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Circular lifestyle - Where to start? Tips from Finnish fore runners

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Text and photos: Noora Viholainen


Circular economy and sustainable consumption are slowly becoming a part of Finnish citizens’ lives as the environmental burden of production and consumption are being curbed in a variety of ways. We, as citizens, have an active role to play in making the circular economy a reality through our consumption habits. But what does the circular economy mean in everyday life and how to get started?


In this blog post we have collected some tips from the experiences of circular citizens. The tips are based on interviews (n=20) conducted during the Circular Citizens project, in which pioneers reflected on leading a circular and sustainable lifestyle.


Along with the text you will find some examples of the circular practices my family has engaged in, where I have experienced challenges and which of the pioneers’ tips I would like to try out next!


When the roll of kitchen paper runs out, the cardboard core serves as our dog's activation toy before recycling. A few treats are placed inside and the ends are closed, after which Kuoma tears open the core to get the treats. This has been a good alternative to the expensive, plastic toys available in stores.

The pyramid shows which everyday circular economy practices to prioritize

Let's start with how each of us can contribute to the circular economy through our actions. The circular economy pyramid below shows which circular economy strategies we can implement in our daily lives and how they rank in order of importance. Although waste recycling is often seen as the most important part of the circular economy, it is the last in the pyramid of circular economy strategies in terms of priority. However, the most important thing is to reduce waste generation, not just to recycle the waste that is already generated.


A circular economy pyramid based on the EU Waste Directive and the five Rs of the Zero Waste lifestyle.



Start for example here!


One of the circular economy practices most often mentioned by the pioneers was to replace single-use (especially plastic) products with durable versions. In addition to using durable shopping bags, you could try, for example, swapping take-away cups for thermos flasks, sanitary towels for menstrual cups, and paper kitchen towels for washable cloths made from old sheets. You don't always have to buy durable products, but you can make use of things and materials you already have at home.


Replace single-use products with durable ones and avoid plastic


One of the circular economy practices most often mentioned by the pioneers was to replace single-use (especially plastic) products with durable versions. In addition to using durable shopping bags, you could try, for example, swapping take-away cups for thermos flasks, sanitary towels for menstrual cups, and paper kitchen towels for washable cloths made from old sheets. You don't always have to buy durable products, but you can make use of things and materials you already have at home.


Switching to durable products is one of my own goals, although I'm not very far along in that direction yet. For example, I'm still learning how to use the durable “cotton” bud shown in the picture. The menstrual cup is one of my absolute favourite durable products. Maybe I'll take a tip from the pioneers and make it a point to switch from one disposable product to a durable one at a time!


Take a look in the waste bin - what waste could you reduce?


By looking in your home's sorting bins, you can see if there's any waste that could be prevented. As well as disposable products, bins can easily become full of packaging waste such as plastic, and organic waste (see also our previous blog post What kind of waste accumulate in Finnish households and what types of waste irritates the most?). For example, you can try to reduce food waste by planning your food shopping in advance and cooking imaginatively with leftovers. Where possible, switching to durable products and buying products without packaging will help reduce other household waste. In addition to the environmental benefits, less waste is also good for your wallet as you need to empty your bins less often.


Take stock and sell or donate unwanted goods


Knowing what you already have in your cupboards makes it easier to think about what you really need. What's more, items lying around the back of cupboards and in storage can find a new life as someone else's when you sell or donate them.


Favour the second-hand and the durable


You can't always avoid buying. When you do, it's best to give preference to buying second-hand. In those situations where you do have to buy something new, try to find products that will last a long time and are easy to repair. Also make sure that the products are made in a sustainable way that respects nature and people.


Children grow at a fast pace and when the previous size becomes too small, you have to get a bigger one. Here are some of the latest flea market finds. Although there are plenty of second-hand clothes and other items such as toys available, I've still found buying second-hand quite a hassle, as you have to hunt for clothes in several different places (e.g., Facebook flea markets, Tori.fi, physical flea markets). Both for buying second-hand and for selling and donating, I would like see new easy-to-use services!


Test the size of your carbon footprint and get inspired


Sustainable consumption habits related to food, energy and travel were also part of the everyday life of many pioneers and among the first changes. These are also the biggest emitters in our daily lives and consume large amounts of natural resources. On the other hand, they also offer the greatest potential for reducing the carbon footprint of households.

Among the first things our pioneers had done were to switch to a renewable electricity contract, increase the proportion of vegetarian food in their diet and reduce air travel. You can test the impact of these changes on your own carbon footprint using a calculator, for example on Sitra's website.


Instilling a new way of life


As shown above, there are many everyday ways to take part in the circular economy and sustainable development, but it is not always easy to make changes - especially to start making them. So how do you start making changes towards a more sustainable everyday life?

"every time you make a small change, it makes it easier to make another small change again" (H9)

Although there were a few pioneers who had made a big change to their lifestyle in a relatively short period of time, for the majority the change had evolved gradually over the years. One or two changes at a time makes it easier to embed them in everyday life, while several changes at once can lead to burnout and loss of interest in the worst case.


From time to time we rent appliances that we rarely use and that therefore seem a waste of space and money to own. This time we needed a steam cleaner to power clean our bathroom. It was easy to book online, and we picked it up the same day. In the past, we have rented at least a larger textile washer and a drill. Would renting be a new circular practice for you to try?

It's also good to remember that not everything has to be done perfectly. There are not always enough resources, such as time, patience, or money, to make sustainable choices in every situation, and that is perfectly acceptable. It is worth shaping your lifestyle to suit you, so that the new habits you adopt are more likely to remain part of your daily life and become the new norm.

"Many of the things you add to your life will in themselves support your health and well-being. For example, eating vegetarian food, cycling, not spending time running around in shopping malls but going somewhere in nature and walking, and even finding out about things so you don't have such a painful worry about the state of the world, you acquire information and try to put it into practice somehow." (H17)


In difficult moments, it is also good to remind yourself why you have decided to make changes in your life. Whether the driving force is the desire to influence climate change and/or one's own well-being, an incentive close to your own heart may help, even when the prevailing ways of thinking and acting make the new lifestyle challenging at times.


There are as many paths to a circular economy as there are people, and the key is to find the one that suits you best. But the common factor is that we all have the same destination: a sustainable, circular economy-based life. As one of our pioneers summed it up well:

"this is a bit like the future, because at some point, at least I feel that the world will change, so then it is better to start living the future already now" (H1)


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