things, we're still using an awful lot more energy and resources to get those materials back. So it's far better to have things that we can easily repair, make it easy for them to be resold, even to remanufacture them with a guarantee that's as good as the new model and get them back into useful circulation. And the fourth thing that I always like to add, which doesn't come across in all circular economy models is that we should focus on having materials that are safe and genuinely sustainable. So they should be safe, the people who were either mining them or farming them at the beginning of the process, so we're not using pesticides, and so they should be safe for nature. They should be safe for the user, and they should be safe, you know, when they're eventually recycled, we shouldn't be putting toxins and poisons into the system at any stage.
Barry O'Kane 11:54
Awesome. That's a really excellent summary. And I think your answer there kind of highlights how broad a mindset or concept the circular economy is because it covers those different things. And we can go into depth and all of those. What I want to do is maybe we can pick out a couple of things to talk about there in detail are some questions to talk about. But for the listener, if you're interested, particularly in digging more into circular economy, we'll put a whole bunch of links and resources, including Catherine's on the usual page on happyporchadio.com go and check it out there. But Catherine, what I wanted to do was dig into a little bit of the kind of, I guess, some of the standard questions or assumptions that I've experienced, and one of them is when people ask me something along the lines of as a traditional economy, economic system, what's the motivation other than to be sustainable and under sort of greeny kind of label? What is it that makes circular economy different from just being sustainable? I think that's what I'm asking.
Catherine Weetman 12:57
Well, I guess it's it's the way the system is designed. In that is a different way of seeing the value in the system and seeing the value that's leaking out of the linear economy. So all that waste is lost money. You know, every time we don't utilise something properly every time we use more water, more energy, more materials than we need to wasting something. Every time we let a product that's still repairable or could be remanufactured every time we let that be discarded. We're throwing money away. And I think what's happened is the disconnect between the producer and then the user of the product. So when we sell a product, we're kind of devolving ourselves of responsibility for it. But if we were leasing it, we'd be much more interested in what value could we get back from that at the end of the lease. And it's funny that for some products, we don't see you know, use it for a couple of years, and then discard it So we wouldn't think of using a car for a couple of years and then discarding it, we look after it, we get it serviced. And we either buy it on a contract and it goes back to the, to the dealer, or we have various ways to resell it and get some value back. For a house, we wouldn't consider just moving out of the house and leaving it empty because we've invested a lot of money in it. So it really is a mindset about the way we choose to do things. And sometimes it's the lack of opportunity to resell something, you know, we've probably all tried, you know, maybe getting some money back for something that we felt we've invested money in, I don't know maybe a an old phone or a vintage camera or something like that. And sometimes it might be worth a little bit of money, but sometimes the hassle of shipping it is more than it's worth. But those are all what I call circularity gaps. And some of the startups that are really interesting are finding ways to plug those circularity gaps. Either by making a service that allows people to share those resources. And you know, if it's something like that vintage camera that you might only use a few times a year, or it's, you know, it's a specialist thing that you've, you've had to hire for something to do a project, but you don't really need to own it. So making those things accessible. And then also specialist resale marketplaces. There's one for watches, I can't remember the name of it. But you know, it deals specifically in vintage watches, and that's, that was bought a year or so ago by one of the top Swiss watch manufacturers. Obviously, seeing that, you know, there's an active market here in vintage watches, and we're missing out on that value. You know, we're just selling things. We've got the profit once, but we could recover this, refurbish it and make profit again. And you know, there are companies who've been doing this for years. The heavy machinery heavy, heavy plants like Caterpillar and so on. They have their specialist remanufacturing divisions, Cummins remanufacturs diesel engines, and those divisions are more profitable than the ones that make the new equipment. And I think people are starting to wake up to the opportunities around that.
