The Story of Stuff

Published: 5th December 2023 | Written by: Grace Coles

A team of scientists recently found that the weight of human-made materials, 1.1 trillion tonnes, is now roughly equal to the weight of all living things on Earth. On average, a person on Earth generates more than their own weight in manufactured stuff every week, a startling reminder of our huge impact on the planet.

How do we reduce our impact?

One way is to minimise what we use, buying second hand where possible. Another way is to keep products in use for as long as possible by designing them to last and requiring manufacturers to supply replacement parts for their products. Simply requiring manufacturers to take back their products at the end of their lives, provides the incentive to design products which are easy to fix and have parts which can be reused.

The circular economy offers a way to use fewer resources, and reduce our impact on the living world. It aims to maintain the supply of goods that we need to run our economy without laying waste to nature. When a product reaches the end of its life, its materials are kept within the economy to be used again and again, keeping waste to a minimum, and reducing the environmental impacts of mining, manufacturing and shipping.

What is the benefit of a circular economy?

A circular economy is a way of producing and consuming which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible.

How can we all be part of the circular economy?

  • Consider whether you really need to own an item, or whether you could borrow it, instead. The local organisation ShareShed was launched in 2020 as the world’s first mobile library of things, and has an impressive collection of items. Visit their website for more information.
  • Get in touch with brilliant local organisations The Bike Hub and Mend Assembly (both based at The Mansion, in Totnes) for help refurbishing and repairing your bikes or clothing items.
  • Look for clothing retailers that offer a service to trade in unwanted clothing in return for a voucher. They will repair, clean and resell it through another platform. If it is too worn, the clothing is recycled; pure cotton can be made into new cotton fabric, other textiles can make insulation materials.
  • When you need to buy something new, look for retailers which offer their own repair service. Some appliances such as kettles can be created with a modular design which means they have a replaceable element, extending its lifetime.