Circular economy: how Swedish society finds its way to responsible consumption

Circular economy: how Swedish society finds its way to responsible consumption
Reusing or modifying old items is something developing countries have been doing for a long time.

“Reduce” and “reuse” are everyday actions taken, especially in societies that struggle to make their economies work. SI NFGL members know these actions well. It’s difficult, however, to keep production and consumption patterns steady and measured especially as our outputs continue to grow.

Circular economy is one of the best solutions, and Sweden is just a right place to learn about it. On 10th May, SI Network of Future Global Leaders in Växjö collaborated with the Väjxö FN-förening and organized a panel discussion on circular economy at Linnaeus University.

“Linear economy is all about ‘take, make, and dispose’, so the process ends with the waste being produced. Circular economy, on the other hand, aims to use the resources as wisely as possible”, says Joacim Roselund, a senior lecturer at Linnaeus University.

One of the limitations that circular economy helps to overcome is time. In the linear model, the lifespan of the product is short, and ends with it rotting in a dump. In this situation, even recycling doesn’t help; it just becomes too expensive – in terms of energy.

In a circular economy, we produce more durable products with multiple purposes, so we can use them for longer without needing to waste energy on recycling. For this to work, our perspectives need to change. For example, we should not be put off borrowing things instead of buying them. Still, to become operational, circular economy has to become a universal platform on many levels – for the policy makers, businesses, and consumers, with academia serving as a bridge between them.

Väjxö, where the discussion was held, claims to be the “greenest” city in Europe, so the local municipality plans to make its step towards the circular model as soon as possible. To make responsible consumption easier, the municipality plans to build an interactive re-use village Återbruksby in Norremark.

Here, locals will be able to give a new life to their old furniture, electronics, clothes, and literally any non-food item. The village will have a refurbishment and repairs workshop, a second-hand market, and a place to rent things if you only need them short term.

“In Sweden, we have a model of how to treat waste – this is what we are good at,” claims Anders Lundgren from the Växjö Municipality, “but we need to minimize waste and reuse things so they don’t end up in dumpsters. This is what the re-use villages will attempt to do, and we see it as the next step.”

In Borås, the local municipality, university, and regional authorities focus on the textile industry and its possibilities to become a part of the circular economy.

Re:textile aims to develop structures for circular processes in the textile industry.

“Fashion is a very special industry because it carries the problems of ‘take, make, and dispose’ on a very, very large scale – to an extreme. It’s ridiculous how many clothes we consume and replace all the time: up to 80 billion garments a year. If we want to keep up with the growth of the industry, we will need to double the amount of resources we use by 2030”, describes Adrian Zethraeus, project leader of Re:textile.

This project suggests four types of solutions, starting with the production. The clothes can be designed for circularity, where the requirements are being fashionable and stylish, but also, for example, mono-material, so the garment can be recycled later. In the consumption phase, companies can add values to the products that will inspire customers to use them longer. In the disposal phase, clothes can be used to create new items – both new garments and totally different products. On top of that, textile can potentially enter “Recovery” stage, when materials are recycled, although for now this is limited.

In Tibro, Västergötland region, Möbelbruket gives an example of another area where circular processes can be introduced. This project focuses on the reuse of old furniture from public spaces.

“200 tons of furniture is being thrown away every year in Västergötland alone,” explains Jenny Ekman, project leader, “we extend the lifespan of Swedish-made quality furniture that has worn down after many years of use.”

Möbelbruket started with chair renovation, but in the future, any old furniture from the public spaces will get a chance to serve longer.

Through the special website, public institutions can put their old furniture on sale, where everyone – business or private customers – can buy it and order refurbishment. For the items that are not sold, Möbelbruket still renovate them, then selling them in their own showroom.

What is the conclusion of the discussion and presentations? It’s not simple: the economy has to change and the consumption of resources needs to be high, but profits also have to stay high. To achieve this, businesses might expand their post-sale services, create high-margin products by adding more value to them, or explore completely new business models. What is obvious here – no company can do it on its own; the dialogue between market players, think tanks, and policymakers will be crucial.

With lots of food of thought, SI NFGL Väjxö members head to the job market, and further their academic careers. Stay tuned for info on upcoming events!