Barry O'Kane 16:15
I think the word opportunities is what, to me is kind of what's so interesting about this whole broad conversation. So it's pulling together the genuine fatal environmental and waste problems that we're facing. That covers everything you could possibly imagine, as everybody's I'm sure, very aware, and the business and sort of innovation opportunities. And then the other thing you mentioned was aligning suppliers and business needs with customers and clients that they serve. And by pulling those things together, it suddenly becomes this instead of this daunting problem suddenly becomes this exciting space of opportunity and things that can have multiple impacts. That is the thing that with this series that I'm hoping to explore, but with a particular focus on digital and online and technology that enables those things, I'm sure. And I hope everybody listening as we described some of those things is thinking about, well, we've we've talked about platforms and apps. And you know, so often, particularly, for these cases, there's some sort of technology tool that enables it or makes it better or whatever.
Catherine Weetman 17:27
Just to fill in with a couple of quickly with a couple of the other sort of driving factors. There's the availability and affordability of key resources, you know, some of the resources particularly used in in technology, there's more demand than there is supply. You've probably seen things around lithium for, you know, batteries for electric cars, and so on. And so, some companies are starting to realise that the resources they depend on are going to be coming under increasing pressure, and that obviously puts the price up and we can have things like the Coronavirus and other, you know, kind of climate extreme weather events that can disrupt supply chain. So having access to your own resources because you're recovering the products at the end of use and getting those resources back can become attractive. And companies like IKEA. The CEO Jesper Brodin was was interviewed recently and was saying he sees the driving force for circularity is affordability for his future consumers, you know, there's only there are only so many resources to go around. There's only so much land that we've got to grow things only so much water in the world as the human population grows. And as the wealth starts to increase in in the developing economies, people have more money to buy stuff, so we need more stuff to go around. So how do we produce that if we're, you know, depleting resources, so affordability is one thing and then also citizens rather than consumers. You know, we're all citizens in this world. People are starting to become more aware of the wasteful nature of of business and are expecting companies to behave differently. People are shocked when they find out that companies are putting products into the world that are not recyclable in any way, or that are toxic when they end up in, in landfill, or that shed microplastics. And they're expecting companies to do something about that. So, you know, being a first mover on this can really help improve relationships with customers and improve customer loyalty and have people recommending your brand so you can reduce your marketing spend, because you're now connecting with customers that that share your values. And I think that's important as well.
Barry O'Kane 19:42
Yeah. And yeah, there's so much depth there. That's really interesting. It's a kind of it's a journey, and exciting one as well, I think. So just to shift topics very slightly. As I mentioned several times, we're looking at, I guess the role of software, the role digital role of technology and, and all aspects from design and all the way through to coding and implementation. So all of those things on circular economy. In all the different ways that as an enabler as a benefit or as a, as a tool that's maybe letting things happen that couldn't have happened otherwise. And I know that in your book, and I think in your new book, you've got, you know, a significant chunk about that. Where would you start to sort of pick out things that to kind of talk about how, what the role of technology is?
Catherine Weetman 20:37
Sure. And yes, I have updated the technology section quite a lot in the book. So technology, I class in my framework is one of the key enablers for the circular economy. And there are a whole range of different ways it does that. So to go back to the four kind of strategies for the circular economy: fast to slow, owning to using, wasting to recovering, and safe, sustainable materials. If we think about how do we move from faster slow sensor technology and the Internet of Things can be really helpful there, in helping understand how something is performing in use. So if you've created some equipment that's gone into a factory, or you know to use the Rolls Royce famous example of their aircraft engines power by the hour, lots of sensor technology that's giving them real time information on how something's performing. And if something's wearing, you know, noticing that this this parts wearing quicker than we expected, so I can now go and do something about it proactively. So that can be really helpful. And also understanding how something's being used. One of the first episodes in my podcast with Tom Harper of Unusual Rigging, he was talking about how they'd put sensors into some of the hoists and lifts so they could understand how this was being used because on a stage that might be you know, a lift that's that's being used 20 times in every