Right now, our economy is a linear extractive economy. We extract resources from the environment, produce products, and sell them to consumers, then consumers throw them away and we put them in a landfill. You can observe in nature that everything is part of a cycle that creates balance. For example, a tree grows and uses the healthy soil. When it dies, it gets decomposed by mushrooms and insects and microorganisms that break the organic matter back down into the healthy soil for more trees to use and grow. When you cut down a tree and take it out of the forest, the nutrients, organic matter, and carbon in the tree don’t return to the soil, and therefore, the soil doesn’t retain the nutrients.
Another example is that rain falls from the sky, flows into rivers, then back into the oceans. Then, warm weather evaporates the water from the oceans back into clouds, and they move toward mountains and rain again. The water is never really gone—it just moves from one form to another and from one place to another in a balanced cycle.
We need to think about our economy in the same way. We need to take resources such as trees for wood, use them to build furniture and housing, and then when the wood is old and needs to be replaced, we need to return the old wood back to the forests to put nutrients back into the soil to grow more trees. The biggest change here is thinking about how to move the resources back to the beginning to create a circular system.
Another example is that we grow food on a farm using healthy soil and create produce to eat. We eat produce, but we can then put the scraps from that food into the compost bin. When we compost organic matter, like food scraps, microorganisms break that food down, just like the trees that fall in the forest, and we use it as natural fertilizer on the farm to grow more food. We return the resources back to the beginning.
To take it further, food is eaten by humans, and then we digest it and poop and pee out whatever we did not retain. We need to take that human poop and urine and recycle it back into our environment to use for growing more food. For everything we produce, we need to think about the full life cycle of the product: what its source materials are, what its useful life is, and what happens after it’s no longer useful. We should not be putting anything into a landfill.
We need to have this circular approach in the design of products and systems. If we don’t figure out how to do this, we will eventually be forced into a situation where we deteriorate our resources and make it more difficult to restore a healthy balanced ecosystem.