Ida Auken: Thank you so much, and I’m very pleased to be invited. Now what I want to tell you is that in 2050 we don’t even have waste anymore. There will be no waste in 2050. Everything will be seen as a treasure, because we will have created what some smart people call a circular economy. And I will take you through four steps of the circular economy. I will tell you what it is, why it is happening right now, how it’s going to be brought forward, and who’s going to do it. So that’s the four things I’m gonna take you through.
First of all, what is the circular economy? The circular economy is in a way the opposite economy of the one we have today. Today we have very much a linear economy. We take something, we take some materials. We mine them. We take them out of the ground. We cut some trees down or something. We use them for a little while, and then we turn them into trash. That’s where it ends: the line. And that is sort of a take, make, waste economy. But the circular economy is actually taking something, and already when you design it, before you take it into use, you think about its next life. So you actually design for reuse. So all materials will be circulating. And this actually eliminates waste.
Do we know this concept from somewhere? I think a lot of you people working with agriculture and with food, it’s pretty natural for you guys to think about the cycle. Because actually that’s what nature has been doing for billions of years. Imagine if nature had produced waste, I think the whole planet would just have been turned into waste now, right? We would never really have been here. So nature would not accept the concept of waste. It’s much smarter than that. So actually by looking at nature and trying to map some of nature’s processes we get an idea of how we can create a circular economy, how we can make everything flow.
And the people that have thought this out are a chemist and architect. And they’re thinking about two circles that should be circulating. One is the biological circle. That is the one we’ve been talking a lot about today. Nutrients going back to the soil, turned into food, going through us as people being reincarnated, and being spit out again as whatever comes out of us, and turned again to food. And that’s actually a very natural and an old cycle.
The other cycle will be the technical cycle. That will be all the materials that you know as gold, rare earth materials, metals, all of these technical…they will be going in another circle. So I’m gonna tell you how this all is going to take place, but I will first tell you why it’s happening right now.
So of course I think a lot of people are here and for ethical reasons you think it’s the right thing to do, right? And sustainability’s right; it’s something about our kids and the future and whatever. But you know what’s a really really strong driving force at the moment? Market. The prices. Resource prices.
So, I’ve now moved to the why. Why right now? So if you go back to your grandparents’ or your great-grandparents’ time, go back to around 1900. I think it’s about the time when you and I went to a Jazzhouse and danced for a night, wasn’t it? So no, go back all the way to 1900. I’m not sure Jazzhouse was built at that time.
So from 1900 till 2000, we just saw resource prices—metal, cement, water, whatever; oil, gas—coming down, every year. From 1900 to 2000. And most of you will remember in 2000 if your printer ran out of ink, it was more expensive to ask somebody to change the ink than to buy a new printer, right. So things had gotten so cheap…resources. So this has been the the move.
And then from 2000 till today, resource prices have come up more than they went down the previous 100 years. So in your grandparent’s lives everything became cheaper and cheaper, and now just in fifteen years it’s been completely flipped around. So when we go back to that time, everything was eaten. Everything was reused. Everything was repaired. Because it was worth something. And when we go back today, this is the trend that has completely turned around. And we’re going back to the times of our grandparents.
And why is this happening? Is this some kind of smart market move, knowing everything? No, it’s of course happening because we are 7 billion people now on the planet. We’re going up to 9 billion. Think about 3 billion people entering the middle class, all wanting cars, mobile phones, computers, eating meat. I mean, this is a huge pressure on the resources we have, and that’s why the prices have come up so dramatically the last fifteen years. So when we start using all the the parts of the animals it’s also because we need to do it. So it’s going to happen because the price signal’s so strong.
The circular economy is also happening because information technology has gone the opposite. I mean information technology has done the opposite move, right? Resource prices fifteen years, technology prices this way. [miming a rise for resources and drop for technology] All of you I know you turned off your cell phones, but stick your hand in the pocket and feel your cell phone. Okay. When you go back to 1998, I know I was dancing here at Jazzhouse at that time, so it’s not ancient times. Go back to 1998. The American government paid $52 million for a computer with the same power as your smartphone. So that’s just seventeen years that information has become so inexpensive. So these are the two trends that are behind the whole circular economy and the reason why it’s happening.