performance and another lift that only gets used once. And it's it's lifting a featherweight object. So understanding how something's being used and monitoring how it's doing and, and deciding which things need servicing when, can save the customer money gives the customer more assurance in terms of the reliability of this, and gets you as a manufacturer, or as you know, a provider of the services much closer to the customer and what their needs are. So there's lots happening there. And of course, big data can start to analyse the performance of those things across lots of customers and lots of different use cases, and start to give you new understandings of patterns and trends. Looking at the second strategy of moving from owning to using, we've talked about a few platforms there, but essentially, it's all about finding ways to match supply with demand. And there are companies starting to do really interesting things with that. So you mentioned my recent podcasts with Rheaply. And what they're doing is almost creating a translation dictionary if you like, between the way one organisation might catalogue its resources, its equipment, its consumables. So if we think about a laboratory, they might have all all sorts of different ways of cataloguing the stuff that they buy both assets and consumables, and another organisation in a similar field could catalogue it completely differently. So what Rheaply are doing is kind of, you know, putting all the matching in place to allow those things to be translated so you can easily see what you might use from another organisation. EccessMaterialsExchange another recent episode, or doing something similar, but going further and taking a particular material and then looking to see how else that could be used and looking to see where could you recover the most value for this material and the example they gave was old railway lines. And so say the tracks in the Netherlands might be used for 10 years and then resold, perhaps to somewhere in Central Europe. So they've still got plenty of life in them. And so there was an existing reuse market. But Excess Materials Exchange, were doing lots of research into other ways. And realised that keeping them locally and reusing them in construction in their existing forms. So there was no machining or anything to do other than cutting them down to length, would have a smaller environmental footprint for the reuse and also generate more value. So there's all this kind of analysis of different possibilities and weighing up of the pros and cons of different options. That's interesting. Going from waste to recovery. There's a lot of use of machine learning and artificial intelligence in learning to recognise different material so you know, mixed waste streams passing through the same system and helping programme robots and so on to automatically select and get to ever finer waste streams that you can then create value out of instead of it being a sort of mixed plastic stream that can only create a low value, plastic for, you know, a kind of low low value use. If you're able to separate each type of material, you've got much more chance of recovering it back into material for the same kind of product. And that's our, you know, our ideal is to at least recycle not to down cycle. And a good example, again from the podcast a while ago, artificial intelligence for sorting, and this company had not started in the circular economy at all they were using artificial intelligence to recognise things. And one of their early challenges was on a fishing vessel to try and recognise different species of fish and also different sizes within the species. So you can imagine the infinite range of possibilities that could be passing under the camera eye. And so they solved that problem. And the next problem they were asked to solve was sorting batteries for recycling, which by comparison was a piece of cake. But this whole interaction of starting off with a human written algorithm, and then using machine learning to improve that, you know, to the nth degree. And obviously, the then the fourth thing safe and safe and sustainable materials, lots of use of material passports. And I think those are going to be the transformational thing. And the quote that Google likes to use of waste as a data problem. The material passport, I think needs to be the next breakthrough in understanding you know, if I bought something, what's in it, and how am I going to make sure that all those materials get back into a really useful recycling stream afterwards? You know, where where did this come from? What's it actually made of? Because that's, that's very opaque in lots of products at the moment.
Emily Swaddle 26:59
There are some great samples in that thank you for that, Catherine. And as Barry said, this is kind of a space of opportunity. And it's great to see so many people diving into that space and taking the opportunity. And, again, as Barry's mentioned, this season is all about kind of highlighting some of those examples and how people are really being creative in that space. And you mentioned as well how this industry this change in an economic structure, wants to make sure that especially kind of things of material reuse that it's all being done safely. And there's enough data to support that makes sure that things aren't going awry. But what do you think maybe are some of the risks involved with this. Once we start kind of using technology in this circular economy space, what kind of issues might arise or do arise in the examples that you've come across?
