A regenerative ‘Circular Economy’ includes more localisation of economic activity

The Circular Economy is advocated to replace and address the social and environmental damage done by the current ‘Linear Economy’ with its ‘take, make, dispose’ model, depleting finite reserves to create products that end up in landfill or in incinerators. It achieves its objectives through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling – reducing waste to zero. Some examples of such practice are presented on the website of the World Economic Forum.

The idea of circular material flows as a model for the economy was presented in 1966 by an economist, Professor Kenneth Boulding, in his paper The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth.

In the 70s, Walter R. Stahel, architect, economist and a founding father of industrial sustainability, worked on developing a “closed loop” approach to production processes. He co-founded the Product-Life Institute in Geneva; its main goals are product-life extension, long-life goods, reconditioning activities, waste prevention, advocating “more localisation of economic activity”.

With Genevieve Reday, he outlined the vision of an economy in loops (or circular economy) and its impact on job creation, economic competitiveness, resource savings, and waste prevention. Their Hannah Reekman research report to the European Commission, “The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy” (1976) was published in 1982 as a book (left) Jobs for Tomorrow: The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy. 

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) a charity, which receives funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Northern Ireland Executive, Zero Waste Scotland, the Welsh Government and the European Union was set up in 2000.  From its headquarters in Banbury it works with businesses, individuals and communities to achieve a circular economy through helping them to reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way. Below: the header for its March report:

On 17 December 2012, the European Commission published a document entitled Manifesto for a Resource Efficient Europe. This manifesto clearly stated that “In a world with growing pressures on resources and the environment, the EU has no choice but to go for the transition to a resource-efficient and ultimately regenerative circular economy” and outlined potential pathways to a circular economy, in innovation and investment, regulation, tackling harmful subsidies, increasing opportunities for new business models, and setting clear targets.

‘Resource’, the first large scale event for the circular economy was held In March 2014 and Walter Stahel joined the programme of 100 business leaders and experts. Many major stakeholders and visitors from across the globe attended. An annual large scale event is now increasing the uptake of circular economy principles. Circular Economy Examples may be seen on the website of the World Economic Forum and there are indications that some multinational companies may be cherry-picking related ideas which cut costs and increase profits.

Some will have reservations about the involvement of McKinsey & Company, which has issued two reports on the subject – one commissioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Peter Day explored the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and its associates on radio (In Business) on 23rd April 2015 – listen again here.

Ellen established this independent charity in 2010 and eloquently outlines the economic opportunity of a circular economy, giving the concept wide exposure and appeal.

 

 

 

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Storing food in a localised low carbon system

 

Traditional methods of storing food include preservation of food in ice brought from the mountains and kept inside caves & icehouses, low-tech bottling and jam-making, drying of meat & fruit and underground storage at lower temperatures in hot countries.

On Monday Mark Shapiro, a Californian reader, sent this link to information about another method: fermentation, a localised probiotic food system which has significant economic, social and health benefits.

aaronAaron Vansintjan reflects that it’s easy to get the impression that we live in a world of scarcity, where there just isn’t enough food to go around, and food production all around the world is limited by technological backwardness.

On the other hand, there is an increasing problem of food waste in Western food systems. Though a range of expensive and complex technologies protects our fresh food supply against spoilage, a large proportion food produced is thrown away.

Aaron has a background in Natural Resource Sciences and is currently conducting research into food related issues, including marginalized communities access to food. He has observed the Vietnamese practice of fermentation, embedded within people’s livelihoods, local agricultural systems, food safety practices, forming a fundamental component of a sustainable food system. With the rise of the local food and food sovereignty movements, many are realising that we need food systems that could support everyone: from small farmers to low-income families. In a localised food system food needs to be stored for long periods. Fermentation makes that possible. He comments:

“Unlike many high-tech proposals like ‘smart’ food recycling apps, highly efficient logistics systems, and food packaging innovations, fermentation is both low-tech and democratic—anyone can do it. It has low energy inputs, brings people together, is hygienic and healthy, and can reduce food waste”.

vietnam market

In Vietnam there are wholesale night markets, mobile street vendors, covered markets, food baskets organized by office workers with family connections to farmers, guerilla gardening on vacant land. Food is grown, sold, and bought all over the place, and supermarkets are just a small (albeit growing) node in the complex latticework. Most people still get food at the market, but many also source their food from family connections. With this easy access to wholesale produce, many can turn to small-scale fermentation to complement their income—or spend less on food at the market.

