Social and Cultural Aspects of the Circular Economy
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Social and Cultural Aspects of the Circular Economy

Toward Solidarity and Inclusivity

Viktor Pál, Viktor Pál

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eBook - ePub

Social and Cultural Aspects of the Circular Economy

Toward Solidarity and Inclusivity

Viktor Pál, Viktor Pál

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About This Book

This collection of essays brings together discussions arguing that thecircular economy must be linked to society and culture in order to create a viable concept for remodelling the economy. Covering a diverse range of topics and regions, including cities and living, food and human waste, packaging and law, fashion, design and art, this book provides a multi-layered examination of circularity.

Transitioning to a circular economy, reducing resource input and waste, and narrowing material and energy loopsare becoming an increasingly important targets to combat decades of unsustainable models of consumption. However, they will require a significant shift in social and cultural thinking and these dimensions have not yet been factored into policy debates and frameworks. While recognising the key role of individual consumers and their behaviours, the book goes beyond this singular perspective to provide equal focus on institutional and political structures as necessary drivers for real change.

Social and Cultural Aspects of the Circular Economy argues for a social and solidarity economy (SSE) to combine individual actions with a wider cultural shift. It will be an important read for scholars, researchers, students and policy-makers in thecircular economy, waste studies, consumption and other environmentally focused social sciences.

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1 Social and cultural aspects of circular economyTowards solidarity and inclusivity

Viktor Pál

The concept of circular economy

The take-make-waste extractive industrial model has created an open system globally which is characterised by the continual influx of new products designed to be used briefly and then discarded. That open system has decisively contributed to the current global environmental crisis and climate change. It is the consensus of the environmentally focused scientific community that the shift to a circular economy (CE) in which resource input and waste, emissions, and energy leakage are minimised by slowing, closing, and narrowing material and energy loops as necessary (Azevedo et al. 2017; Crocker et al. 2018; Gallaud et al. 2016; Jiansu 2018; Matthews and Tan 2011).
Despite the popularity of the CE model, there is little consensus on the definition of the circular economy. Competing definitions have described CE from various perspectives based on extensive research. For example, according to Geissdoerfer et al., a circular economy is “A regenerative system in which resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing, and narrowing material and energy loops. This can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling” (2017: 766.) The definition by Geissdoerfer et al. holds many features in common with other descriptions, such as the one by Ghisellini et al., who focus on the maximum reuse/recycling of materials, goods, and components and the innovation of the entire chain of production, consumption, distribution, and recovery in their definition (Ghisellini et al. 2016). In fact, ideas of the CE often concentrate on the industrial model of getting waste and pollution out of the system and keeping products and materials in use. Thus, the CE concept has enticed attention from various stakeholders because of its apparent economic, technological, financial, and ecological benefits. As a result, CE has been adopted as a national policy by China in 2009 as well as the European Commission in 2015.
Simultaneously, CE has become a magnet for a growing number of scholars who joined the discourse over the shift to a circular economy. The intensification of the CE discourse has led to the identification of significant research gaps. It has been acknowledged by a handful of scientists that CE is not a mere economic-technological system without human implications, but has social and cultural dimensions as well (Fitch-Roy et al. 2020; Hobson 2020; Lazarevic and Valve 2017; Moreau et al. 2017; Murray et al. 2017; Schöggl et al. 2020). In this vein, scholars have often attributed the relatively slow adoption of CE to specific social and cultural reactions. For example, Walter R. Stahel, one of the founders of European circularity, assumed that the lack of familiarity and fear of the unknown was behind the societal passivity and even hostility against CE (Stahel 2016). The lack of consumer interest in CE has been often recognised to be intertwined with a lack of support networks for a wide range of actors to implement a CE strategy and innovations (Kirchherr et al. 2017). As well, the lack of openness from actors has been often attributed to the lack of integration of particular social and cultural aspects, e.g., housing, food systems, working conditions and workers’ rights, and international law within the CE discourse (Geisendorf and Pietrulla 2018). To sum it up, on the one hand, the CE concept struggles to gain wide social and cultural acceptance in many societies and sectors around the globe, and it is threatened to remain an econo-technological fix that does not target the core issues of the global environmental crisis while, on the other, the bulk of research is still focusing on the econo-technological layers of CE leaving large gaps in the core of the CE – namely the social and cultural layers – unexplored.

