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Zero Waste and the circular economy - it takes two


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The circular economy is part of Boston’s move towards zero waste. Find out more about it and how you can do your part.

The stuff in our lives is full of untapped potential. A T-shirt one day can be turned into a quilt patch the next. An old desk can be fashioned into a bookcase. We’ve all tried at least one Do-It-Yourself (or DIY) project.

T-shirt quiltBy finding creative second uses for our things, we model zero waste and the circular economy in a small way. As we introduced in our first blog, the common sense idea behind zero waste is that most of the stuff we use can provide continued value long after we're done with it.

What’s the circular economy?

The circular economy takes the material that we can’t easily reshape or modify in our garages at home and turns it into new products. Materials like paper, glass, plastic, metal, and wood are reused on the other end of the recycle bin to make another product, “closing the circle” of stuff by recovering them for their next use.

Circular economy

One of the biggest benefits of recycling material is that all the energy, carbon emissions, and waste that are created by extracting the raw materials to make something from scratch are avoided.

Appliance heap

What does the circular economy look like?

For example, some appliance companies take back old refrigerator units and use the metals in them to make new ones. Shoe companies are also getting into the game by starting to design and make shoes directly from plastic and rubber waste. And this only scratches the surface of the possibilities!

Here’s another good example of the circular economy in action. One computer manufacturer takes back old units through a dedicated takeback program and working partnership with thrift stores.

First, the plastics from these used products is separated by type and shipped out to different computer parts manufacturers in their global supply chain. When they arrive, they are melted, blended together, and molded into new parts for computers. This whole process takes about six months and is better for both their bottom line and the environment.

Computer monitors

It may be helpful to think about zero waste and the circular economy as two sides of the same coin. While zero waste tends to focus on what we use and throw out (consumption), the circular economy is a way we describe the innovative actions of companies and industries that take those discarded materials and make them useful again (remanufacturing). Both encourage us to look at the whole picture when we are making, buying, and discarding the things we use in our lives.

How does the circular economy fit with Zero Waste Boston?

The Zero Waste Boston initiative is looking at the actions and strategies that will move the city towards zero waste. The circular economy is a part of that shift. As we reconsider our relationship with the materials we use, this opens up a space for innovation. Individuals and businesses find new ways to use and remake things, turning what was once deemed waste into valuable resources.

Recycled metal plant

What you can do now to reduce your waste?

Do your part by recycling regularly and composting if you can at one of our Project Oscar pickups. Aluminum and other metals are especially important to recycle since they are costly to make again from scratch. Check to make sure that you are recycling correctly by following our list. And consider whether a product is made from recycled materials next time you are at the store. 

Together, we can move towards zero waste in Boston.

This post is part of the Zero Waste Boston initiative. If you’d like to follow along as we discuss the ins and outs of going zero waste, you can subscribe to our general email list here. If you would like to receive periodic updates about the more technical side of the municipal waste management planning process, sign up here.