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Posted April 11, 2022

The circular economy – discouraging the throwaway culture

Swansea UniversityAre you guilty of buying something new instead of getting it repaired? Or upgrading your phone and leaving your old one in the drawer?

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Did you know the UK produces 200 million tonnes of waste each year and that one quarter of that goes to landfill?

Change bad habits

Dr Gavin Bunting from the Faculty of Science & Engineering at Swansea University explains how we can all start changing our habits to discourage the current throwaway culture, and in turn implement the principles of the Circular Economy. To put it simply, we need to start becoming users, rather than consumers. And we need to make sure that industries do their part.

Resources that we need for critical applications such as power generation, medical devices, cars and batteries are becoming more scarce, so should we be using these resources as if they are infinite? Or should we be thinking about the future? It certainly is a tough one, as we have all been in that situation when our phone, printer or washing machine has broken, we weigh up the pros and cons, and it’s just cheaper to buy a new one than to repair or upgrade it. In fact, we’re often encouraged to buy new – and frequently too – as it seems like products are not robust or made to last longer than a few short years.

Design durable products

But why should this be the case? What is the solution? One way to tackle this excess waste would be to move to a Circular Economy, where products are designed to be durable, straight forward to repair or upgrade, and it’s easy to recover and recycle the raw materials at the end of the product’s life, instead of having them go to landfill. Another mentality we could change is not owning things and choosing to rent or lease instead, becoming users as opposed to consumers. This change of business model really gives companies the incentive to ensure their products are robust or easy to repair so that they last longer, as they still own it and will get it back at the end of the product’s life. Whereas currently, we are sold products that companies hope they never see it again.

As scientists and engineers, we can be at the forefront of designing products and infrastructure for the Circular Economy, allowing for refurbishment and re-use, developing new materials, extracting useful resources from natural materials and understanding where opportunities are in a product’s lifecycle, to reduce waste or emissions.

So, next time you go to buy something, ask yourself, can it be repaired? Can the materials be recycled? How long is it designed to last for? Do you need to buy it? Can you rent the product? As consumers, we can help drive this area forward by purchasing or renting products that are durable, easy to repair and made of materials that are easy to recycle.

Sustainable energy resources

Have we piqued your interest? In an upcoming blog from Dr Matthew Davies, he will explain what is happening at Swansea University with Photovoltaics in relation to the Circular Economy, the next generation of solar energy technology and making sustainable renewable energy.

Speaking about this fascinating area of research, Dr Davies says, “The development and deployment of sustainable renewable energy technologies is vital to our transition away from fossil fuel energy sources towards a clean-energy future. However, although viewed as ‘green’, there are significant environmental impacts associated with renewable energy technologies. In our effort to tackle climate change quickly, it is important to ensure that renewable energy itself is also sustainable.”

Feeling inspired? Why not consider Science and Engineering postgraduate studies at Swansea University!

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