The concept of a circular economy, which is increasingly a focus in the environmental movement, redefines our current industrial system of “produce, use, and toss.”
A circular economy attempts to limit consumption and waste by promoting full reuse of products and regeneration of already utilized materials. Under this model, all products in circulation would be entirely repurposed, either by repairing or recycling, and never disposed of, minimizing the extraction of natural resources and carbon emissions, reducing environmental impact, and overall pollution.
Some of the best ways anybody can reduce their own waste under this model include: bringing reusable bags to the grocery stores, using tupperware for takeout, packing unwrapped groceries in reusable containers, fixing any clothing items, and getting coffee or other beverages in a cup or mug from home. Additionally, practicing proper recycling of all papers and plastic and composting all organic materials both at-home and outside is crucial.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, New York was beginning to move closer to this circular economy system. With the increasing compliances rates of opt-in recycle and organic waste programs, the recent plastic bag ban, and a commitment from New York City to achieve zero-waste to landfills by 2030, New York is attempting to incorporate aspects of circular economy into everyday life. However, with concerns about health, safety, and sanitation at the forefront of everyone’s mind, it makes reusing some items much more difficult and concerning.
Many grocery store employees no longer touch or handle people’s reusable bags, potentially discouraging customers from bringing them in the first place. Similarly, with only takeout and delivery, consumers no longer have the option to use their own containers. An increase in single-use plastic, disposable cleaning products, and food waste will be detrimental to the progress made thus far.
This situation is difficult, but even under these incredibly challenging circumstances, the fight against climate change does not stop and waste is still just as detrimental to our land, air, and waterways.
As long as proper sanitation processes are in place, people thoroughly wash their products, and social distancing requirements are met, it is safe to continue moving to a circular economy. Grocery stores must continue to encourage shoppers to clean and bring their own reusable bags to the store instead of taking a step backwards. Instead of constantly tossing paper towels and wipes, rags can be used to limit the amount of paper ending up in the trash. Takeout containers can often be repurposed or reused for storage. Making masks out of old materials from home is another great way to keep safe and repurpose textiles.
NYLCV strongly supports the movement to a circular economy. Embracing less production of disposable materials and waste is beneficial for the economy and environment, as well as entirely safe with proper cleaning procedures.