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Written By

Ewan Thomson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda

  • There’s a growing number of ways to be a part of the circular economy, even at home.
  • Transitioning from the old take-make-waste model to a reduce-reuse-recycle system can be as easy as composting or repairing a kettle.
  • Here are five innovations and initiatives that can enable households to contribute to the circular economy and help tackle the climate crisis.

You might not feel part of the circular economy by lending your neighbour your hedge trimmer, but any action that leads to limited resources being used more efficiently – and more intelligently – is a step in the right direction.

The circular economy aims to use resources in a more sustainable and efficient way than the pervasive model of taking resources, using them once and discarding them, otherwise known as take-make-waste. Instead of this wasteful approach, people are moving towards a reduce-reuse-recycle system that could have a strong economic case, too.

Infographic showing the benefits of the circular economy.

The circular economy promotes sustainable activities that have numerous benefits. Image: UNCTAD

You don’t have to live in a place that is embracing the circular economy – like Amsterdam, which aims to waste nothing and recycle everything by 2050 – to be a part of it. Something as simple as buying a water recycling shower or making your own compost all contribute to waste reduction.

Here are five innovations and initiatives that can help households to reduce, reuse and recycle more.

Recycling shower water

10-minute shower uses on average 110 litres of water, and showers consume the most amount of water in a typical household – at around 40%.

Reducing the amount of water we use to shower will have a significant impact on reducing overall household water use, and so is an important area for businesses to explore and innovate.

Ikea has helped develop a solution that can recycle, clean and disinfect your shower water in a closed loop, while reducing energy consumption by around 70%.

The new shower – which is still undergoing testing – recycles the water that would normally go down the plug hole, using only around 30 litres of freshwater and 90 litres of recycled water for a 10-minute shower.

Repairing broken household items

Repairing something means one less item needs to be produced. But repairs usually require tools and space (not to mention skills), which not everyone has access to. One solution in a circular economy is to have spaces like the Repair Café network, where people can repair damaged items in a café, with tools and expert volunteers on hand to help.

Visitors to any one of the 2,500 cafés worldwide can get specialist help to learn how to make their repairs, lend a hand with someone else’s repair job, or just grab a tea or coffee and settle down with one of the books provided on repairs and DIY.

Circular gardening

A garden, allotment or a window box can all be part of the circular economy, and gardening offers a number of circular activities that many people have already been doing for generations.

Borrowing your neighbour’s hedge cutters, composting, dividing plants or saving seeds for future use might seem like everyday activities for some, but they are also examples of the circular economy in action. Following the four Rs of greener gardening – reduce, reuse, recycle and reinvest – is cheap and environmentally friendly, too.

Repurposing household items

For the more creative, the chance to reuse existing objects that have served their initial purpose can also reap environmental dividends.

Image curation websites like Pinterest allow people to showcase their own creative ideas. But repurposing does not need to mean transforming a door into a table, or even recycling milk bottles into herb pots. Even using an old toothbrush to scrub hard-to-reach areas cuts down the need to buy new products, while extending the usefulness of the original object beyond its intended use.

Seek out local support and initiatives

Depending on where you live, you might be able to benefit from a city or region that actively supports circular economies, and has probably already launched numerous local initiatives that support the circular economy.

Lots of little initiatives can make a big difference. Milan has already developed BOTTO – an automated communication system that helps reallocate surplus food, reducing waste. While in Berlin, they are mapping wastewater heat and connecting suppliers with users for a more efficient system.

Innovating in the global circular economy

Innovators are showcasing their circular economy solutions around the world, as part of Circulars Accelerator ’23, a six-month programme run by UpLink, the World Economic Forum’s innovation crowdsourcing platform, to help circular economy innovators scale their ideas.

Former circular economy innovations from the programmes include the conversion of textile waste into raw materials, sanitary pads and nappies into paper, as well as eco-friendly hair extensions.

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