Circular economy as a socio-cultural phenomenon

Authors of this volume recognise this controversy and acknowledge that to make CE the dominant system for human societies is not primarily a question of econo-techno fixes. Thus, the essays in this volume suggest that linear economic systems are rooted in human action, which in return stems from the values, ethics, and attitudes of human societies and cultures (Pál 2017; Pál 2021a; Pál 2021b). The importance of the human layers in CE is grave and without the social and cultural layers incorporated, the CE discourse will not be able to generate substantial change towards sustainable human systems (Korhonen et al. 2018).
This situation has already led some experts to call for understanding CE not as an econo-technological system detached from our societies, but as an integral part of both human culture and the ecosystem via a value-based approach (Mies and Gold 2021). In this vein, scholars have already identified consumption as being the dominant mode of human action that impacts CE. Research that has been carried out in this respect has either aimed to identify factors that drive human consumption to a CE circle, or to discuss the integration of consumer perspectives into the design process (Camacho-Otero et al. 2018; Schröder et al. 2019). This volume takes a third approach as its point of departure, namely that the complexities of human actions, values, beliefs, and ethics need to be better understood and interpreted for a successful shift to CE. The essays presented here acknowledge the key role of consumption in CE, but also point out the richness and complexity of human actions that make an impact on CE and the global ecosystem in general. In addition, essays of this volume identify the disparities and wealth gaps – both locally and globally between the Global North and South– as key solidarity and inclusivity relations points to a successful CE turn.
It is still unclear how and especially who will benefit from the new opportunities offered by CE, and the scientific community still understands little of how CE will reduce global disparity and contribute to the creation of a society characterised by more solidarity and inclusion both on local and global scales. Thus, the authors of this volume wish to contribute to this scientific urgency and map out the diverse ways CE can promote solidarity and inclusivity across our societies, while contributing simultaneously to environmental improvements globally.
To achieve this goal, chapters in this volume explore key aspects of human life and the opportunities represented in new culturally and socially tuned CE systems. As a result, authors of this volume introduce many aspects of the triple challenge of reducing environmental degradation, creating new opportunities for humans while reducing inequalities, and meanwhile providing a multilayered analysis and complex scientific suggestions for achieving these goals.
In the opening essay Marileena Mäkelä, Tiina Onkila, Satu Teerikangas, Milla Sarja, Mira Valkjärvi, and Katariina Koistinen situate the cultural aspects of the CE implementation based on qualitative interview data by addressing what is the role of cultural factors in the CE transition. This paper offers a cultural perspective to CE transitions, especially those of human interactions in a society. The authors of this chapter consider the concept of culture as a key factor within the shift to CE; however, they acknowledge that culture is a multidimensional concept and takes different meanings in different contexts. Based on a wide array of interviews this chapter suggests that first, a change in values is needed to reach a CE. However, that change in attitudes seems to be emerging slowly and so awareness and raising awareness about CE is a key feature among stakeholders, who need new and more information to increase their ability for the cultural change to CE. Finally, the authors of this chapter identify the individual decision maker’s role, and that cooperation and solidarity are key success factors when it comes to the shift to CE.
In Chapter 3, Raysa França, Erkki-Jussi Nylén, Ari Jokinen, and Pekka Jokinen investigate the urban policy context of social and solidarity economy (SSE) which in their view can and should be implemented within the shift to CE in an urban context. This chapter argues that the institutional and policy environment of cities are essential to CE transition, as over 50% of the human population live in urban areas and 60–80% of natural resources are consumed in cities. This chapter analyses the notions of SSE with the goal to understand how it can inform a socially just and environmentally sound urban transition to CE. The study is based on urban policy analyses in Latin America and Europe.
The next chapter by Halima Sacranie and Sultan Çetin also investigates the interrelations of SSE and urban CE policies and focuses on circular social housing organisations (SHOs) and their social impact fostering SSE with a focus on disadvantaged communities, while encouraging households to embrace sustainable modes of dwelling. This study argues that when individual actions are intertwined with circular social housing policies and institutions, they can promote social inclusion, tenant engagement, and empowerment, which in return foster SSE and contribute to the shift to CE. This chapter is based on longitudinal case studies of circular social housing projects in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and the UK.
