By Chance Thompson
Community. The word itself sounds good, right? It’s a fantastically wonderful feeling to have one, if you can find the right fit. It’s home. It’s friendship 👥. It’s family ❤️. It’s often the thing that shapes a person’s value system, shapes who they might be or who they are. Community can also be a source of frustration. Sometimes a person doesn’t jibe with their tribe, doesn’t feel like they fit. A puzzle piece jammed into the wrong puzzle, so to speak. A puzzle and its pieces have to fit to create a complete picture 🧩 📸 🌄. This is important to not just an individual’s happiness and fulfillment, but also the health and impact of their community. So what is community? Is it where you’re from, where you live, a place in the digital-sphere? All of the above, I suppose. What I’m here to discuss today, is the importance of fostering circular communities. As you read, imagine a coin. On one side, a sustainable and regenerating community; on the other, an unsustainable and isolating community, with which one cannot hold a connection. The coin also needs to operate as a mycelium-like network full of life, not an isolated spider web full of, well, death.
A few definitions to kick us off:
- Community: #1: A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. #2: A feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
- Circular Economy: A systemic approach to economic development designed to benefit businesses, society, and the environment. In contrast to the ‘take-make-waste’ linear model, a circular model designs out waste and pollution, keeps products and materials in use, and regenerates natural and human systems.
- Another thing I will mention is “closing loops.” This can also be seen as connecting dots that are scattered. Example: A city getting a local recycling center to deal with their recyclables, closing an open loop and linear waste of 0% landfill diversion.
- Mycelium: The root systems of mushrooms that interact symbiotically with trees, plants, and forest soil. These systems give life to much of our natural ecosystem.
I shared two definitions for community, as it can represent a physical place, such as my home town of Potomac, MT, or a space where like-minded people come together, the zero waste community of Salt Lake City, UT. A community such as the latter, gives us a pretty good look at a circular economy model. Salt Lake is bubbling to the brim of the cauldron with upcycling wizards and witches; with zero waste warriors and recycling masterminds. The power of this community can’t be overstated. It has empowered nonprofits like Clever Octopus, who is actively mending a considerable broken loop where Salt Lake residents, lacking the know-how or the time investment or the tools, are throwing out materials useful and reusable in all sorts of projects. (or something shorter). It holds an earthquaking, change-making sort of partnership with a business like the Salt Palace Convention Center and a nonprofit like the Utah Arts Alliance. Together, they make Dreamscapes, an immersive art exhibit generating major revenue, adding art sector jobs, and driving zero waste of over 90+% landfill diversion 🔥. This is the side of the coin you want to land on.
The friendships forged by such a community are more like family-bonds. We love our zero waste community. It inspires us. It imagines with us and for us. It solves problems for us. This power can be a renewable revolution. On the flip side though, what if a community doesn’t feel like a good fit? Not so renewable. What if a community is composed of only like-minded individuals? Mmm, not so good. This feeds into my analogy about a mycelium-like network. Much like the root systems of mushrooms that foster healthy forests, we need a community that solves problems and removes the “take/make/waste” mentality for the betterment of everyone. We need a community that doesn’t cast judgment on those who don’t belong, but rather teaches them how they can be a part of the circularity ♻️.
If you have a problem, find someone who can solve it, such as a broken toaster in need of a bit of solder at a Fix-It Clinic. If you can solve a problem, find someone who needs a solution, such as a CHaRM helping a broken bike find a new home. Local communities need to live in self-sustaining communities where we can solve our own problems. However, we also need local communities to roll up from just a physical place that often breeds bias and brings blinders to the larger world around it, into a community that connects both virtually and in person to the diversity of the surrounding world 👥 ⚧. We need both a local and a global zero waste community 🌎. Together, this can inspire both the sustainability hero and the climate denier to join together and support each other in circularity. Not everyone thinks about these things on a daily basis, but everyone can be inspired through human impact (and maybe even, a bit of zero waste fun). Community is built to do just that, if we let people join the tribe. There is no one you can’t reach with sustainability, you just have to figure out how to close the loops and connect the disconnects. A community, thinking in circularity, can do just that.
United we rise, divided we fall.
Fractured we crumble, forged we evolve.
If we build walls of non-belonging, we lose 🔳.
Transform those walls into circular systems of connection? Well, we win 🔲.
Let us all spin each other ‘round, right ‘round… Your friendly neighborhood recycling alliance is on board. Are you?
With a little bit of hope, a lot of optimism, some realism, and all the imagination I can summon 👥 🌎💰,
A quote and a graphic to close us out: “Creativity is making the marvelous of the discarded.” Unknown author