The circular economy is typically seen as the progressive alternative to our wasteful linear economy, where raw materials are used to make the products that feed today’s rampant consumerist hunger, which are then thrown away.
The idea of the circular economy only took off in the 1980s, but this doesn’t mean that the practices at the core of a circular economy, such as repairing, recycling, refurbishing, or repurposing, are equally novel. All of these strategies have the aim of keeping materials in use – whether as objects or as their raw components – for as long as possible. And all are hardly revolutionary.
The repurposing of objects and materials may be as old as tool use itself. In Palaeolithic times, smaller flint tools were made from old hand-axes. People in the Neolithic period had no problem reusing standing stones to construct their tombs, such as seen in Locmariaquer in France.
Even ceramics, made from clay and therefore available in abundance, were frequently recycled. Old pottery was often ground down to powder and used in the clay for new pots. On Minoan Crete, this ceramic powder, known as grog, was also used to manufacture the mudbricks from which houses were built.
At the Bronze Age site in Hungary where I excavate, spindle whorls made from broken pot fragments turn up regularly. Large stones at this site pose an interpretative dilemma because of their continuous reuse and repurposing, from grindstone to anvil and doorstep to wall support. In fact, up until the 20th century, repair, reuse, and repurposing were common ways of dealing with material culture. The dominance of the wasteful linear economy is a real historical anomaly in terms of resource use.
But we should be careful not to fall into the trap of the “noble savage”. Our ancestors were no ecological saints. They polluted their surroundings through mining, burned down entire forests, and they too created massive amounts of waste. Just look at Monte Testaccio, a large artificial hill in Rome made up entirely out of broken amphorae.
When things are in abundance, people easily accept a wasteful and exploitative attitude. But for most of the past, most things were not in abundance, and so a core practice of a circular economy was adopted. This did not happen due to ideological motivation, but out of necessity.
Archaeologists typically don’t use the terminology of the circular economy, and describe the above examples simply, as reuse. This might partly explain why the deep roots of core practices of the circular economy are not discussed more widely. The same is also true of recycling.
When one adopts a very broad definition of recycling (thinking of it, for example, as the use of previously discarded artefacts), the origins of this practice can be traced all the way back to the Palaeolithic period.
But let’s focus here on the understanding of recycling as is employed today. This is a practice in which waste (used objects) is completely converted, becoming the raw material of new products.
This practice of complete transformation also entered the repertoire of human behaviour far earlier than you may think. It became the core practice of an economy as long ago as the Bronze Age.
From about 2500 BC, prehistoric people started to combine copper and tin on a regular basis, making metal known as bronze. The mass adoption of this artificial material caused significant shifts.
Societies reoriented themselves economically because making bronze meant moving materials over long distances. Connecting sources with end users led to an intensification of trade. For these reasons, the Bronze Age is considered to be a formative epoch in the formation of Europe, in which we witness the emergence of pan-European exchange networks and large-scale trade.
Bronze also made people think in new ways. The process of metalworking differs markedly from other, earlier, crafts. Wood and stone carving involve the removal of material, which is why they are known as reductive technologies. Basketry, weaving, and pottery, meanwhile, are additive technologies. Bronze is different in that it is a transformative technology.
The raw material is melted down to a liquid state and poured into a mould. Moulds were the very first blueprints, documenting the design of an object to be produced – and reproduced. This may not sound very exciting to us now but for the prehistoric people involved this must have a been a groundbreaking way of working materials.
Just imagine, if your stone axe broke, you could repurpose the pieces, but you would not be able to remake that axe. In contrast, if your bronze axe broke, you could remelt it and produce the same axe with the same quality, again. Recycling, as a core economic practice, was invented in the Bronze Age.
Bronze was not the first metal to be used in such a way; the origins of metal use start with pure copper being hammered into shape. But it is only at the beginning of the Bronze Age that recycling starts to take place on a large scale.
From the Middle Bronze Age onwards, all over Europe, bronze was being recycled. We know this because archaeologists have analysed the metal composition of hundreds of objects, showing the depletion of certain elements, as a result of frequent recycling. In addition, “old” metal was traded. A shipwreck discovered off the coast of Dover carried a large amount of French bronze objects dated to 1100BC, destined to be recycled in the UK.
As a political term, we might want to keep the circular economy in the present, but the practices that are part of it have long been part of human existence. In this respect, the Bronze Age could be seen as the first example of a circular economy in practice. Bronze was a main material of this period, and its economy revolved around recycling. Recognise this, and we start seeing that it is not the circular economy that is novel. Rather, it is the linear, and wasteful economy that is the anomaly.
The beauty of this is that we can put the past to good use. The core values of a circular economy are rooted in our past and in this manner, they can help shape and inspire a modern craftsmanship that fundamentally should revolve around sustainability and durability.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. It's written by Maikel Kuijpers, Assistant Professor of the Archeology of Early Europe at Leiden University. Read the original article here.
