The pandemic may be creating a new urgency to not only recycle but re-purpose more materials. Bringing your own bags has all but gone out the window, thanks to the return of the disposable economy in the time of Coronavirus. Jennifer Russell teaches about what’s known as the ‘circular economy’ at Virginia Tech. “It’s a framework for bringing sustainable systems perspectives to how we make and consume things, where we take it, we turn it into something and then throw it in a landfill and instead, design it from the get go, so that it can have multiple lives.” Russell says products should made with “nontoxic materials and have more value in that system, besides just being convenient and disposable.”
But convenience and disposability are now front and center because our society’s focus is on not contaminating our surroundings and ourselves, while coronavirus stalks the land. So those once maligned, single use products are now the go-to safety position. No more refillable coffee cups, for now anyway. In the midst of a pandemic, important issues often get pushed aside, in order to handle the emergency. An early casualty was the already faltering recycling sector. China stopped taking our waste products two years ago, and onshore recycling wasn’t always proving financially worthwhile. That meant more materials piling up in landfills, even though some of it could have had a new life in something called, the ‘circular economy.’ “If you think about how to implement circular economy at the level that everyone can access it, not just heavy industry, not just technology experts, not just corporations, it’s activities that the average person can access, include, reuse, and repair.”
It’s a throwback to the way things used to be, but in recent decades says Russell, packaging got more complex with layers of plastics, metals and inks, that made it impossible to recycle. The thinking now is that, planning for re-use of materials, early in the production phase, could help usher in a circular economy.