The Power of Place in Embracing Circular Living

by Alice Irene Whittaker

There is a quiet movement of citizens who are building, growing, and creating in a way that gives back to nature. I call this circular living: a way of life in which people repair our relationship with the natural world, heal our sense of self so that we see ourselves not as takers but as caretakers, and embrace the emerging circular economy in our daily lives.

The circular economy is an economic model inspired by nature’s cycles: there is no waste, and everything operates within the environment’s undeniable boundaries. Contrast that with our current linear economic system, which takes from the planet, makes something that is used briefly, and then wastes in impossible volumes. The current linear economy relies on extraction, exploitation, injustice, and excessive consumption to keep going. The circular economy, on the other hand, designs out waste. It operates in a closed loop that can operate indefinitely, while fostering the well-being of ecosystems and people. It is a regenerative economy in which human beings give back to the environment of which we are a part. At its heart, a circular economy is about resilience, well-being, and regeneration.

In a circular economy, we refuse to buy what we do not need. We redesign how we make and use goods so that they are high-quality and long-lasting, and so the end-of-life is accounted for. Waste is a resource for the next cycle of manufacturing or biodegrades safely into the environment. We repair what is broken, and we reserve the right to fix our appliances and electronics. We replace products with services, build second-hand markets, and strengthen local economies, like our own. We regenerate the soil in how we grow our food. We reconnect with experiences rather than things. We use renewable energy to power the circular economy, and we restore the ecosystems that have been damaged by the linear economy.

There are countless examples of the emerging circular economy. In the fashion industry, there is mending, swapping, upcycling, and thrifting, as well as rental boutiques and subscription leasing services. Food businesses can take perfectly good fruits and vegetables that can’t be sold at supermarkets because of our predilection for pretty produce, and turn them into juices, addressing food waste and reducing emissions. Small farms use permaculture and regenerative agriculture to grow food in concert with nature’s cycles. These farms are regenerating hurting soil, increasing food security, and strengthening local economies while feeding their communities.

We see this in our own community, with many of our neighbours already going circular. As part of a literary grant from the Conseil des Arts et des lettres du Québec for writing a book about my own journey with circular living, I have had the privilege of interviewing local farmers, builders, textile dyers, and homeowners in our region. These citizens are building with materials that would otherwise end up in landfill; foraging for plants that would be considered weeds, and turning them into natural dyes for wool sourced from local farmers; and growing food in a way that nourishes the soil. Conversations with these community members have left me a deep sense of hope, in realizing the strength of our collective power.

Everyone can embrace circular living. No one can do it perfectly, and no one can do it alone. Together we can decide to live circular, based on the strong foundation of community members who are already embracing this way of life. We can create deep-rooted change that continues to grow over the course of many cycles, seasons, and generations.