Catherine Weetman 27:55
Yeah, and I often cite these examples as, you know, kind of reasons why the circular economy in itself isn't a panacea towards a sustainable ethical world. You know, you can have an example that's circular, like Uber, that has two issues with it. First of all, it can be used for exploitation, because it controls both supply and demand and keeps them apart and owns the matching up of those two inbound information streams if you like. So that could be done in a good way. Or it can be exploitative in terms of its surge pricing model and so on, that puts the price up when taxis are in high demand. So that can be good in that it can encourage drivers who might have taken a day off to think oh, like, you know, there's good money to be made here. I'll go and work so it, you know, increases the supply. But it can also be used cynically, where another form of transport suddenly not available, and they just put the price up, you know, make more money out of it. And also, there's The Rebound Effect. So I think, with Uber, its backers, I've got deep pockets. And one of the things that I worry about, in lots of instances is that Uber moves into a new place, and then undercuts the opposition. So not just the existing taxi services, but undercutting public transport costs. And in lots of American cities, what they found is, since Uber moved in, the number of car journeys on the road, and the car kilometres in the city has actually risen, because people are now finding that that you know, the convenience and the cost of Uber makes it not worth walking to the subway station. So from a sustainability point of view, that's not good either. So I think, you know, if something like Uber was community owned or employee owned, that would be much more ethical from from my kind of perspective. So I guess it's this kind of ownership of the algorithm and the data and I feel quite strongly that you know open source is the way to go. And this kind of, you know, control of data, as we're seeing in lots of contexts can be really quite risky.
Emily Swaddle 30:08
Yeah, data privacy is a big issue these days, and I think is an important topic to, to focus on in this space.
Catherine Weetman 30:16
Emily Swaddle 30:16
You mentioned as well, things that maybe first appear circular and then kind of trip over themselves and become a slightly less sustainable option than the one that was already there. What about in terms of the digital industry itself? Obviously, they rely on a certain level of production and therefore, energy use and waste and hardware and in the industry itself. So yeah, suppose I'm asking like, how can digital industries walk the talk when it comes to circular economy?
Catherine Weetman 30:50
Yeah, that's a really good point. And I think, you know, it's one of the concerns that that people have around blockchain is that that can provide a really secure information chain so that you know something is is real, which can be helpful for selling valuable resources you know that you know the provenance of it of is real and so on. But the the energy required to store all those different transactional bits of information is really intensive. And as we all want more information, and there's, you know, more algorithmic processing going on at every stage of the supply chain, then there's a real risk of just consuming more and more energy. So I guess, obviously, they have to commit to using renewable energy and and Microsoft have made big commitments on that. Whilst, you know, still somebody uncovered the week after that they were continuing to provide equipment and support for the fossil fuel and, you know, other industries so they hadn't completely transformed as an organisation. But yeah, renewable energy, but also the hardware itself, you know, for cloud computing, whilst whilst it kind of happens in the cloud, it doesn't happen in just in thin air. So companies like Cisco have big remanufacturing programmes and a big commitment to the circular economy. And I think more and more companies producing that kind of equipment are seeing the opportunities of remanufacturing of providing services rather than selling products. And so they're starting to move towards circular economy models themselves.
Emily Swaddle 32:26
I think it's interesting to see how how we're going to kind of move forward in this space and and continue to take steps towards a more circular economy. We've mentioned a bit about this idea that it's it's like, based on a mindset. In reality, the circular economy comes from the way that we think about the stuff we're using and how we're wasting and producing. And that digital tools can be really useful for that, even if there might be some issues that come up along the way. How do you think that that plays into the idea of this duty of care towards the things that we are consuming. We talked a little bit there about how the companies themselves, the producers have that duty of care in terms of how their business model works and how they are consuming energy and who they're supporting, but also the consumer themselves. And to think that the the duty of care the responsibility around this lies with them. Is there a kind of a place to offload this responsibility on policymakers? How do you think we can best kind of share this weight?
