You are in a not so distant future. From where you are sitting on your couch, your life looks the same. But at a closer look, things have changed a bit. First of all, the couch is not exactly yours. You rent it from a furniture company until you’re ready for an update.
Thinking of it, many of my machines and utilities are rented—or borrowed. Owning stuff only drags you down. You would much rather borrow, as you can change your couch or your wardrobe as often as you like without it being shown on your wallet.
Lately though, you have also started fixing things yourself. As part of a growing online community, you have access to all sorts of repair-manuals that makes it quick and easy to fix the record player or change the smart phone screen. And when you need that power drill you only use once a year you borrow it through another online community service of which you have membership. Here you can borrow stuff from your neighbors—saves on the budget as well as space.
You don’t shop much. As you are part of a local food service, you receive a wooden box of produce from local farms every week. This guarantees you fresh produce with as little transportation as possible. Every Thursday, you eat a festive dinner in your neighborhood, where local members of the service get together and cook meals with leftover food before it goes bad. When you do shop, a sensor-based app on your mobile tells you what is in your fridge. This way you use what you got and buy only what you need. The app also suggests recipes with the supplies in your fridge. A lifesaver in that inspiration-dry shopping hour after a long workday.
Speaking of work, when you rush out the door in the morning, a driver-less car pulls up at your front door at a scheduled hour and drops you off near the office. It continues straight to the next pick-up saving you the hassle of parking. The best thing about this service though is the priority lanes that guarantee you to glide through traffic at any given hour.
And this is where you can open your eyes and stop imagining. None of these descriptions are science fiction or make believe. Every single part of this resource-friendly scenario is readily available and already happening around us.
Three trends not to miss
The extraordinary solutions that have been shooting up over the last decade are not just minimizing our waste, but also viewing it as a resource with several lives. We are seeing innovation rapidly creating opportunities that we thought impossible years ago. Just think of the possibilities the 3D printer is presenting. Print the things you need instead of buying 30 plugs, when you only need one. Collectively, these solutions have inspired governments and cities to start dreaming of a low waste society. Some even dream of a zero waste society. And since we have the tools, why not?
In order for any city or nation to achieve this vision, three mega-trends in the waste and resource area have to not only scale, but also merge. First, is the way we design our products. We have to become better at creating products for recycling. This means designing devices so parts can easily be taken out and replaced. Often only one or two components are broken, but we throw out the entire device. Everyone who cracked a smart phone screen and ended up with a new model knows what I’m talking about.
We must get in the mindset of not throwing out entire devices, when only a few percent are damaged. We are seeing this trend gain grounds as companies successfully reshape a business model, where returned devices are used fully as production resources, thereby saving on budgets.
This makes way for the next trend: Supporting, designing and enhancing return systems. They do exist today, but moving forward it should be easier for citizens and corporations to return used devices or the parts of a broken device that are still in good shape. We need to see user-friendly recycling initiatives on more and more services and products. Not just to minimize trash, but also to prolong the life of valuable materials that in time will be exhausted. Imagine if we didn’t throw away our IKEA furniture every time we moved or they broke but could return it to the nearest store that then recycled and reused the materials.
The final trend is the sharing economy. The concept of renting and sharing is spreading from the private sphere into the corporate, where it saves on budgets and limits full-scale investments. This sharing economy is creating new and stronger relations between citizens, communities, corporations and public services where everyone benefits from an optimal utilization of resources.
Imagine, for example, that you could buy annual memberships at your favorite clothing store, which allowed you to borrow x number of items a year instead of buying-to-own and over the years stocking up on items you never wear. More people could enjoy each garment, you saved money and the company was guaranteed a fixed revenue stream.
Who is first to go zero waste?
These trends are all in their early stage. It takes a targeted effort to not only grow them, but also start to merge the ideas of design for reuse, gearing systems to value waste as a resource and, on top of this, developing a mentality that is open to sharing the resources, devices, machines, etc. Nevertheless, there lies a new reality in the intersection of the three, where waste will become resources and a means to sustain our daily living.
There are plenty of benefits in pursuing the implementation and growth of the three trends. As a result, more and more cities and nations are accompanying their low-carbon policies with waste-free initiatives. One of them is my native country of Denmark that has released a roadmap for how to become waste-free. There is hesitation in putting a final year on the achievement, but the milestones are articulated. By 2022, 50 percent of the trash produced in private Danish homes must be recycled. In addition, Scotland, Holland and parts of the U.S. are putting impressive waste management plans in place.
These are necessary, but also realistic, plans. However, they will only succeed if we manage to inspire communities to act and not force new initiatives down their throats. The key to success no doubt lies in creating an inspiring vision we all want to follow. In other words, the first nation to go zero waste will be the one that excites its citizens and corporations, and makes them confident that a zero waste future will be convenient, inspiring and fun.
Be inspired by concrete solutions that will take us to a sharing economy in the Sustainia100, such as Neighborgoods and Real-Time ridesharing app, and by solutions that empower communities to repair broken items, such as iFixit and Clothes Swapping Parties.
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