What Is the Circular Economy? (And How Does Buying Vintage Fit In?)

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In recent years, the term "circular economy" has been gaining traction. So you might be wondering, what is the circular economy? 

It's an economy that takes inspiration from nature, which is naturally cyclical and efficiently practices reuse to eliminate waste. For example, a plant grows and it's eaten by a bug. That bug is eaten by a bird. The bird dies and returns to the earth (perhaps aided by carrion-seeking critters), nourishing the soul, which then allows more plants to grow. Call it nature's waste management system. 

The circular economy seeks to replicate the earth's natural cycles to keep waste to a minimum. In terms of manufacturing, this means that instead of throwing items in a landfill when they stop working, companies offer incentives to have the products either returned to them for repair or disassembled so the individual parts can be reused.

For the circular economy to work, it requires a large-scale change on the part of consumers. Namely, the mindset shift to only buy what we need. When a new iPhone comes out, we don't need to buy it if our current model is working just fine. And we need to insist that companies institute some kind of recycling program for their products to cut down on corporate waste.

While it's true that individual actions at waste reduction are insignificant in comparison to the unfathomable amount of corporate waste, manufacturers and businesses will not change unless consumers demand that they do so. 

So how does buying vintage fit into the circular economy?

When you buy vintage, you're not driving up the demand for anything that has to be manufactured. Items are sourced, not made, and sold to consumers, which, in theory, eliminates their need to buy a comparable item new. No waste is created in the process. Vintage shopping is the ideal embodiment of the circular economy––and one that consumers can participate in even without sweeping changes in current manufacturing. 

What I don't hear talked about as often in conversations about the circular economy is, how big is the circle? 

Using Posh&Page as an example, I make a conscious choice to keep the circular economy I participate in and have a modicum of control over small. I do this by

  • sourcing vintage items locally to cut down on the carbon and fuel emissions used to travel
  • selling online out of my home, which I already live in and use energy in, rather than getting a retail space that would require further energy use to keep open
  • shipping using USPS. Since the postal service delivers mail to pretty much every household nearly every day, as opposed to privately owned shipping companies that only travel to a household if there's a delivery, shipping via USPS doesn't create additional emissions. 
  • having USPS pick up from my house. They're going to come by here anyway, so why would I expand my carbon footprint just to drive to the post office?

Technically, even if I sourced items from all over the country, had a retail vintage store, used a private shipping carrier like UPS or FedEx, and drove my shipments to the nearest drop-off location, I'd still be participating in the circular economy. And while there would be nothing wrong with doing things that way, I can choose to participate in the circular economy as a small circle or a large circle and it feels right to me to choose small. 

While buying vintage is inherently eco-friendly, not every vintage shop's operations or practices are eco-friendly. 

You can participate in the circular economy when you buy from the shop

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