Catherine Weetman 33:37
Yeah, I think that's a really good point. And there are some policies, particularly in Europe, that do put the onus of responsibility on the on the producer, but maybe not enough responsibility if we take the example of packaging in the UK. So every large scale provider of packaging if you like, what that's a company making things or a company selling things that you know, like a online retailer, that's packaging things. So you have to declare the type of packaging that you use and how much of each to quite a fine level of detail. And you have to buy coupons that offsets the recycling of that. So you could recycle it yourself or you can just pass on that responsibility by buying the Packaging Recovery Notes they're called, but the revenue raised from those only covers about 10% of the cost of councils collecting and trying to recycle that. So it's long way from funding improvements in recycling technology to allow us to say deal with all the different types of plastic packaging. It's a long way from preventing companies putting stuff into the market that isn't recyclable. So it's the legislations there and could quite easily be tweaked to create a perfect circular economy, you know, by making it very, very costly to put stuff into the market that isn't easy to recycle or where there's no infrastructure, or worse isn't recyclable at all. And a similar thing with waste electricals across Europe, so that the concept of producer responsibility is there. But it's not really being rolled out across most market sectors. Some companies, as I said, are starting to see the opportunity of recovering their own resources to use again, and therefore are taking on that mindset themselves. So Patagonia is a good example. You can return anything to Patagonia for repair. No matter how old it is, there's a lifetime guarantee. And Patagonia encourage and support you to resell that garment when you finish with it. Or if you you know, if it's not fit for resale to send it back. And they've got a new it's only available in America annoyingly at the moment, but not only can you buy worn wear, but there's a recrafted line coming out with a designer taking Patagonia garments and kind of sort of doing a riff on several garments. So it might be two or three different types of fleece sweater and making those into a new hoodie that;s multicoloured. So some kind of really interesting ways of using it. And if it's if it's beyond that, then Patagonia keeping it for later recycling back into you garments. So they're really taking on that responsibility. And that's buying them a load more customer loyalty and doing an awful lot of their marketing for them for free. So I think the you know, companies starting to see that opportunity. And I think consumers are starting to get more interested in this but we don't have the information most of the time to know what to do with this. So coming back to the material passport, there's a circular.fashion a little startup. So what they're trying to do is partner with fashion companies to publicise the material areas that are in the garments, give consumers tips on how to care for it best. So you prolong the life of it and you're not over washing it and things like that, how to repair it if something goes wrong, and then what you can actually do with it at the end of life, you know, what, what kind of recycling stream might it go into? Or where could you resell it? So making all that information available gives people a chance to feel that they've done the right thing at the end of use. But too often, we're just kind of, you know, left in the dark with how do I best deal with this? And that leads to frustration.
Emily Swaddle 37:32
Yeah, I've been there many times myself thinking how do I recycle this item? How do I get a new home? Is there a way I can fix it? It can be very frustrating when the information just isn't there. And I feel everyone is going through the same thought process. So it's great to see that there's even some really creative ways that people are coming up with ways that kind of close that loop.
Catherine Weetman 37:54
Yeah, and you know, labels in garments and all sorts of things where you can, you know, scan them label on it tells you everything you need to know about, you know, the garments. And there was one company Sympatex did a concept recyclable waterproof jacket, and the care label had a postage paid thing on it. So you could just post it back back to Sympatex at the end of its life for no cost.
Emily Swaddle 38:19
That's great. You know, you mentioned kind of Europe, when you were speaking there about some of these solutions. And even in Europe and some of the most economically developed countries in the world. They don't have the infrastructure necessarily to deal with recycling in an effective way or getting the information about waste management, or, you know, the kind of information we were just talking about to everyone. And that circular economy is evolving and emerging quickly, I think in some of the more economically developed countries. What about in the less economically developed countries? And what kind of responsibility do you think there is kind of globally in terms this transition to a circular economy.
