Animated Animals And Appliances Advocate For An Economy Based On A Natural Cycle Of Reuse

Instead of constantly buying and discarding new products, what if everything was specifically designed to be recycled or broken down, mimicking the circular process of (non-human) life on earth?


Our economy, you might have noticed, is founded largely on a culture of consumption and disposal. Buy something new, wear it out (or wait till a new version comes out) and throw it away for the new thing. It’s great fun if you get a kick out of having the newest cell phone or don’t have the know-how to repair a dishwasher, but producing all this new stuff is not great for the environment.

This video from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (mission: “inspire people to re-think, to re-design and build a positive future”) explains–with some cute animals and electronics–that the world’s natural systems don’t work the same way, and that we would be much better off emulating their cyclical nature than using our linear approach. You’ve heard it before, but it’s presented concisely here:

The video proposes a new “circular” economic system where objects are designed so that their resources can be easily removed from them once their effective life is over, while the rest of them–made from organic material–goes to support agriculture. To make this system of recycling cost effective, manufacturers would take it on themselves, because they would retain ownership of their products. The dishwasher in your kitchen wouldn’t be yours, you would license it from the washing machine company (similar to the idea behind The Sharing Economy we’ve covered so thoroughly here). And when it stopped working, they would take it back, harvest its useful materials, and give you a new one.

It’s hard to truly imagine multibillion-dollar companies getting on board with a system that doesn’t involve planned obsolescence of their technologies, but rather licensing of them to consumers and then taking them back and recycling, but it’s an exciting idea to consider. With times getting harder and resources scarcer, it may be a revolutionary decision like that which keeps one company going strong into the future, while others slowly die out as society rejects their wasteful models. Then again, we might just keep buying new iPhones every year, despite knowing that it’s wrong.


Morgan Clendaniel can be reached by email or on Twitter.

About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Ideas section, formerly