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

Written by: Heli

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 formation of public services and infrastructures through democratic processes. However, planning future services and infrastructures first requires some efforts to live a circular life, to come up with an understanding about the services and infrastructures required for a reasonably effortless and smooth circular living.

The circularity pyramid (below) can be used as a guide to a circular life.

The pyramid has been compiled in the research project based on the EU Waste Framework Directive and the 5 principles of Zero Waste.

Circular economy workshops for upper secondary students

The Circular Citizens research project arranges circular economy workshops for upper secondary students, in which the circular economy will be connected to the students´ life, and a circular society will be planned based on this. The circular economy workshops include introduction to the topic and to the workshop working, an ‘Imaginary circular life’ exercise, a ‘Circular economy utopia’ exercise and a ‘Repurpose experiment’ assignment.

In the ‘Imaginary Circular Life’ exercise, the students will apply the circularity pyramid with items that are important to them. Since circular life still requires special expertise and effort, it is expected that the students as well will encounter problems in the imaginary circular life. Based on the problems, the students try to come up with a conception of what a smooth circular living would require from, for example, homes, housing associations or neighborhoods, shopping centers and cities.

Utopias are approached in the workshop as both imaginary, concrete and practical. Utopias typically refer to the worlds or societies that are by default better than the current ones, but even the imaginary utopias are in many ways bound to the prevailing reality. Imaginary utopias arise from the deficiencies experienced in the prevailing reality and thereby from the hope for the better. In addition, the prevailing reality can be found to reify imaginary utopias of the past. However, the realization of imaginary utopias often requires special efforts, which makes utopias also practical.

After coming up with a conception of a circular living with its current problems and future requirements, the students summarize the encountered problems at the beginning of the ‘Circular economy utopia’ exercise, and based on the that, try to come up with a circular society in which the circular living is smooth. Students describe the circular society they envisioned, and ponder, among other things, why life would be organized in this way, what good would be in such a society and living, and what would make people happy in this society.

In accordance with the principles of the circular economy, broken or unused items will be brought back to use in the “Repurpose experiment”. The experiment will be done at home individually or with a friend and reported by photos and a story of the item. There has been little research on young people in the circular economy in general, and previous research shows that the first experiences determine later repairing behavior. The aim of the repurpose experiment is to provide young people with positive experiences of circular economy practices, and on the other hand to acquire knowledge about young people's circular economy experiences. Based on previous workshops, students seem to enjoy repurposing, as well as adults do, at least among the research group. The photos of previous repurpose experiments can be found here.

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

Not quite a piece of cake: students in a position of active citizens

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. Workshop working seems to be quite challenging, which suggests that the working differs from typical school work. In the assignments, students are asked to combine knowledge with creativity and to bind this to their own lives, to identify problems and to seek solutions. The students will be set in a position of active citizens involved in the forming of the public space. It is really interesting for a researcher to see how the students break some accustomed barriers within the workshop working.

Participate with a student group to a workshop?

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:

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