With Canada's second annual Circular Economy Month starting this week, we thought it was a great opportunity to write an overview of what the Circular Economy is, why October is now dedicated to it, how we at EcoEquitable are moving towards it, and how you can contribute to a circular future, too!
What is a Circular Economy?
A Circular Economy is a socioeconomic system in which environmental and social sustainability are ingrained into every aspect of life.
Right now, Canada operates mostly as a linear economy, meaning that most items that are produced are eventually thrown away into a landfill after being consumed. There are countless examples of linear products including single-use plastics, non-renewable resources, and food waste that immediately coming to mind. One of the best examples of the damage created by a linear model is the fast-fashion industry, which has quickly risen to infamy amidst revelations about how garment workers are treated and the environmental harm that the industry causes.
A shortlist of the many problems associated with fast-fashion include:
- Unfair pay for garment workers, with the global average of garment workers only making 55% of a standard living wage
- The textile industry accounts for 20% of the world's total water consumption
- In Canada alone, we send nearly 1 billion lbs of textiles to the landfill each year
- This industry also generates roughly 1.7 billion tons of CO2, which makes up 10% of the world's total emissions
Shein, for example, which is one of the most popular fast-fashion websites, adds 6000 new pieces every single day, and its prices are so low that one could nearly buy an entire new wardrobe for less than $200. These constant new styles and consistent low prices create a disposability factor in fashion which tries to justify buying something to wear once only to then throw it out when the quality wears out. It's no wonder that these pollution numbers are so high.
A Circular Economy, on the other hand, is a system where little to nothing goes to waste. In this model, items would be made more durable so that their first life cycle lasts longer, and ideally, all products would be reused or repurposed. When the end of their life approaches, they would be able to either decompose easily and without pollution or contamination, or be recycled into something new. In addition to the environmental side, the circular economy also works to promote fair pay and job creation (which are two of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals from the UN).
Why is October Circular Economy Month?
Circular Economy Month was started in October 2022 by the Circular Innovation Council. It is the first initiative in Canada which is entirely dedicated to the promotion of a sustainable system where the planet is protected and people are prioritized. The month was created to bring attention to four themes: what the circular economy is, the environmental benefits of a circular economy, waste reduction, and social and economic benefits of this system. Its predecessor, Waste Reduction Week, which has been an active movement for 20 years, is the third theme of the month, and dedicates each day of the week to a different sustainability issue:
Learning about how to transition to a Circular Economy has never been more important than it is now, as we continue to experience the impacts of climate change around the world and here in Ottawa. Since January 2023, Ottawa has experienced a warmer than average winter where the Canal did not freeze over for the first time, we have breathed the polluted air caused by Quebec wildfires, and saw mass flooding just over a month ago when 77mm of water fell in a single hour. The climate is changing and as we begin to see the effects happen in our own backyards, we are reminded that it is time for collective effort.
The good news is that there are many ways that organizations, municipalities, and individuals can embrace this movement.
What is EcoEquitable Doing?
At EcoEquitable, we promote the aspects of a circular economy in a couple of ways. We focus on the environmental aspect of textile waste primarily through our Eco Fabric Boutique, as well as our Sewing for Jobs Program and Public Classes that are able to upcycle and repurpose items from the boutique itself. We work towards social impact including women's empowerment and gender equity primarily through our Sewing For Jobs Program, and the new addition of our Job Referral Program, that further supports graduates to pursue their next chapter, build a network in the community, and generate income.
Textile waste annually emits 1.7 million tons of CO2, making up nearly 10% of the global emissions every year. Canadians send an average of 1 billion lbs of textiles to landfill every year, where they let off emissions as they decompose.
These are the statistics that motivate our Eco Fabric Boutique. Each year, we save an average of 10,000 pounds of fabric and notions from going to landfill. However, this is not the only sector of our organization that is working towards environmental circularity, as we have added a few sustainability-based Public Classes to our roster in the past year as well!
Our Upcycle Workshop is our most senior sustainable fashion workshop. Our instructor for this course, Svitlana, teaches folks how to upcycle two items of clothing from their wardrobes into one, new garment!
In the past year, we have launched multiple Fabric Painting courses, all taught by our very own team member, Faezeh. In these classes, Faezeh teaches the professional techniques for painting on everything from baseball caps to tote bags and t-shirts. This is a great way of preserving clothes that have stains or discolouration on them, as any coffee stain can be easily covered up with a painted design! Even if your clothes are in good shape, learning how to paint on them can allow for a new way to revamp your wardrobe without having to buy new items or spend money on new clothes.
Our newest addition to sustainable sewing fashion classes is our Repair-It-Yourself Series, which kicked off last night! During this three-week course, Ottawa community members are learning various garment repair techniques, like how to replace a button, sew a patch on a garment, extend the pockets of a garment, and darn knitwear!
Organizations Doing Great Work In Ottawa
There is a myriad of ways that local organizations can work towards a Circular Economy, and several Ottawa organizations are actively supporting the movement to a sustainable, equitable future. For instance, Horizon Ottawa has been campaigning for a more reliable and affordable transit system in Ottawa, which would create less car-reliance, help to ebb fuel emissions in the city, and allow for more people to have financial access to commuting via transit.