So how do we get to this place where we actually make sure that everything is recycled? I see four big business models that are driving a lot of this. I could talk about what the politicians are doing and should be doing, but I will leave that out. I will try to tell what people are doing out there—consumers and producers, and some of the people that are actually moving this rapidly at the moment.
Okay so the first thing that is happening of the four hows, is that we see a lot of producers having a circular input to the production. They use renewable energy, or they use recycled plastics, or they use recycled metals. Or here in Kalundborg some of you might know the symbiosis where there’s a big power plant, and the waste from that power plant, the waste heat, is used in the next business for energy input. And the wastewater from this one is used as cooling water in the next. And the surplus of nutrients are used in the next business. So they all use each other’s waste as a resource. And this is happening at a rapid speed at the moment. Just five or ten years ago you would see big producers of clothing that would just leave the spare parts, they would just be left on the floor. Now it’s a business to pick up that waste and turn it into new cloth. So we’re see everywhere that waste is seen as a resource, and that the waste from one company is the resource of another. And the biggest companies of the world are just eliminating waste because it’s such a big post on their budget. So it’s now turning into something…to the treasure. So that’s the first thing the first, the first very big move that we see at the moment from some of the biggest businesses.
So the second is remanufacturing. That you take something and that you use it again. There are different kinds of remanufacturing. So I could tell you about BMW that produces cars. BMW found out in 2010 that if they reused the plastics and the metals from the cars, that they could save 10% on each car. And if you think about how hard the competition is, having a German car producer with Asian car producers where the wages are lower, saving 10% per car’s quite a lot. And then you start designing your car differently. If you want to take out the metals and the plastic, you design your car completely different. So BMW is taking back their cars, reusing plastics and metals.
Another example could be Maersk, Maersk Line has Triple E ship that when this ship is done sailing the oceans of the world, it will not be turned into hazardous waste that should be beached somewhere in Bangladesh and poor people will take it apart. No it’s actually a valuable piece of material because they know exactly what’s in the ship. They know how to get out the metals, they get out the plastic, get out all the valuable things in this ship. So it’s turned not to waste but to a resource because it’s designed smart.
Another way of thinking of remanufacturing is somebody like Rolls-Royce. They’re actually taking out the engines or the catalysts, or all of the parts of the car and reusing it. We see a lot of companies now specializing in fixing spare parts for big machineries. We see repair stores popping up everywhere. So remanufacturing is actually a very strong move at the moment. And I think fermenting is a way of remanufacturing food, so instead of turning it all the way into waste and then back to the soil and back to people, you can actually keep it at a higher value, keep it as food. And remanufacturing is a lot about keeping materials at the highest possible value and recycling it at that stage.
And the third thing I will point to is a very big move that’s happening at the moment from product to service. I have a friend, he says every product is a service waiting to happen. If you think about it I mean your cellphone? Why do you want to own your cell phone? How many of you own your cell phones? How many know if the company owns it? It’s actually not a lot. I mean, you want the function, you want the service, right? Why do you want to own a cell phone if you can just lease it? And if you lease, why shouldn’t you lease your refrigerator, or your washing machine, or our dishwasher. Why do you want to own it? I mean it’s not like the plastic and the metal is like, “You! I own it.” A broken dishwasher. I mean wow.
No, why don’t you want to go into a business model where the company owns it? You know what happens when the company owns it? Actually, they can bring down the prices because they don’t have to buy new metal and new plastic. They design a much better product, it lasts a lot longer, if they have to pick it up when it breaks. They might even send somebody to fix it. And in the end, they will do a better product and you will get a lower price. And all the math is done on this, and it’s McKinsey so if somebody thinks I’m like a green freak talking about stuff this is actually calculated by McKinsey that it’s much cheaper to lease a washing machine if you get the business model right because you don’t have to own all of this. So this change from product to service is pushing a lot of the circular economy because the second the business owns the products they start designing in a way where everything can be taken out and reused. And then you get the incentives right.
And the fourth is the whole sharing economy. So if we start to share things, we can produce much better things that are used much more intensely. Think about a car. Do you know how much a car drives, how much of his life? 4%. 4% is how much a car drives. Or if you take a drill, it’s used to fifteen minutes? It’s not a lot, is it? And most of us, we— I know there are some guys here that really love to own a drill. But for the rest of us we just want a hole in a wall, right. And I think we’re going to a place where we just want mobility, where we don’t care so much about owning a car, it’s actually a bit of trouble. If it just becomes a driverless car and picks me up and I can drive around, this car will be driving all the time.
