Sustainability: Pursuit of a Circular Economy

Sustainability: Plant Chicago Farmer's market
Plant Chicago’s weekly farmer’s market participants

In our post about Farm-to-Table restaurants, we asked you to put a pin in the term “circular economy”. At the heart of the businesses we honed in on rests the desire to further invest and participate in this concept. For this installment, we will focus on the start and end point of a resource, with the intent of cutting out unnecessary waste and repurposing the product at the end of its use. Circular systems directly combat the linearity of our current production and consumption methods, where goods are mass produced and treated with chemicals & unnatural pesticides for longevity and hastened growth. Where emissions are heightened by shipping internationally to reach destinations and where products are ultimately discarded when their usage ends.

As consumers, knowing where our food comes from and how it is produced is a great step forward. However, to fully realize the way a circular system can play a role in our own lives, we need to consider where our food goes after use. From large scale businesses all the way down to us as individuals, the majority of what we produce, purchase, use and dispose of on a daily basis ends at the landfill. Taking part in a circular system means recognizing where waste can be minimized and where goods and materials can be reinvigorated. It means supporting green businesses, working to reduce the use of non-sustainable packaging, increasing our investment in sustainable products and educating ourselves on how to correctly dispose of our post-consumer waste (“Analysis of Waste Systems in the United States” by Rahul Kulkarni). These are steps we can take as everyday consumers to contribute to the health of the circular economy initiative, but what can be done at the commercial level?

Plant Chicago - Circular EconomyPlant Chicago’s current small business partners

Last year, our office toured Plant Chicago, a closed loop circular system, located in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. Organizations like Plant Chicago, work to knit small businesses together by the goods they produce and the byproducts that come out of those goods. Re-using and repurposing “waste” from one manufacturer, to grow the products for another. This collaboration models the concepts behind a “circular economy” and benefits the businesses as well as the environment.

So, what can you do to help right now? Research! The biggest thing we can do as individual consumers is make those changes you want to see happen on a global scale, through the lens of your own *seemingly* small scale consumer experience. This doesn’t just mean saying “No thank you” to the barista who offers you a straw at the coffee-chain on the corner of your street. This means researching local green businesses is your area and supporting them, it means recognizing when you’re purchasing a product that comes in cellophane and opting for something different and it mean’s investing in waste reduction!

Depending on the product, reducing waste could mean composting organic food matter, recycling a product according to the guidelines set up in your city, opting for reusable products that allow you to bypass the single-use versions (think produce bags, compostable kitchen sponges and reusable straws) or repurposing goods within your home! We are going to dive a little deeper on some of these concepts in future posts, as well as highlight some amazing businesses who are leading the charge in some of these sustainable initiatives in Chicago’s restaurant scene.