The article goes into great detail about various recipes for fermented food Some call for water and salt: “At just a 1:50 ratio (2%) of salt to food, an environment is created in which bad bacteria doesn’t flourish and good bacteria is encouraged”.

the most popular fermented dishes in Vietnam

From left to right: Nem chua (fermented sausage), Thịt lợn chua (sour fermented pork), Com me (sour rice with fermented paste), Dưa chua/dưa muối (fermented fruit or vegetable), Mắm chua (sour fermented fish paste),Tôm chua (fermented shrimp), Nước mắm or Nước chấm (fish sauce),Tương (fermented soybean paste)

Vietnamese street vendors know the rules of hygiene and food safety, and, because they have to be careful with their money, they know exactly what kinds of food will go bad, and what kinds of food can be preserved. In doing so, they practice a food culture that has been passed down through generations—to a time before fridges, a global food system powered by container shipping, factory trawlers, and produce delivered to far-off markets by airplane.

Because of its low investment costs, fermentation lends itself well to supporting small businesses, allowing them to take advantage of seasonality while practicing a time-tested low-tech method of food preparation. Fermented food doesn’t depend on high inputs of fossil fuel energy to preserve food, high waste, and high-tech. It has to be produced locally: transporting it will risk explosions on the high seas

Aaron ends; “With increasing concern over the health side effects of common chemicals such as BPA (Bisphenol A, a  polycarbonate plastic) found in almost all cans and pasta sauce jars, people are looking to safer kinds of preservation, which aren’t killing them and their families slowly. In a world facing climate change, we need a low-impact food system, and fast”.

(Ed: some links and pictures added)

 

 

MUFP: 100 city regions hope to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by changing the food system

urban-food-policy-pact

In 2015, led by Milan, a coalition of 100 cities from all continents signed a Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFP) in Milan’s Palazzo Reale and presented it to Ban-Ki Moon, UN Secretary General, in New York on World Food Day, October 16. To read the latest news go to its website.

They now recognise that their food systems are having high health and environmental impacts. As Professor Tim Lang comments in ‘Food Research’: “Aspirations for cheap food have become hard-wired into consumer expectations. Waste is rampant. Governments bow too much to giant food companies selling sugary, salty, fatty, ultra-processed food. Marketing budgets dwarf food education. No-one seems to be in overall control”.

He continues: “Cities are powerhouses of work but parasitic on cheap labour on the land. Their budgets are squeezed but their diet-related costs are rising. Their dense populations could be energy and food efficient but require huge infrastructure and change to be so . . . A new urban politics is emerging, gradually recognising the need to move beyond the neoliberal era’s commitment to cheap and plentiful food which has only spawned an horrendous new set of challenges which it cannot resolve . . .  Waste. The new food poor. Rising obesity. Street litter. Inequalities. Low waged food work”.

17sd-2-g-goals

Though the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are translated as 169 targets, 70 of which involve food, as Lang says: “New techno-imperialists whisper sweet nothings into politicians’ ears, offering another bout of technical intensification to keep this show on the road. This is not just genetic modification, which is already in trouble, yoked as so much is with use of glyphosate, the herbicide previously deemed benign but now in trouble as a probable carcinogen. There’s a raft of new technical sectors offering food fixes: robotics, nanotechnology (putting minute particles into food); synthetic biology; Big Data and the information revolutions; the promise of personalised healthcare applying life science wizardry. Underpinning them all is continued reliance on but nervousness about oil-based fertilisers. It was they who kept the food wheels turning at the last big moment of reflection in the mid 1970s”.

tim-langLang says, “Now we need another package. But which is it to be? Is it more Big Farming or more horticulture? And what sort? Plants not animals are the key to the new metric: how to feed people from declining available growing space”.

He calls for strong political voice and says that the positive news about a sustainable future needs to be grasped: closer foodways, better jobs, healthier populations instead of cheap food, overflowing hospitals and denuded nature.

 

 

 

Reviving a genuinely local entrepreneurial culture

david boyle2Innovative thinkers often have to wait ten to twenty years before their concepts become mainstream. Two years ago David Boyle (New Economics Foundation) listed ten linked propositions, many borrowed from the most successful cities in Europe and North and South America, which could effectively allow cities to take back control of their economic destiny.

