The Winter Solstice and Circularity
Solstices – like the one we will encounter this week – occur twice a year. The world ‘Solstice’ comes from the Latin solstitium meaning ‘Sun stands still’, because the Sun’s path north or south appears to stop before changing direction. Of course the sun does not stand still, it only looks that way to us on earth. The Solstice is actually caused by the earth’s rotation around the Sun and the tilt of the earth on it’s axis. This provides darkness, sunlight, seasons and tides that allow the natural environment on planet earth to survive and thrive.
The Summer Solstice is commonly known as the day of the year with the longest period of daylight, while the Winter Solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight. At the Winter Solstice the apparent position of the Sun reaches its most southerly point against the background stars. It is thought that human beings have celebrated Solstice for thousands of years. Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument located in Wiltshire, is carefully aligned on a sight-line that points directly towards the Winter Solstice sunset. Maybe the reason that we celebrate Solstice, is that it signifies a defining point in the cycles of nature.
In the natural world the infinite cycling of the ecosystem means there is no such thing as ‘waste’, which is essentially a social, human construct. In the 4.5-billion-year history of Earth, mankind arrived late to a planet already functioning in a fully circular manner. Instead human beings have adopted a new process of production – commonly called the ‘linear economy’.
You can think of the current economy a bit like a leaky old central heating system. A pipework which flows with Energy, Money, Taxes. A linear economy follows the traditional ‘take-make-dispose’ plan (illustrated in diagram). Raw materials are collected, then made into products that are used until they are finally discarded as waste. Value is created in this economic system by producing and selling as many products as possible. The problem is that this linear model operates as though there are infinite resources – we know that that is not the case.
Each time we manufacture products using a linear model, we are eating into resources and producing toxic waste. We are currently consuming natural resources without limits. This can’t go on forever. But it is the whole system that needs to change, and this is not just a quick fix. We must look to the cycles of the natural world once again for our inspiration.
A circular economy follows the 3 R’s approach: reduce, reuse and recycle. Reduce – Resource use is minimized. Reuse – Reuse of products and parts is maximized. Recycle – raw materials are reused to a high standard.
A circular economy reveals and designs out the negative impacts of our current linear model. This includes the release of greenhouse gases and hazardous substances, the pollution of air, land, and water, as well as structural waste such as traffic congestion. It favours activities that preserve value in the form of energy, labour, and materials. This means designing for durability, reuse, remanufacturing, and recycling to keep products, components, and materials circulating in the economy.
One example of a company working to a circular model is . Bundles is a company working in partnership with high quality appliance company Miele. Together they provide a sustainable subscription for washing machines, tumble dryers and dishwashers. You don’t ever become an owner, so if you no longer want the appliance then it goes back into the system, rather than becoming waste. After a cancellation, Bundles will collect the appliance, repair it if necessary and reuse the materials in the appliance when it cannot be repaired. The appliances are also connected to the internet in order to collect data to discover how to use the appliances more efficiently. Due to smart usage and maintenance this increases the lifetime of the appliances. This model also promotes the use of high quality appliances instead of cheap ‘throw-away’ appliances.
Circular systems have been around for billions of years in nature. In these systems ‘waste’ is non existent. Waste as we know it is a human construct. It is a part of our linear model of the economy. This cannot continue if we are going to continue to live on planet earth, as one day the limits will be reached. To preserve both the economy and life on planet earth, we need to look to nature and it’s cycles to re-think how systems can operate. A circular economy is the only solution, and all businesses should be looking to implement circular ideas into their framework. As we celebrate Solstice and the first day of winter in the astronomical calendar, we can take a moment to accept the perfection of nature’s circularity, which we can only hope to simulate in our future economy.