Arlington Five is a local coffeeshop which is working towards reducing food waste with a cider. When coffee beans are harvested and processed to become the coffee that we know and love, there is a part of the bean which is discarded. A5's cider is made using this typically thrown-away bean, and it is so delicious, you will have to go back for more!
Thrive Thrift is another notable organization. They are a thrift store run by Big Brothers, Big Sisters Ottawa, and they prioritize selling products by local artists who reuse materials to create new garments/items.
Food security is another aspect of a circular economy that can be supported by municipalities. For example, Foodsharing Ottawa is one local organization which diverts food to those in need of it and ensures no food gets wasted. In the same vein, NU Grocery is an Ottawa-based zero-waste food store which sells both food and reusable containers.
And there are so many other organizations doing the work!
What Can Individuals Do to Support a Circular Economy in Every Day Life?
Supporting a transition to a Circular Economy does not have to be overwhelming in any regard. It can be as simple as shopping for groceries with a meal plan for the week, so that you end up using all of the food that you buy and none goes to waste. It can be learning to repair or redesign your clothes so that, if you get bored of your wardrobe, you can find creative ways to keep them in your own circulation. You could also facilitate clothing swaps with your group of friends, workplace, or even a class that you really vibe with!
Leading a circular life can also mean investing in reusable items to avoid single-use plastic bags. Nu Grocery sells reusable household items such as containers and jars, and they are a great place to start when looking for this type of product! If you cannot afford new ones, thrift stores such as Value Village often have tons of reusables for less than $10 each (sometimes multiple for that price!). You could even expand the clothing swap idea above, and do a Reuse Swap, where yourself and your friends/coworkers/classmates can trade reusable items for free. That way, everyone can either declutter their cupboards or fill them easily. There are many groups online that facilitate the sharing and swapping or lightly used items, which are a great way to make connections within your local community as well.
Voting in municipal, provincial, and federal elections is a hugely important aspect of working towards a sustainable future. These types of elections are what decide whether our city invests in sustainable initiatives, reliable and affordable transit, equitable living standards, and so many other aspects of every day life.
Shopping local and going to farmers markets also helps, when you can, to support independent farmers and local workers.
Getting a library card for your local branch is yet another great way to support a Circular Economy! Something to keep in mind here is that the library is not only for books. They also have movies, music, audiobooks, as well as resources for entrepreneurship, genealogy, and for newcomers. Libraries also host a variety of programs for children and for adults, so there truly is something for everyone!
Use the Too-Good-To-Go app, which acts like a pick-up only version of Uber Eats, except all of the food is discounted because it is left-overs from the day. For instance, a bakery might post that they have six donuts for pick-up available at $3.00 total. This app is working to provide both affordable food options to the public, and a simple way for companies to prevent food waste.
Continuing Into and Beyond October...
By investing in green initiatives now, we will be able to slow the impact of climate change and set ourselves and the next generation up for a more sustainable future where everyone can thrive. Dedicating a month to learning about and investing in the Circular Economy is a good start, and with this awareness of the possibilities that a sustainable future holds, we recognize and champion the fact that action needs to happen too.
Come to EcoEquitable's Circularity Fair!
EcoEquitable will be hosting our first ever Circularity Fair on Saturday, October 28, 2023, from 10am-2pm at Heartwood House (404 McArthur Avenue in Ottawa)!
What is a Circularity Fair, you ask? This is an event, designed by the team at Eco, to enable local businesses and organizations working towards a Circular Economy to connect with the Ottawa community.
Come out to Heartwood House (where Eco calls home) for a day of sustainable shopping, cider drinking, live music, learning about local sustainability issues, and so much more! EcoEquitable will also be hosting our monthly October Eco Fabric Sale on the same day, so be sure to check out our sweet deals while you’re at it!
There will be16 vendors in total, including:
EcoEquitable: Shop at our October Fabric Sale and check out creative products made locally by some of our former Sewing for Jobs students!
Heartwood House: Learn about who HH is as an organization, the non-profits who are part of their community, and buy select thrifted items from theirbi-weekly OC Transpo sale!
Arlington 5: Pop Up Cafe, featuring the drink of the day “Circular Cider!”
Wild Remedy Band: Live music from 12-1:30pm!
The Ottawa Public Library: Get a library card!
Horizon Ottawa: Learn about local initiatives working towards a more reliable, sustainable, and affordable transit system
Seeded Memories: Selling seed-paper greeting cards!
City of Ottawa: Learn about municipal sustainability initiatives, waste and recycling information, and how to contact your local representative!
JP Sharpening: On-site scissor sharpening from 12-2pm!
RE4M: An Ottawa-based architecture company who upcycles discarded materials into gorgeous, functional furniture (custom order based)
Women’s Environmental Sustainability Network for Ottawa (WESNO): Learn about their networking events and mentorship program!
NU Grocery: Buy reusable containers and learn about zero-waste living!
The Box of Life: Learn about composting and tackling food insecurity!
Ecology Ottawa: Learn about local sustainability initiatives from one of the most active environmental groups in Ottawa!
Thrive Thrift Store: Buy sustainably sourced/upcycled/locally sewn garments!
Foodsharing Ottawa: Learn about food waste reduction initiatives in the city and how to donate, volunteer, or become a receiving organization
Mark your calendars! We can’t wait to see you there!
Written by: A. B. Hart