Spin the wheel of circular economy

Finally, the summer has come. Holidays! You head towards the airport, with your 55x40x20 suitcase, hoping that Ryanair won’t check it into the aircraft hold. All of a sudden, you notice that pulling it gets heavier, as if you were dragging it. Damn! The wheel is broken. Well, it doesn’t matter, one last journey and you’ll throw it away. Right? Pity, because it is almost new. What do you do? Are you going to spend all that money to purchase a new one? What a shame!

Last summer, I happened to be in this situation. Normally, convinced as I was that there is no future for damaged suitcases, I would have run into a shop to buy a new one. But this time, I behaved differently, because I had heard of a place right around the corner, where you can bring your broken object and where someone will help you repair it for free. This place is called Millor que nou (Better than new, in Catalan) and it’s part of a project of the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB), that promotes circular economy as a mechanism to reduce waste.

The Circular economy, as opposed to the linear economy, envisages an economic system that eliminates waste and does not depend on the continuous extraction of natural resources. The purpose of this model is to close the loop of each product’s life-cycle: once consumed, a good can be recirculated through reusing, recycling and repairing to give it a second life, and reduce its twofold impact on the environment: the creation of waste and the manufacturing and purchase of a new one.

After having been theorized for decades, this new model is finally on the agenda of our policy makers. The European Commission has recently adopted a Circular Economy Action Plan, that aims to make circularity work not only for industries, regions, and cities but also for the citizens. And I could not agree more with this last point, because the human factor is key, our life-style choices can really spin the wheel of the circular economy faster.  

Let’s discover how!


Better than new, repaired

First, let’s go back to another wheel that didn’t spin: the one of my suitcase (I am sure everybody was waiting for the rest of this exciting story…). One evening, I decided to have a look at the workshop of “Millor que nou”, this sort of objects’ hospital. At the entrance they had me weigh the “patient” with a scale: I learned later that they are keeping track of the total amount of material saved from becoming garbage. The repairman promptly assessed the conditions of the suitcase and recommended a few actions I could try, in an attempt to save it. I had all the tools of the trade available in that room, so I got to work and after a lot of sawing and filing, I managed to fix it. It took me three hours, but I felt quite proud of my accomplishment.

If you are not from Barcelona, don’t worry, there are a lot of other similar places around the world. For example, I could easily browse The Restart Project in London and the Repair Café in Paris. Let us know if you have similar initiatives in your area! If you don’t, you can always find help on specialized repair web pages, such as IFixIt. You can find video-tutorial channels entirely dedicated to the most common broken objects: the typical snapped iron bar of an umbrella, the malfunctioning resistor of a toaster, a tear in the trousers, etc.

At this point, one could argue that buying new things is much faster than repairing them, because, in the end, who has three hours to fix a case? “Millor Que Nou” has a solution to this problem as well: it provides a search engine for you to find the closest repair shop that best suits your needs. Going there, you will have your object repaired, without spending your free time and for a lower price than purchasing a new one.


The best cure, prevention

In these special hospitals, as in the human ones, you will also learn that the best cure is prevention, as you can increase the lifespan of your things, in various ways, such as by paying attention to your usage behaviour or by doing frequent maintenance (you can find tutorials for that as well).

But even before this, you can reduce the environmental impact by buying less and buying better. If you value the quality of materials and manufacturing process, your item will probably last longer. Moreover, some companies have completely revolutionized their value chain, redesigning their products and processes to move towards circularity, especially in sectors with a high environmental impact, such as fashion, automotive and construction. Opting for these green brands will further support and encourage the adoption of the new model.


Share, reuse, exchange

Who doesn’t like a walk in a second-hand shop? Here you will find the most interesting books, the most eccentric clothes, and the most unusual toys. As a fanatic of flea markets, I can assure you that the fun is guaranteed. And it’s a sustainable kind of fun, since, in this case, the shopping experience is free of negative environmental impact.

European cities are full of second-hand markets, that are very popular in the teenagers’ community, especially because of the “vintage” trend. In the end, fashion has become partly circular, repeating itself from one generation to the next.

And if you want to get rid of your old stuff, without installing a stand in one of these markets, you can always participate in the exchange initiative offered by “Millor que nou”. Here, you will receive some credits for your object, and you will be able to choose from the shelves whatever you like. If your object doesn’t find a new house after three months, you will be able to take it back home or give it to charity.

One of these NGOs, probably the most famous internationally, is Humana, that collects second-hand clothes (through the containers distributed all over Spain) and resells them in the several thrift shops, owned and managed by the organization.


We hope that this article has given you some ideas to change your daily habits with respect to objects and their life-cycle, and that you will have the chance to discover by yourself that giving objects a second opportunity can be easier than you think.


Written by: Luisa Candido – Innovation Project Coordinator (and cat keeper) at Estabanell


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