Special issue: Recipe for a waste-free world

[4] Special issue: Recipe for a waste-free world

It is time to shift to a ‘resource-miser’ economy, writes Swiss
architect-engineer Walter Stahel in a Comment article in a special issue
of Nature this week devoted to the circular economy. “Quality is still
associated with newness not with caring; long-term use is still seen as
undesirable, not resourceful”, he writes.

Stahel coined the circular-economy concept, in which industrial outputs
become inputs, with goods that are at the end of their service life
turning into resources for others. Closing resource loops between
industries saves energy and materials, and reduces waste while creating
jobs. Circular-economy ideas are gaining political traction; China leads
the way in legislation and Europe and the United States are taking note.
The ultimate goal, Stahel writes, is to recycle atoms. He calls for more
research into technologies for disassembling materials: “to
de-polymerise, de-alloy, de-laminate, de-vulcanise and de-coat”.
Circular-economy thinking must become mainstream, from classrooms to
boardrooms, he urges.

In another Comment piece, economists John Mathews and Hao Tan track
China’s progress towards a circular economy: since 2006 the country
has established resource networks among thousands of firms in
eco-industrial parks, saving energy, pollution and costs. By 2013, the
nation used 34.7% fewer resources and generated 46.5% less waste than in
2005 to generate one dollar of gross domestic product. The authors call
on the Chinese government, researchers and the OECD to develop more
sophisticated metrics for evaluation.

Also in the issue, developmental psychologist Bruce Hood asks why we
value possessions that boost our social status, and highlights the need
to make having and using recycled goods more socially desirable.
Finally, the Books & Arts section showcases the central role of
eco-design in making circular-economy principles work, from
Rolls-Royce’s advanced metals-recycling programme to insect farms
that bio-transform unsold food into livestock feed, run by Canadian firm

Article details

DOI: 10.1038/531435a
Corresponding Author

Walter Stahel
The Product-Life Institute, Geneva, Switzerland
Email: wrstahel2014@gmail.com

DOI: 10.1038/531440a
Corresponding Author
John Mathews
Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
Email: john.mathews@mgsm.edu.au
Hao Tan
University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia
Email: haotan1@gmail.com

DOI: 10.1038/531438a
Corresponding Author
Bruce Hood
University of Bristol, UK
Email: bruce.hood@bristol.ac.uk