Sick of your litter and recycling not being recycled? Meet Circular Philadelphia, the new org encouraging a reusable economy.
Circular Philadelphia launched to stop our addiction to waste.
Recycling has been broken for a long time. Consumers are the ones responsible for ensuring their “waste” ends up in the right locations, whether trash, recycling, or composting.
What if, instead, we locally recycled those materials into a local economy? What if we took our secondhand products to create a thriving retail economy? And we had legislation that reduced the amount of waste we use every day.
That’s the vision of Circular Philadelphia, a new organization to create a more sustainable, local, and circular economy. Its mission is to drive the growth of the circular economy through advocacy, education, infrastructure development, and collaboration.
The vision isn’t just aspirational and “feel good.” If businesses, governments, and nonprofits can implement a circular economy, it can lead to less litter, better management of materials, and increased reuse. For example, one estimate stated that New York could reduce the amount sent to landfills by 90% and save $310 million/year with a circular economy. It can also create jobs and a cleaner city.
Circular Philadelphia hosted its launch party on Monday evening at Sunflower Philly, pitching its vision to 50 local sustainability and waste professionals. The organization already has 5 businesses signed up as founding members.
What is the Circular Economy?
Trash is a “new” invention. But what if instead of the landfill, we reimagined the current trash system to reuse materials from the design, to manufacturing, consumption and reuse.
That’s the vision of the circular economy: reimagining the old system into a continuous loop without waste.
Another example of the circular economy: how Tiffin recently began its Return 2 Tiffin program, to remove disposable containers from its takeout service. Marianne Kelly of Tiffin spoke about the positive feedback and change during the Circular Philadelphia launch event.
How did Circular Philadelphia Begin?
After the pandemic began, the city removed the Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, along with Director Nic Esposito. Esposito was shocked by the removal, but it also led to an interesting realization that businesses were leading the effort to reduce waste.
“I started realizing that I was working more in communicating more with the Commerce Department and Health Department on regulations for businesses than the Streets Department,” explained Esposito.
Principal of iSpring Sustainability, Sam Wittchen, previously worked on waste and recycling projects with the city and became frustrated by the city burning its recycling while writing about it. She noticed the lack of movement forward by the Philadelphia Streets Department. Once Esposito was no longer with city government, Wittchen spotted a potential ally to move the Circular Economy conversation forward in Philadelphia.
“We need to be really talking about things in terms of circular economy and not just talking about things in terms of zero waste. We need to have an organization that can bring all of the stakeholders around waste and recycling,” stated Wittchen. And by bringing those stakeholders together to talk about the root of our waste problems, Wittchen and Esposito realized they could create real solutions.
“We have to just totally change our system to not only address the issues related to waste and recycling but address a lot of other issues at the same time,” said Wittchen. “It grew out of my frustration that we need to have a better system and moving in the direction that takes us away from just taking stuff out of the ground, turning it into something, and then throwing it out.”
Esposito and Wittchen founded Circular Philadelphia with roles as Director of Policy & Engagement and Director of Programs and Operations, respectively. They invited Julie Hancher to join their journey as Director of Communications and Outreach.
But it’s not just turning on a switch from a linear to a circular economy. There needs to be a group to advocate and educate professionals about how it can happen.
“Businesses, don’t always have the bandwidth and the capacity to explore all of that. So they need someone to help them, and that’s really what we’re here for. The circular economy is tricky. It’s important we have a communications and outreach aspect, to make the term more common,” explained Esposito.
Businesses aren’t the only target audience. Collaboration is necessary to achieve the circular economy, according to Esposito. “It’s not just the private sector and not just the government. It’s not just the advocates and the nonprofits. We all need to work together to create this better system that works for people.”
Disclaimer: The author, Julie Hancher, is also the Director of Communications & Outreach for Circular Philadelphia.