So I think we are moving to this, and also because of information technology it’s now possible to share things in a much more intelligent way, where we don’t feel all the time that this is something that we cannot trust or something that is a little bit dirty, or something that— I mean, carshare for long time was a problem because people left stuff in the car so it was a little bit…disgusting. But now you rate people, so you don’t leave stuff in the car, you just behave better. So the information technology has made it much more easy to share things and much more easy to distribute. And I think the second we get driverless cars, and we know they are there, and they’re on the street why should a car be standing still 96% of the time? It will start driving. And when the car has such a high value because it’s driving all the time, of course you design it in a way that everything can be taken out. I know Apple are looking at their phones now to see if they can get out all the rare earth materials, the gold, the silver, everything. Because if you take a pile of electronic waste it has more gold in it than a gold mine does. So we’re just…losing it at the moment. So the second we start to use things much more intensely, and we will do that with the sharing economy, I think this will also push the idea that we will have no more waste.
So I hope that I have convinced you, because now I’m moving to my fourth point: who? It’s you guys. You’re the ones who’re going to make this happen. So of course we can set up some kind of framework. We can make the right people meet. I mean, as a politician sometimes you need— I mean if you want to recycle plastic, for instance packaging, you need to get enough municipalities to collect the plastic waste. You need to get somebody to build a waste separation plant where you can get the plastic out in five streams. You need to connect the retailers to actually stop producing, or only using packaging that fits into the system. You have to get the consumers to bring things back, either in the bin or at the supermarket.
But it’s actually all of us. I mean it’s not something that politicians can do. It’s not something we can do alone. It’s something the second where you start seeing the circle, as soon as you look at a chair or at whatever you’re surrounding yourself with as something that should be able to be separated and you should be knowing exactly where you want to put it. I mean you should not be in doubt. I just know this goes into this this, and this goes into that, and nothing goes into this one that goes to incineration or landfilling. It all goes somewhere and it’s smart.
So I really want to urge all of you to think about your role in the circular economy. If you’re designer, if you’re an industrial designer, if you’re an architect, if you’re a chef, I think you have a role to play to make sure that we get the materials where they want to go. So to go to the farmer here, we should not be fighting over phosphorus and nitrogen as pollution. We should agree that it is a lost resource. We should find ways of doing precision farming, where you actually measure. So if you think about it, like this guy told me that— Can I borrow phone, does anybody have a phone? Yeah. So he told me, this guy, he’s a mad guy but I really love him.
So he said okay, so imagine molecules and resources, they go like this; information goes goes like this. [again miming a rise for resources and drop for technology] We have to be somewhere else on that scale. So, think about this as a tractor. So you can actually be going over your field and it will know exactly how much potassium, how much phosphorus, how much nitrogen should be fertilized everywhere. So what does this give you? It doesn’t give you the economy of scale, it gives you the economy of small scale. It makes all of us very very efficient at a small scale. It’s pretty smart, isn’t it? We don’t have to have only— You know, we saw this chart of going from 140,000 farms to 40,000 because of large-scale advantage. We don’t need to do that. Because we can have small-scale advantage, using technology in a much smarter way. Using distribution in a much smarter way. So we don’t have to do this to be efficient. And if you don’t believe what I’m saying think about Airbnb, or think about Uber. They did a platform. They gave everybody an opportunity to do economy of small scale. Because they had a smarter way of doing it.
So I’m sure we are right in front of something like this that might go into to the whole agricultural sector and will produce food much closer to where we consume it. And we’ll have it distributed in a much easier and better way because of the technology. And I hope you guys will also play a role here. I certainly hope that I have inspired you a little bit. And okay, so I know that some of you guys… I have to say this. [walks to side of stage, returning with two disposable water bottles] All night I’ve been watching these fuckers on stage. Okay, what the hell? Why are we drinking old, disgusting water imported from somewhere in plastic bottles with chemicals? Why? Can anybody explain it to me? So okay. So, if I haven’t convinced about anything about the circular economy, can I just please… You’re the guys moving the world, right? Put a fatwa on these things. We don’t need them. It doesn’t taste nice. It doesn’t even have sparkles or bubbles. I mean this is ridiculously waste. So, I just want to say thank you for tonight, and I hope you have a wonderful night! [throws bottles in the air; audience clapping and cheering]