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]

Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Cash App, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.