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Isabel Cristina Zuleta is a human rights activist in Antioquia, northern Colombia, where she works for the Ríos Vivos Movimiento de Afectados por Represas (movement of people affected by dams). According to the NGO Global Witness, 27 activists were murdered in this country in 2017 alone.
Since 2010, Zuleta has opposed the construction of the Hidroituango hydroelectric dam on the river Cauca, Colombia's second most important. Ríos Vivos is trying to raise awareness of problems the dam could cause – including environmental damage, forced evictions, and the impoverishment of local residents whose livelihoods rely on the river.
Because of her activism, Zuleta has faced threats, harassment, attempted forced disappearances, criminal charges as well as sexual violence. In 2013, she said she was kidnapped by agents of the government’s so-called Mobile Anti-Disturbance squad who also photographed her “partes íntimas” (‘private parts’) while she was in detention.
According to a 2018 report by the Fondo de Acción Urgente (Urgent Action Fund, or FAU) human rights network, when Zuleta reported this treatment to the Attorney General, she was told that it “was not the important thing”, and instead she was accused of promoting attacks against the company building the dam.
In August, Zuleta told 50.50 that activists had received a myriad of recent threats, including: people approaching them to say they cannot protest, or threatening to kill them; people tailing them on the streets; and death threats via text messages, phone calls and Twitter. The next month, two family members of activists from her organisation were murdered.
“I think that land and environmental defenders, we confront capitalist interests, and this means [our work] involves a higher level of risk”, Zuleta told 50.50 via a WhatsApp message voice recording. However, “without this land we don’t have any life possibilities”, she added. “We cannot negotiate our lives”.
In November, seven men were found guilty of murdering Berta Isabel Cáceres, a Honduran indigenous campaigner who'd long battled to block the construction of a dam on the Gualcarque river, considered sacred by the Lenca people.
The supreme court ruled that Caceres’ murder was ordered by executives of the company Desarrollos Energeticos SA behind the Agua Zarca dam project because of delays and financial losses linked to protests led by the activist.
Cáceres was 44 years old when she was shot dead in her home on 2 March 2016, after receiving death threats for years. Her murder shocked the world and brought greater international attention to the plight of human and environmental rights defenders in Latin America.
According to Global Witness, at least 207 human, land and environmental rights activists were murdered around the world in 2017 – 60% in Latin America. This region is also home to the country with the most recorded deaths: Brazil, where 57 people were killed, 80% defending the Amazon rainforest.
While most of these recorded murders were of men, the NGO noted that women activists also “faced gender-specific threats including sexual violence”.
It said in a report: “They were often subjected to smear-campaigns, threats against their children, and attempts to undermine their credibility; sometimes from within their own communities, where macho cultures might prevent women from taking up positions of leadership”.
The FAU network also monitors the situation of women defenders in the region and provides them with logistical and financial support. In 2018 they published another report that highlighted the ongoing challenge of impunity for perpetrators of violence.
They also drew attention to the specific vulnerabilities and different types of violence that women activists face – including criminalisation, threats, harassment, attacks and femicides (gender-based killings of women and girls).
One of the cases covered in their report was that of Lottie Cunningham, at the Centre of Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN) civil society organisation.
She works with more than 100 indigenous communities who've faced attacks, assassinations, kidnappings, crop burning and forced evictions. Denouncing these human rights violations has earned her repeated death threats.
One of the messages she received said: “In our country trash exists like these people who dedicate their lives to diffusing trash… against the government… I’m sick of these trash [people] and if I have to defend my blessed Nicaragua against this trash then it will be an honour to do so”.
Cunningham was also followed in the streets and told there were “rumours” she would be murdered.
Another case covered by FAU's report was that of Macarena “La Negra” Valdés, in Chile. In August 2016, one of her children found her hanged from the beams of her own home. She had also received death threats for months before this.
Valdés had campaigned against the construction of another hydroelectric power station by the Austrian-Chilean company Global Chile Energías Renovables, in Paso Tranguil, where she was a leader in her community, the Mapuche.
Her former partner, Ruben Collío, told 50.50 that Valdés was murdered in "a clear attempt to delegitimise our fight and try to make us react with violence”. He said: “It is so hard to ignore this basic instinct and fight them with their laws”.
Collío insisted she hadn't shown signs of depression, but authorities claimed her death was the result of suicide. He said her family requested a second autopsy – which showed that her body had been arranged to simulate this.
He is still fighting for justice. Two years after her death, state prosecutors have not acknowledged the second autopsy; Collío and the Mapuche community continue to search for evidence to prove she was murdered.
At the regional level, the FAU is calling for the UN resolution 68/181, which was adopted by the general assembly in December 2013, and focuses on protecting women human rights defenders, to be enforced and respected.
