The circular economy is typically seen as the progressive alternative to our wasteful linear economy, where raw materials are used to make the products that feed today’s rampant consumerist hunger, which are then thrown away.
The idea of the circular economy only took off in the 1980s, but this doesn’t mean that the practices at the core of a circular economy, such as repairing, recycling, refurbishing, or repurposing, are equally novel. All of these strategies have the aim of keeping materials in use – whether as objects or as their raw components – for as long as possible. And all are hardly revolutionary.
The repurposing of objects and materials may be as old as tool use itself. In Palaeolithic times, smaller flint tools were made from old hand-axes. People in the Neolithic period had no problem reusing standing stones to construct their tombs, such as seen in Locmariaquer in France.
Even ceramics, made from clay and therefore available in abundance, were frequently recycled. Old pottery was often ground down to powder and used in the clay for new pots. On Minoan Crete, this ceramic powder, known as grog, was also used to manufacture the mudbricks from which houses were built.
At the Bronze Age site in Hungary where I excavate, spindle whorls made from broken pot fragments turn up regularly. Large stones at this site pose an interpretative dilemma because of their continuous reuse and repurposing, from grindstone to anvil and doorstep to wall support. In fact, up until the 20th century, repair, reuse, and repurposing were common ways of dealing with material culture. The dominance of the wasteful linear economy is a real historical anomaly in terms of resource use.
But we should be careful not to fall into the trap of the “noble savage”. Our ancestors were no ecological saints. They polluted their surroundings through mining, burned down entire forests, and they too created massive amounts of waste. Just look at Monte Testaccio, a large artificial hill in Rome made up entirely out of broken amphorae.
When things are in abundance, people easily accept a wasteful and exploitative attitude. But for most of the past, most things were not in abundance, and so a core practice of a circular economy was adopted. This did not happen due to ideological motivation, but out of necessity.
Archaeologists typically don’t use the terminology of the circular economy, and describe the above examples simply, as reuse. This might partly explain why the deep roots of core practices of the circular economy are not discussed more widely. The same is also true of recycling.
When one adopts a very broad definition of recycling (thinking of it, for example, as the use of previously discarded artefacts), the origins of this practice can be traced all the way back to the Palaeolithic period.
But let’s focus here on the understanding of recycling as is employed today. This is a practice in which waste (used objects) is completely converted, becoming the raw material of new products.
This practice of complete transformation also entered the repertoire of human behaviour far earlier than you may think. It became the core practice of an economy as long ago as the Bronze Age.
From about 2500 BC, prehistoric people started to combine copper and tin on a regular basis, making metal known as bronze. The mass adoption of this artificial material caused significant shifts.
Societies reoriented themselves economically because making bronze meant moving materials over long distances. Connecting sources with end users led to an intensification of trade. For these reasons, the Bronze Age is considered to be a formative epoch in the formation of Europe, in which we witness the emergence of pan-European exchange networks and large-scale trade.
Bronze also made people think in new ways. The process of metalworking differs markedly from other, earlier, crafts. Wood and stone carving involve the removal of material, which is why they are known as reductive technologies. Basketry, weaving, and pottery, meanwhile, are additive technologies. Bronze is different in that it is a transformative technology.
The raw material is melted down to a liquid state and poured into a mould. Moulds were the very first blueprints, documenting the design of an object to be produced – and reproduced. This may not sound very exciting to us now but for the prehistoric people involved this must have a been a groundbreaking way of working materials.
Just imagine, if your stone axe broke, you could repurpose the pieces, but you would not be able to remake that axe. In contrast, if your bronze axe broke, you could remelt it and produce the same axe with the same quality, again. Recycling, as a core economic practice, was invented in the Bronze Age.
Bronze was not the first metal to be used in such a way; the origins of metal use start with pure copper being hammered into shape. But it is only at the beginning of the Bronze Age that recycling starts to take place on a large scale.
From the Middle Bronze Age onwards, all over Europe, bronze was being recycled. We know this because archaeologists have analysed the metal composition of hundreds of objects, showing the depletion of certain elements, as a result of frequent recycling. In addition, “old” metal was traded. A shipwreck discovered off the coast of Dover carried a large amount of French bronze objects dated to 1100BC, destined to be recycled in the UK.
As a political term, we might want to keep the circular economy in the present, but the practices that are part of it have long been part of human existence. In this respect, the Bronze Age could be seen as the first example of a circular economy in practice. Bronze was a main material of this period, and its economy revolved around recycling. Recognise this, and we start seeing that it is not the circular economy that is novel. Rather, it is the linear, and wasteful economy that is the anomaly.
The beauty of this is that we can put the past to good use. The core values of a circular economy are rooted in our past and in this manner, they can help shape and inspire a modern craftsmanship that fundamentally should revolve around sustainability and durability.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. It's written by Maikel Kuijpers, Assistant Professor of the Archeology of Early Europe at Leiden University. Read the original article here.
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In this time of religious tensions, a small piece of good news can go a long way in restoring your faith in humanity. This positive bit, for example, comes all the way from the United States. Northeast Ohio, to be precise.
👉 In Parma, a small city close to Cleveland, a group of Muslim doctors decided to convert some of the local mosque's spare rooms into a free health clinic where everybody is welcomed, no matter if uninsured or not Muslim.
As reported by local media outlet News5 Cleveland, The Cleveland Ibn Sina Clinic opened just a few weekends ago but more than 30 patients have already received treatment.
"We have the ability, we have the potential, we have the resources,” said Dr. Mansoor Ahmed, who is one of the 20 doctors that committed to volunteering their expertise. "Giving a little bit of your time, I think, goes a long way in making a difference in people's lives," he added.
