Challenges

The state of the circular economy in the US report

Most of the Circular Economy conversation is happening in Europe and Asia, but there are a few interesting initiatives happening in the United States too. This the best report I've seen on the state of the circular economy in the US. I'm also including the report as an attachment in case the link doesn't work.

In addition, here is my take on why the US is behind in the transition towards a circular economy model:

The US has been slow to adapt CE measures for 2 main reasons:
1) Vast resources. The US hasn't felt rising prices of raw materials or the effects of expanding landfills the way that other countries do
2) Global warming denial driven by pro-business policies: Unfortunately, large companies and industries have too much power here, driving the public policy against any kind of restriction. Revenue is too focused on short term wins vs a long-term sustainable models.


What's going to take for the system to change?
This is a bit of the chicken and the egg situation. Change will come from 3 areas, but to make progress, they all have to influence each other:


1)Public policy: The good news here is that newly elected representatives are pushing for a Green New Deal that would focus on a transition towards 100% clean energy, phasing out of all gas powered vehicles and other sustainable economic measures including a circular economy. These kinds of ideas are perceived as extremely radical in the US because of point #1: Regular citizens have not felt the effects of limited resources and directly, and are too close-minded to consider a new system that although it's beneficial long-term, it requires a huge mindshift. This shift has to be driven by public education (see next point). We’re seeing very small baby steps though: New York just banned styrofoam. It took years of lawsuits from restaurant owners who refused the change, but the new law finally took effect this month. It’s encouraging because it means other small steps will follow. What matters is to keep things going.


2)Public interest: Unfortunately, there’s a lack of information on the impact of our purchase decisions make on the world. Customers have a lot more power than they realize to decide what products become popular and which ones should be taken off the market. The problem is lack of awareness. The good news is social media and other digital platforms allow small companies without resources but strong values to be heard, and this is slowly influencing customer behavior. As customers have access to more choices, and we’re seeing that most people, when given the choice, will pick sustainable alternatives. This is driving bigger companies to follow and take the risk and make sustainable changes.


3) Business: Without government intervention, the number of companies committed to a sustainable model is limited, but it is growing. The good news is we're starting to see that companies that are sustainable are doing well, and this motivates more companies to follow. The public is starting to show preference for sustainable products. Regulation will make things faster, but until that kicks in, we have to rely on companies being proactive and on customers rewarding the companies that do.

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a6ca9a2f14aa140556104c0/t/5bb00…

 

Comments (2)

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How can this be improved?
Cynthia Reynolds
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  • How can we promote the idea of the Circular Economy in North America and accelerate the shift in mindset?
    We are seeing some interesting areas in the US including Pheonix and Charlottesville, and in Canada in Toronto and Quebec as a region.
    What can be done to speed up the adoption of the CE concept?

    Maria Chercoles
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  • Hi Cynthia, that's a good question so I updated my post and I'm replying to you here. I think the US has been slow to adapt CE measures for 2 main reasons:
    1) Vast resources. The US hasn't felt rising prices of raw materials or the effects of expanding landfills the way that other countries do
    2) Global warming denial driven by pro-business policies: Unfortunately, large companies and industries have too much power here, driving the public policy.


    What's going to take for the system to change?
    This is a bit of the chicken and the egg situation. Change will come from 3 areas, but to make progress, they all have to influence each other:


    1)Public policy: The good news here is that newly elected representatives are pushing for a Green New Deal that would focus on a transition towards 100% clean energy, phasing out of all gas powered vehicles and other sustainable economic measures including a circular economy. These kinds of ideas are perceived as extremely radical in the US because of point #1) above: Regular citizens have not felt the effects of limited resources and directly, and are too close-minded to consider a new system that although it's beneficial long-term, it requires a huge mindshift. This shift has to be driven by public education (see next point). We’re seeing very small baby steps though: New York just banned styrofoam. It took years of lawsuits from restaurant owners who refused the change, but the new law finally took effect this month. It’s encouraging because it means other small steps will follow. What matters is to keep things going.


    2)Public interest: Unfortunately, there’s a lack of information on the impact of our purchase decisions make on the world. Customers have a lot more power than they realize to decide what products become popular and which ones should be taken off the market. The problem is lack of awareness. The good news is social media and other digital platforms allow small companies without resources but strong values to be heard, and this is slowly influencing customer behavior. As customers have access to more choices, and we’re seeing that most people, when given the choice, will pick sustainable alternatives. This is driving bigger companies to follow and take the risk and make sustainable changes.


    3) Business: Without government intervention, the number of companies committed to a sustainable model is limited, but it is growing. The good news is we're starting to see that companies that are sustainable are doing well, and this motivates more companies to follow. The public is starting to show preference for sustainable products. Regulation will make things faster, but until that kicks in, we have to rely on companies being proactive and on customers rewarding the companies that do.