Catherine Weetman 39:03
Yeah, I think there's a big transition globally. So to take that question in two parts and look at what's already happening in the global south and developing economies, so I think their mindset is much more circular to start with, you know, if we if we think about the circular economy, once you start to understand it, we can all go back to examples from our childhood, of things that did last longer. You know, my parents had washing machines that lasted for 30 years, and only just last year did they swap the oven and hob that they'd had in the house for 40 years and was just about still working. And now we only expect things to last a few years but that's not to say that they couldn't last for longer, it's that they you know, they've been designed. So developing economies because they've not had the disposable income, to choose to treat things as disposable and you know, fast. They've been much more creative in repairing things, keeping things for longer, and so on. So I think their mindset is already there. What's interesting is that the technology often is the really important enabler in helping them take that to the next level. So there are apps being used to help farmers share information about, you know, the way that they're farming the land and what what works well, helping them use sensor technology to understand how much to irrigate and when, rather than just having to kind of, you know, guess their way through it and err on the side of caution and use precious water resources that they might not have needed. And the same thing with use of pesticides and fertilisers and so on, you know, being much more precise and precision agriculture is called. So sharing all that information, connecting people with each other and this this business of connecting somebody who has something with somebody who needs it, you know, that the use of the mobile phone across the developing economy is really transformational, in that sense. And then coming back to our responsibilities, I think people are starting to realise over the last couple of years that you know, we've dumped a lot of our problems on the developing economies. So exporting toxic wastes and you know, because it was cheaper for them to deal with, but then averting our eyes or just not even looking at what might be happening and the kind of unregulated processing of waste electricals, waste plastics and so on. I saw something where the only way of getting the precious metals out of the technology was for it to be burnt and it wasn't being burnt in a controlled environment. It was just been burned out in the open and people then breathing all those toxic fumes. So some horrendous stuff going on that really should be made illegal. Now we we should be developing the technology to keep the resources in the local economy and get them back into the system, not export them overseas and then just ignore the immorality of you know what we're expecting them to do with it. And I think it was a good wake up call that China and and some other countries have sort of said actually we're, you know, we're not gonna import this any longer. We don't want to deal with it yourselves.
Barry O'Kane 42:11
So, so many different topics we've covered there. And I feel like not surprisingly, that kind of we've barely scratched the surface of everything we've touched on. But at the same time, I love the fact that we've covered so much and kind of, I hope, given us a bit of setting a context for this season and digging into those topics in a bit more detail. Really appreciate Catherine that's, I think, incredibly informative and useful for me, and for hopefully for our listeners as we prepare for Season Five. Two final questions to finish off with. One is in the very sort of summary format, what's your vision? What's your dream for the future of the circular economy?
Catherine Weetman 42:54
I think that it becomes more open sourced and people start to build the ethics into it as well, that it's not just looking at the physical flows and looking at, you know, how can I control this material? or How can I control this information, but that it becomes more of a community approach and an open sourced approach where transparency and ethical approaches, you know, fair approaches are there for all to see, and that we can all go and look at, who made my clothes who made my technology, what are they made of, and what can I do with that, and that it's not acceptable for anybody to put something into the world that's not recyclable, and it's not safe for us or for living systems. And I think, you know, we've got a long way to go. But companies are starting to see that as a real opportunity to set themselves ahead of the competition and and be the companies that citizens want to spend some money with.
Barry O'Kane 43:57
Or you want to work with or be part of
Catherine Weetman 44:01
exactly yeah, and that's a that's a really important point that, you know, people want to have meaning in their work. And millennials particularly are turning away from those companies that just have profit as their only purpose for existing.
Barry O'Kane 44:17
So thank you again really appreciate that. And there's there's so much there we will share all those links on happyporchradio.com and I hope those listening will be continue along the journey with us as we speak to some people are many of the things we've touched on materials passports, digging into the data, the different business models, sharing economy, and the different I guess, consumer facing and b2b and the different parts of the supply chain that we're hoping to explore in the season five. So that's really incredibly exciting. And just finally Catherine, for those listening who want to learn more about you your book and your podcast, where should they go?
Catherine Weetman 44:51
So the website is rethinkglobal.info and you can find me there Catherine at rethinkglobal.info or look me up on LinkedIn or go to the Circular Economy Podcast. And thanks Barry and Emily for a really interesting conversation really enjoyed talking to you both about technology and all things circular and look forward to hearing more of your podcasts as you dig into different examples.
Barry O'Kane 45:17
Wonderful. Thanks again, Catherine. And Emily, let's full steam for season five.
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