“A lot of the doctors came here from foreign countries outside the United States looking for better opportunities. Now that they are established, some of them are practicing with hospitals, some of them have their own practice, now they want to come together and give back to the community,” commented Hala Sanyurah, who is the clinic's Communication Director.
The clinic — that will not just focus on primary health issues but also on more specific diseases like asthma, diabetes, and mental illness — is the first free medical facility in the region.
Credit header image: Stu Spivack
The mere mention of the term “polar vortex” elicits thoughts of bitterly cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills. Most people are aware that the frigid air in the Northern Hemisphere is coming directly from the Arctic region, yet they don’t know why polar vortexes happen.
Not surprisingly, this has led to some rather heated debate. One side of the argument claims that the polar vortex is a result of climate change and human activity. The other side suggests this is a natural phenomenon that proves global warming is false and that humans are not involved in altering our climate.
The truth is the former is correct. But trying to convince someone to accept this reality might be a difficult challenge. Thankfully, when it comes to the cause of the polar vortex, there is a relatively easy — and for some, relatable — explanation. Quite simply, the polar vortex gets drunk.
My research expertise is in microbiology, immunology and chemical mechanisms of molecular interaction (think antibiotics).
As a science communicator, one of my greatest hurdles is defining the intricacies of research into language with which people can understand. This means going deep into the literature and finding the mechanism behind the result. It also means having a deep level of knowledge in a variety of different science branches.
In some cases, the information can be difficult to convey to a wider audience. But when it comes to the polar vortex, it’s not difficult at all.
A close examination of the chemistry associated with the onset of these cold snaps reveals a near-perfect resemblance to a chemical shift our bodies encounter during alcohol consumption. The results reveal that both humans and the planet are similarly susceptible to unexpected and unwanted movements.
Most of us can recognize when someone has had too much to drink. Their speech is slurred and they have troubles with their balance. This latter symptom is why the walk-and-turn sobriety test is effective — an inebriated person has trouble moving in a straight line.
Maintaining posture and balance is a complicated neurological process. Research has revealed that one molecule, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), is necessary for us to achieve this goal. Our brains use this neurotransmitter to help control the signals to our muscles, particularly when we feel the effects of gravity or being pushed by another person.
When we drink alcohol, GABA helps us preserve our balance and posture. But once we end up losing the necessary levels of GABA needed to keep us upright, we sway, stagger and stumble. Only when we’ve sobered up and increased our GABA levels are we able to regain our balance.
A similar process occurs in the Arctic.
The polar vortex, officially known as the stratospheric polar vortex (SPV), is a stable air mass that tends to stay put when it’s cold sober. In the same way we feel an internal heat during alcohol consumption, the region can warm up with an infiltration of air from the south, better known as a sudden stratospheric warming. When this happens, the steadiness of the vortex is challenged.
Much like our brains have GABA to maintain stability, the SPV also has a chemical that helps to maintain stability. It’s ozone.
When levels remain high, the vortex stays in place. But should the levels drop, then the vortex starts to sway, stagger and then stumble southward, a process known as outward eddy transport. Depending on how low the ozone levels drop, the vortex can stretch well into the southern United States and Europe. Eventually, the SPV sobers up, the ozone levels recover, and the air mass stays up north. But this recovery can be slow and leave those affected freezing for weeks instead of days.
As to what causes the ozone loss, it’s a reaction with a variety of chemicals in the air. Researchers can observe the process in real time and have found that the offenders are not alcoholic in nature but happen to be compounds that contain nitrogen and chlorine. The Earth produces these chemicals in the form of volcanic output and forest fire emissions, and this can lead to a drunk polar region.
Thanks to real-time examinations of polar vortex movements over the last 20 years, we can easily finger the culprit: industrial air pollution. These commercial activities produce more than enough of the nitrogen and chlorine chemicals to reduce ozone levels and cause those drunken staggers. The data clearly shows that the blame for the rise in those cold blasts falls squarely on us.
As this winter’s supply of polar vortex events comes to an end, so should the debate over whether the polar vortex is real — it is — and whether these movements are due to human activity — they are. Until we find ways to reduce our dependence on ozone-removing chemicals, all we can do is hope for the best and brace for the worst.
Here at Kinder, we're often busy thinking about the future of philanthropy and how charitable organizations will look like 100 years from now.
However, every now and then, it's also helpful to look back at history and realize that there's a handful of charities that have been around for so long that there's certainly something we can learn from them.
One of them is the Hospital of St. Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty in Winchester England, that actually prides itself to be the UK's oldest charitable institution.
Founded around the year 1132, the almshouse was initiated by Bishop Henry of Blois to support thirteen poor men who were unable to work and to feed some 100 people who showed up at the gates every day.
The thirteen men became known as the "Brothers of St. Cross". Despite the religious connotations of the term "brother", the Brothers of St. Cross were not and are not monks, therefore St. Cross is not a monastery.
The Wayfarer's Dole
The Hospital of St. Cross' most unique and famous charitable endeavor is surely the so-called "Wayfarer's dole".
According to this delightful tradition, every visitor of the almshouse can ask for a free horn of beer and a morsel of bread. As recalled by the organization's website, the custom was started by a monk from Cluny, in France, whose holy order always gave bread and wine to travelers.
After so many centuries, this tradition still continues nowadays as seen in the BBC's program Songs of Praise👇
The Hospital of St. Cross, which is hosted in a beautiful medieval building immersed in the British countryside, is regularly open for visits. Head to the organization's website for additional information.