There’s a quiet revolution happening in kitchens across the country. Over the last few years, foodies of all stripes have become more conscious of food waste. Whether for environmental, humanitarian, or economic reasons, people are trying to waste less and use only as much as they need.
Unfortunately our country’s waste problem extends beyond the kitchen. Each year Americans produce approximately , which sits in ever-expanding landfills for years (if it ever decomposes at all). There’s a pressing need to figure out how we as a society can produce less waste and stop overtaxing our natural resources.
As it turns out, it might just require a different way of thinking. Here’s how a closed-loop mindset can help the planet.
What Is a Closed-Loop System?
By definition, a is one in which every component (be it manufacturing, food, or anything else) is recirculated within that same system for as long as possible. The ultimate goal is to reuse, recycle, or biodegrade all materials involved so as to .
Composting is a great example of a closed-loop system. When a person cooks veggies, for example, they cut off the parts they want and then compost the inedible scraps. That compost can be used to grow new food, which will produce more scraps to be composted, and so on. It’s a system in which little (if any) waste is produced. Instead all the components are put to good use.
Another example is , in which used items that could have ended up in landfills are instead converted into usable goods. Materials such as glass and aluminum , meaning manufacturers who rely on these materials could theoretically keep making products without ever using virgin materials.
Many companies are for both environmental and economic reasons. For example, capturing excess heat released during a manufacturing process and using it to power the plant both reduces the need for resources outside the system and .
The opposite of a closed-loop system is (surprise!) , in which any waste that’s created by the system is discarded rather than put to use. It can help to visualize : At every stage of a product’s life cycle, waste is released into the world. In contrast, a closed-loop system is more circular. Byproducts at every stage of the process are recycled and/or reincorporated into the product’s life cycle.
The Benefits of Closed-Loop Systems
After looking at the examples above, it probably isn’t surprising that closed-loop systems , such as:
- Reduced waste piling up in landfills
- Reduced pollution of our air, water, and land
- Reduced energy consumption and carbon emissions (i.e., less contributions to climate change)
- Reduced reliance on virgin materials (i.e., less strain on our natural resources)
- Economic savings
In a fully closed-loop society, industrial systems so everything could be made without the use of toxic materials or processes and all products could be reused, recycled, or composted.
It’s a lofty goal, sure, but it’s not that outrageous if everyone commits to doing their part.
How to Apply Closed-Loop Thinking to Everyday Life
Closed-loop thinking may seem like an intellectual concept, but it can be incorporated into daily life in a few concrete ways. Help close the loop (and reduce your environmental impact) by adopting the following practices:
Recycle whenever possible.
It's probably one of the easiest steps you can take—especially when more and more of the products you already buy might be in recyclable packaging. Glass, aluminum, paper, and most plastics are all recyclable.
Buy products that give something back.
These days, plenty of companies have charitable efforts or donate portions of their proceeds to a variety of causes. From a watchmaker who to a beauty company that —there are literally thousands of do-gooders from which you can choose.
Before purchasing a product, consider .
And what you’ll do with the item once you’re done with it. If the product’s life cycle entails a lot of waste, consider an alternative.
Purchase products made .
This allows for safe recycling and/or biodegradation.
Be selective about the companies you support.
Look for companies that are working to reduce waste, use sustainable materials, and adopt closed-loop thinking. And advocate that those who aren’t doing so commit to doing their part.
The Bottom Line
Whenever possible, reduce, reuse, and recycle. By applying these guidelines to your purchasing decisions, you can help keep the planet healthy for future generations. Not only that, but we’re betting discussions of closed-loop systems make for scintillating dinner conversation.
We’ve partnered with Target to cut through information overload and break down exactly what you need to know on complex topics like the one above. Check out the entire Things You Kinda Know series here.