Cases of violence must be better documented, FAU says. It's calling for new observatories to focus on this – as well as more thorough, independent investigations into threats against women defenders of land and human rights.
Hema didn't shy away from our request and, on Twitter, a company's spokesperson replied that efforts to produce a vegan rookworst are indeed underway:
We can only be happy about Hema's decision to look into the feasibility of a vegan smoked sausage.
However, as indicated, it might take a while before we'll be able to cheerfully sink our teeth into a vegan rookworst.
Replicating its peculiar texture (in the words of a connoisseur, the fat that "splashes out" when you bite it) and distinctive meaty flavor in a plant-based recipe doubtlessly represents a remarkable challenge.
Last December, I published on Forbes and subsequently on Kinder World an article on why — if we want to tackle today’s global challenges — we need to start thinking of planet Earth as a single entity, beyond the narrowness of national borders.
Ruminating over these issues, I bumped into a freshly-launched Dutch organization called Spacebuzz that is working towards this goal.
In particular, they want to help children aged 9-12 experience the so-called “overview effect”, a cognitive shift in awareness reported by many astronauts that make them experience our planet as a boundaryless “tiny, fragile ball of life."
Since the logistics of shipping throngs of mini Buzz Lightyears to space might get a bit arduous, Spacebuzz figured out a nifty workaround.
They created an experience that combines VR and AR technology to give children a first-hand (or first-eye...) taste of the overview effect.
Sounds cool? Not cool enough for the Spacebuzz folks that decided to set up the VR/AR experience inside a real looking space rocket mounted on a truck and use it to tour schools across Europe.
Now, this is cool.
And since I like cool things, I reached out to Hidde Hoogcarspel, the founder of Spacebuzz foundation. I wanted to know more about the foundation’s work and where it’s headed. The answer? Far, really far.
To infinity and beyond
When we discussed Spacebuzz’s plans, Hidde pitched me his many ideas with a contagious, exuberant passion. The guy had a dream, that was doubtless.
Together with Dutch investor Zoran Van Gessel, he raised a pretty penny to build the epitome of coolness — a slick space rocket on wheels — but that was not all. Actually, in the long term, the rocket is not even that important.
“Our goal for the future is that people all around the world will be inspired by our mission and will ask us the VR video to replicate the Spacebuzz experience in their own country. The video is all you need to set it up,” Hidde told me.
Spacebuzz’s moonshot is that, in a few years, 100 million children will get to experience the overview effect yearly.
The hope is to raise a generation that — conceiving planet Earth as our shared home we need to look after together — will be cognitively better equipped to tackle global issues such as climate change.
But Spacebuzz’s plans aren’t just a bunch of grand ideas high up in the sky. The project is minutely detailed and well thought-through too.
“Children will embark on a journey that is composed of three phases: the pre-flight training, the mission, and a post-flight mission debrief,” adds Hidde, “during the post-flight mission debrief, for example, the kids will be asked to hold a ‘press conference’ to share some insights about their experience.”
To guarantee that the experience will actually have a positive impact on the children’s education, Dr. Max Louwerse, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Tilburg, will supervise Spacebuzz missions’ results.
Moreover, WeTransfer founder Bas Beerens and astronaut André Kuipers — the second Dutch citizen to ever make it to space — are Spacebuzz ambassadors. Kuipers' voice will also guide the children during their missions.
If Kuipers has been the second, physicist and astronaut Wubbo Ockels was the first Dutch citizen to ever travel to space, having participated in a flight on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1985.
I'm not mentioning this information just to feed the curiosity of all the nerds of Dutch astronautics history out there, but because also Wubbo Ockels played a pivotal role in making Spacebuzz come together.
Wubbo Ockels’ dream
“His ideas profoundly influenced my world’s views,” Hidde told of Wubbo Ockels, “his dream is Spacebuzz’s dream."
The Dutch astronaut and physicist spent his scientific career researching how to make our life on planet Earth more sustainable.
For example, he developed a proof of concept for a 15-meter-long electric coach-like limo car capable of carrying 23 passengers at speeds of up to 250 kilometers per hour. The car is called “Superbus” and the assonance with “Spacebuzz” is no coincidence.
Wubbo Ockels died of kidney cancer in 2014. Before he died, he delivered a moving speech in which he expressed his dream to transmit the knowledge he gained as an astronaut to all the people in the world.
“Suppose that I can transfer the experience which I have to you,” he said, “then you would go out and see the Earth and you would see the blue sky. Not the blue sky that you see outside. In space, you see you’re the only one. You’re the only planet, you don’t have another one. And so you have to take care.”
“I had the idea to create Spacebuzz before I heard Wubbo’s last speech,” Hidde confided me, “But when I finally listened to it, it was really a powerful confirmation: yes, this is our vision - I thought - this is the dream we want to pursue.”
If you want to help Spacebuzz realize this dream, you can support them thanks to the widget below. A Kinder world is just a click away 👇🏻