Agreeing with the City Growth Commission that a new economic agenda is emerging in these successful cities (and setting aside the issue of the desirability of growth) these propositions offer a more interesting and convincing contribution to the Core Cities debate, than Jim O’Neill’s four points:

Boyle’s ten linked propositions offer an outline agenda – a composite drawn from these urban centres:

  1. Rebuild local economies by plugging the leaks that are draining local money away. How money circulates in an area is just as important as the amount of money flowing into it. Traditional economics suggests that cities must specialise. That may be true for the largest businesses, but it is irrelevant for local business. For them, the best way forward is not just by specialising, but also by building diversity and looking for ways of replacing imports.
  1. Develop local diversity and distinctiveness. Too many of our cities have devoted their imagination and resources to making themselves look the same as each other. But because economic diversity keeps money circulating locally, it is critical that any new developments design well-being, distinctiveness and sustainability indicators into Master Planning processes and that any new retail effort must make high streets more, not less, diverse.
  1. Bust local monopolies to let enterprise flourish. One major reason why so many of our local economies have been hollowed out is that so many cities have been using net wealth destroyers as anchor stores.
  1. Organise enterprise coaching, support and advice in every neighbourhood. Coaches, backed up by a panel of local business people, bank managers and other local volunteers, can help to break down the barriers preventing enterprise from starting, replicating the kind of social networks that successful places have.
  1. Use local resources to build an effective new local lending infrastructure. Our businesses are now in a far weaker position than American or German competitors, and potential competitors, because we have no equivalent lending infrastructure. The real problem is not lack of capital to lend, it’s a serious lack of institutions capable of lending it.
  1. Invest in local energy. At present only 0.01 per cent of electricity in England is generated by local authority-owned renewables, despite the scope that exists to install projects on their land and buildings. In Germany the equivalent figure is 100 times higher.
  1. Use waste products as raw material for new enterprises. Traditional economics confines its interest to the point where money becomes involved and to the point when a product is thrown away. Cities are often blind to the potential value of what is wasted and thrown away – because all these have potential for enterprise.
  1. Use public sector spending to maximise local money flows. Making sure that public sector contracts build the local economy, and provide permanent economic assets for depressed areas.
  1. Launch a range of new kinds of money. Successful models are now running all over the world, keeping local resources circulating locally and providing independence for impoverished communities. They can provide low-cost or free credit, and – in some countries – they underpin whole sectors of the economy.
  1. Experimenting with new kinds of credit creation for local public benefit. There will be occasions when regional economies require the creation of new public money, free of interest, where necessary to cope with unprecedented financial emergencies, and as the basis for loans to rebuild the infrastructure of productive local economies.

Boyle notes that not all of these ideas could be organised without central government support, but that the rest could be done by imaginative and forward-looking city leaders, grasping the new powers of general competence made available in the Localism Bill.

 

Read the full article here.

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Environmental, economic, social and ethical reasons for a different approach to waste disposal

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In this country and abroad Veolia’s services are being dispensed with for environmental, economic, social and ethical reasons.

The City Council is considering what to do when its 25 year contract with waste giant Veolia expires in 2018.

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John Newson (BFOE) writes:

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tyseley waste“The Council will become in 2018 the owner of the largest emitter in Birmingham of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide: People in East Birmingham have a shorter life expectancy by some years than other parts of the city and although this cannot be definitely linked to the incinerator, much evidence of the health effects of incineration have come to light, since it was built.

“We are calling upon Birmingham City Council to develop a new approach as “Birmingham Waste Savers”. The collection system creates the waste stream; it should be designed backwards to produce outputs that have value. The coming change from bags to bins gives a great opportunity to design for less rubbish and to collect wastes you actually want . . . (leaving)  clean materials that can be reused or recycled.

“The city’s 60% recycling target can be just a beginning, since there are authorities in Britain past 70% and aiming for 80%. A lot of second hand goods can be recovered by local projects and sold to low income families instead of being burned”.

A better use for the site is sketched in the article and might well include reuse shops seen in other parts of the region.

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Combining localisation, recycling and social enterprise, Localise West Midlands has worked on business plans for Birmingham ‘tip shops’.

 tip shop shakespeare hospice

These have already been developed at Warwick, run by Age Concern, Leamington, Sue Ryder, and Stratford, the Shakespeare Hospice  (above) – sited at municipal tips diverting decent goods for re-sale that would otherwise be landfilled. In so doing so, they save the local authority money and generate an income for the social enterprise that run them.

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Worldwide protests against Veolia are voiced locally by the West Midlands Palestine Solidarity Campaign

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This French multinational’s activities include:

  • helping to build and operate a tramway linking illegal settlements in East Jerusalem with Israel
  • operates bus services for Israeli settlers, running them between the illegal settlements and Israel on ‘apartheid’ roads, which Palestinians are forbidden to use.
  • its subsidiary, TMM, Veolia also collects refuse from illegal settlements at the Tovlan landfill site in the occupied Jordan Valley.
Tramway under construction in 2006
Tramway under construction in 2006