Having recently become a father and setting up his own small homestead down on Cornwall’s West Penwith peninsula, Ambassador Mike Lay explores themes of circularity; from the design of systems and products to putting it into practice in the back garden.
Circular Designing & Circular Doing
I was prompted to write this piece after finding out about Finisterre's new Biosmock, an innovative insulated jacket which is designed to break down naturally under the correct conditions at the end of its usable life and thus return its components back to the soil, an exciting example of circular design. The idea of circularity is a beautiful one, as all the simplest and most elegant ideas are, and often it is easier to engage with than you might think.
The three guiding principles of the circular economy, as defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, are; the elimination of waste and pollution, the circulation of products and materials, and the regeneration of nature. Each principle is intended to operate in tandem with the others and indeed the successful implementation of one often leads to the realisation of another.
The design of the Biosmock is clearly driven by these principles. While the 'end of its usable life' seems a long way off at this point, the fact that it will eventually break down is laudable when considering the vast quantities of clothing that will eventually become pollutants at the end of their lives. Clearly the Biosmock isn't about to single-handedly solve pollution issues within the fashion industry but it is an important addition to a growing movement towards circularity and because of this it was a gold medal winner at the IPSO industry awards in 2021.
As well as celebrating the design of the Biosmock, I also wanted to talk about my own recent experiences with circularity, specifically composting. While I am now beginning to see it as one of the fundamental building blocks of life on earth, for most of my life composting was something which existed at the peripheral of my understanding. It was a series of heaps in my Granny's garden, a green plastic tub beside the sink in my childhood home and eventually a round plastic bin in the corner of my own back yard. It was a final destination for vegetable scraps, a nod towards eliminating waste but a confused one. Bizarrely, in my own mind at least, our home composting efforts were entirely unrelated to the compost available to buy from garden centres (which I knew to somehow be good for the soil). I now see my understanding as a collection of linear processes, a collection that I have recently begun to join together, to stitch into a circle.
The first step was through the no-dig growing methods of market gardener and veggie heartthrob, Charles Dowding. The production and use of compost is central to his regenerative vegetable growing practice and in his youtube videos he dismisses many of the myths of compost making. His excitement about the process of composting is infectious and turns the spoils of the kitchen, lawn mower and garden waste in general into valuable commodities rather than things to be rid of. I next read a book of a more radical nature, Humanure by Jonathon Joseph is a both a history and a guide to using human wee and poo to make compost. Its contents are fascinating and potentially revolutionary for the sewerage systems of the planet. Composting human excreta could be a solution for developing nations where western sewage treatment systems are inappropriate, and even for supposedly developed nations where we do such a great job of turning a potentially beneficial material into toxic waste which all too often ends up in our rivers and oceans. Our squeamishness when it comes to our own bodily functions is the first obstacle to overcome, but for anyone interested in a different way of doing things I highly recommend reading Jonathon Joseph's book.
A less daunting place to start than ditching our water closets entirely is to take up household composting. Whether that be in your garden, if you're lucky enough to have the space (you don't need all that much), or through a council collection service, it is worth investigating what is available in your area. As with many such actions I have found composting has focused my attention on a variety of different areas such as food waste and packaging (Finisterre's aquapak packaging is compostable). But most of all it has served as yet another reminder of the beauty and ingenuity of nature. Designs like the Biosmock and ideas like the circular economy are essential if we are to combat issues such as pollution and the climate crisis, but they are nothing new. Nature herself works in cycles, in a constant state of symbiosis with it's innumerable moving parts, compost is a beautiful example of this circularity.
I personally am now composting virtually all kitchen waste, both cooked and uncooked, lots of cardboard and packing paper, all waste from the garden other than thicker woody material and even my 5 month year old's nappies. I'm immensely fortunate to have the space to do so but I can enthusiastically attest to the joy I get from what once would have been mundane tasks. And the real joy hasn't even started yet, that'll come when the first load is added to our vegetable beds and our own little circle is complete.
I'll finish with a quote from The Rodale Guide to Composting (a wonderful resource on the subject), describing compost's fundamental role in supporting life on earth:
"Composting is more than a fertilizer, more than a soil conditioner. It is a symbol of continuing life. Nature herself has been making compost since the first appearance of primitive life on this planet, eons before man first walked the earth. Leaves falling to the forest floor are soon composted, returning their nutrients to the tree that bore them. The dead grass of the meadow, seared by winter's frost, is made compost in the dampness of the earth beneath. The birds, the insects and the animals of field and forest contribute their wastes and eventually their bodies, helping to grow food so that more of their kind may prosper. The greenness of the earth itself is strong testimony to nature's continuing composting programme."