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Circular economy workshops: Youth as active citizens in the circular economy transition

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

Written by: Heli Harjama


Photo: Ari Aalto (University of Helsinki, Uni Material Bank)


Circular economy responds to sustainability problems


The ecosystem functions as the basis for the global economy and for our societies, but the over consumption of natural resources, characteristic of our time and place, destabilizes the ecosystem. The circular economy is one of the solutions that responds to the over consumption of natural resources and aims to create a sustainable future. Transition to the circular economy requires changes both to the political and economic structures, and to the activities of people and businesses.


Although our own daily practices may seem insignificant in the extent of the whole systemic change, our practices affect the system in many ways. Our practices are connected to the practices of people close to us, to the services provided by companies and the economic production, as well as to the public services and infrastructures.


The circular economy transition is just beginning


In Finland circular economy is promoted politically on the levels of EU, government, and municipalities. The circular economy transition is just beginning, and the measures mainly target companies and the public sector via their technical solutions and strategies. There is only a limited amount of circular economy services and infrastructure available for citizens, which means that at the moment leading a circular lifestyle requires special expertise and effort.


The Circular Citizens project has studied pioneering circular citizens and movements (you can read their stories here) to inform the future infrastructures and services. However, the nascent transition to a circular economy is an excellent opportunity for all citizens to participate in the planning of public services and infrastructures for circular living, and that´s what we did in circular economy workshops with upper secondary students.


Circular economy workshops for upper secondary students


In the workshops circular economy was approached from the students own life and the students were positioned as active citizens that planned a circular society together. In practice this required combining textbook knowledge, personal knowledge and creativity to identify problems and seek solutions. In another words the working was quite demanding, but approaching and seeking solutions for sustainability problems requires holistic approach. Overall the students felt very positive about transitioning to circular economy: "it would be only for good" was a very common statement in the workshops. And no wonder: circular economy makes sense.


The workshops included also a practical component: repurpose experiment as a home assignment. In the repurpose experiment broken or unused items or materials were brought back to use, according principles of the circular economy. The aim of the repurpose experiment was to provide positive experiences of circular economy practices, and on the other hand to acquire knowledge about the youth in circular economy. So far, there has been little research on youth in the circular economy, and previous research shows that the first experiences determine later repairing behavior. Again, the students found repurposing as positive, unless it was found difficult to come up with something. The photos of repurpose experiments can be found here.



Repurpose experiments: Tassel earrings from earrings and tassels / Vase from a can and string


Participate with a student group to a workshop?


The workshops strengthen the transversal competence of the Finnish upper secondary general education, and the societal and citizenship competence as well as sustainable development competence of the Finnish vocational education.


The members of the research group provide the introduction and organize the workshops. We are happy to modify the workshops with the teachers to the contents of the specific courses, if desired. The workshops are a nice opportunity for the students to get acquainted with the circular economy though their own lives and societal perspectives.


The completed workshop assignments will be used as a research data if the students give their consent. We intend to explore the meanings and societal thinking related to the circular economy within educational and behavioral science.


The workshops will be arranged for the year 2023. New student groups from all over Finland, and some from abroad too, are welcomed to participate!


Join us!


More information and registrations: heli.harjama@helsinki.fi.

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