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Circular Economy Education – A Concept that Integrates Environmental Action in Schools

The concept of a circular economy is a new and emerging perspective on sustainability. The perspective is built on the natural world where everything is seen as a resource for the next level of the food chain resulting in zero waste.

The Circular Economy concept challenges the current linear model of production and consumption. This linear model follows the following 4 steps:

  • Taking from nature;
  • Making the product;
  • Using the product;
  • Disposing of the waste, often resulting in polluting our resources.

This model has created an economy that is heavily dependent on the use of energy and other resources to produce and deliver the products and services, that result in the degrading of nature of which we are a part and on which we are dependent to meet our everyday needs.

Central to developing an understanding of the Circular Economy concept is the development of knowledge, values, attitudes/disposition and behaviour, which are result in positive actions that put the goal for moving towards “zero waste” as a key outcome. The entry point to circular economy education can be through any existing environmental education initiative like energy conservation, waste management, biodiversity education, climate change, etc.

If you are teaching for sustainability action in school, the circular economy as a concept helps to overcome the current silos of environmental action. It creates an opportunity to model the concepts and principles of the circular economy as a ‘whole school’ to strengthen the vision of a sustainable world. Any school, with some creative thinking, can easily take actions that would help in advancing a circular economy. The idea is to mirror natural processes to produce resource instead of waste. The critical thinking required is to review any resource that enters the school, follow the process it goes through and becomes something that is of no longer in use. Through the review find out how you can:

  1. Simply rework your consumption to produce zero waste. This is achieved by using products or services that are durable, uses recyclable material, and are repairable.
  2. Separate the biological resources that can be naturally composted, and elements that can be returned to the natural form from the other resources that can be reused or recycled. Materials like metals and plastics can be reused to produce things again.
  3. Use renewable energy to decrease dependence on coal and other fossil fuels. Remember doing work by hand or legs is also using renewable energy.

The actions that help in increasing circularity are:

  1. Refuse things that you do not need and things that you cannot recycle.
  2. Reduce consumption. Think of sharing, renting or borrowing instead of buying.
  3. Reuse and extend the life of a product by repairing, refurbishing, and repurposing things.
  4. Recycle and recover things like metal, paper, plastic…

Circular Economy

To illustrate, students can look at one of the common products that they are very much familiar with such as paper. They can ask the following questions to assess to what extent their practices are advancing circularity:

  1. Are paper products made of recycled papers?
  2. Where can paper use be reduced or eliminated?
  3. Do the products have sustainability labels like – Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)?
  4. What is done with used books – passed on to the next batch of students?
  5. How and where can used paper be reused or safely disposed of?

The review process can be done with all the consumption choices we make to advance a circular economy. Remember what Albert Einstein said - “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them”

Foundation for Environmental Education is implementing the Eco-Schools Project for Advancing Circular Economy (E-SPACE).

To know more about the project visit: https://www.ecoschools.global/espace

Pramod Kumar Sharma, Senior Director of Education, Foundation for Environmental Education