Chapter 5 by Carlos Miret is the third chapter in this volume that focuses on the urban context of CE and is in dialogue with Chapters 3 and 4 by considering the circular city transition via a CE urban food transformation. This essay takes the UK municipalities of Hove and Brighton as case studies to develop a city-region circular food road map, in which local food initiatives are mapped in preparation for a CE food system transformation. The analysis in this chapter is suggesting that CE and SSE should be intertwined with the localisation of resources as a potentially successful strategy to build community food resilience. Both individual and policy as well as institutional actions are considered when planning surplus food redistribution as a strategy to reduce food waste and food poverty. By doing so, this chapter highlights a caveat: whilst the CE holds potential as a new frame for food system change and cross-sectoral governance, a narrow focus on food waste reduction targets risks neglecting the need for structural changes.
Intertwined with the dimensions of food in CE, Chapter 6 by Iris Borowy is considering the institutional and policy contexts of human waste, a matter that is predominantly produced in cities globally today. This study argues that many historical examples may be useful when considering the circulation of human waste degrades. This chapter considers a handful of cultural aspects of defecation, many of which stigmatise human faecal matter, as well as analyses the policy and institutional aspects of the collection, transportation, and disposal of human waste on a global scale. This paper maps out which social and cultural factors stand in the way of faecal circular systems and how international institutions such as the World Health Organization could improve the efficacy of their actions when it comes to the CE of human waste. Lastly, this chapter suggests that health risks are often argued to be the problem when it comes to the circularity of human waste. In fact, the real issue is the deep-seated institutional and policy considerations which – intertwined with individual human actions – create a context where artificial fertilisers are cheap and dealing with human waste is stigmatised.
In Chapter 7, Kirsi Sonck-Rautio, Sanne Bor, Greg O’Shea, Nina Tynkkynen, Vilja Varho, and Maria Åkerman connect human food systems to human waste (Chapters 5 and 6) and consider the institutional, policy, and consumer aspects of food packaging, which produces a major proportion of the global waste, plastic waste in particular. However, food packaging is a double-edged tool as it is needed in order to promote ecologically sustainable development, as it is an efficient way to prevent food waste. This chapter argues that we need to reduce both food and packaging waste via creating more sustainable packaging solutions, the challenge of which is not primarily a technological one. The authors of this chapter suggest that because of the underlying layers of institutions, policies, and consumer behaviour, the roles of different actors in the transition process towards CE food packaging should first be considered, instead of the technological questions put forwards. Based on a wide array of interviews with stakeholders in Finland, this chapter analyses how consumers, policy-makers, NGOs, and businesses view their possibilities and barriers, power and responsibilities to promote the transition towards CE food packaging.
In Chapter 8, Taina Pihlajarinne connects to packaging issues and examines the legal framework of product lifespans from the perspective of private law where consumer law and intellectual property law serve as examples. This chapter analyses the notion of “expected” and “normal” lifespan of products and their relation to CE as well as the role of consumers, legislators and courts. Pihlajarinne argues that to promote a CE, the contents and limits of product lifespan should be redefined to reflect the call for sustainability. Although Nordic countries’ consumer attitudes are more favourable, Pihlajarinne asserts that the legal concepts of lifespan should be further developed by legislators and courts to create new incentives for products with a more sustainable lifespan. Thus, this chapter analyses the complex relationship between legal-, social-, and moral norms and proposes a new, SSE-CE-driven framework especially from EU-, European-, and Nordic law perspectives.
In the following chapter Lis Suarez-Visbal, Claudia Stuckrath and Jesús Rosales Carreón connect with both the various aspects of consumption such as food packaging (Chapter 7) and the legal grounding of CE (Chapter 8) and focus on the CE aspects of the apparel industry, which is often stigmatised by the take-make-waste model, unfair working conditions, and env...

Table of contents