Consumerism is here to stay. A sweeping movement that drives consumption and brands within it. The pitfalls of such a movement are evident if one sees the massive accumulation of goods and products in landfills.
A growing number of communities and groups however are accelerating the shift to a more resilient and robust economy by reinventing the way we use and discard everyday products.
Among the many examples, Maakfabriek is a Belgian lab and community of enthusiasts that are extracting precious resources from urban waste and giving products a second life. This lab has moved a few notches beyond recycling. They add value to urban waste by sharing tools and ideas to give goods like discarded furniture and broken electronics a new life. The good news is that if many communities start fighting back by creating responsible business models at a micro level, dependency on mining can fall drastically once this movement spreads across the globe.
The resources on this planet are finite but behavioural patterns suggest otherwise. The present production and consumption cycle is based on extracting raw materials from the planet and manufacturing goods with a built-in life span. The next steps are the disposal of the same followed by a fresh purchase. A consumer movement along with urban mining can change that.
From lowering the necessity of new materials and traditional mining to recycling waste and creating employment opportunities, urban mining casts a glimmer of hope in the world’s transition to a more robust, inclusive, and circular economy.
One of the many hurdles to the creation of a circular economy is how to get disposed packaging and products back from the consumer and into recycling plants. This is critical so that the waste does not end up in landfills and is prevented from entering the supply chain again.
This circularity perspective holds the key to creating long-term sustainability of chemicals, e-waste, and plastics and needs to be at the pivot of any recycling strategy. In other words, the participation of consumers and the community is paramount for a movement to succeed where there will be enough material to reach urban mining companies and thus drive forward a functional effective circular economy for managing waste.
While the effects of climate change and global warming have been ingrained at the awareness level, this increased knowledge is not translating into action at a societal level. Fundamentally speaking, the behaviour towards usage and disposal has not changed. The alteration of consumer behaviour at scale is extremely difficult.
Organizations need to play an active part in influencing consumer behaviour and a ‘nudge’ is what is needed. One can think on a premise that introducing changes to the offering persuades people to make certain positive decisions, without removing their freedom of choice. For example, brands can have creative messages along with pre-ticked options on apps and websites that inspire customers to opt-out of receiving items they do not need like plastic cutlery, sauce sachets, straws, or tissues. Such initiatives can spur a concerted effort for driving more environmentally-friendly behaviour among consumers.
Organizations can partner with NGOs and local regulatory bodies for initiating the collection of devices and gadgets. Monthly activities when done in small geographical clusters can gather momentum when effectively executed.
Urban mining as an initiative and framework is becoming increasingly popular in a society and industry that is running out of raw materials and strives to find a sustainable alternative to conventional, destructive mining.
When communities turn waste into resources, they break away from the Use-and-Lose model and start recycling in a sustainable manner instead. This is a central element of the consumer’s fight against climate change and environmental damage. This triggers an upward action in organizations that can deliver attention towards the refurbishment of products, replacement of parts, and other actions that can extend the end-of-life period of a product.
Catching them young also helps. Initiatives can be organized in schools and colleges that highlight the need for recycling and reuse. In a world where most materials can be extracted from discarded products and used to create new goods, people and nature can thrive together.