Circular economy: a green recovery?

This COVID-19 unprecedented crisis highlighted the unsustainable nature of our current economic system and led to a reconsideration of production and consumption patterns. The circular economy can help address unsustainable trends and find adequate solutions towards a green recovery. In a post-pandemic scenario, the circular can become the new normal. This is what we believe in and are striving for at Impact House.

Before we dive into the details, we should begin by understanding the concept.

Circular economy is an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources. Circular systems employ reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling to create a closed-loop system, minimizing the use of resource inputs and the creation of waste, pollution and carbon emissions. This regenerative approach is in contrast to the traditional linear economy, which has a “take, make and dispose” model of production.

The circular economy approach is an interesting implementation vehicle for the Sustainable Development Goals, especially the 12th, pledging for more sustainable and responsible consumption and production patterns. Other SDGs like 6 (water), 7 (energy), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 13 (climate action) and 15 (life on land) could equally be achieved by implementing this systemic change.

That being said, we promote this circularity at Impact House through different projects and initiatives.

The first thing you see when you open the door of our House is the Social Shop, made from upcycled wood and a lot of purpose: to promote and uplift our partner nonprofits’ products to support their social mission, and to reduce the consumption of resources by offering a selection of eco-friendly products. There’s the Biataki ashtrays for instance, made from reused materials through which pollution from cigarette ends can be easily eliminatedand it can be used over and over! Nonprofit SOUMA created aprons made from repurposed jeans and Movimento Claro turned ocean plastic into colorful keychains. We also sell reusable inox water bottles for those wishing to cut on plastic—clean tap water is such a privilege, let’s make the most of it! And then there are lifesavers that make your sustainability journey much easier: the menstrual cup and bamboo straws, both which can be reused time and again.

Next to the Reception, you can find the SWAP Spot, in partnership with Circular Wear: a corner for changemakers to exchange clothes instead of supporting fast fashion, avoiding the creation of more demand to an oversaturated and unsustainable industry. As Fashion Revolution puts it, “Swapping an item of clothing might not seem like a radical act, we’ve been doing it for thousand of years in various forms, from bartering to hand-me downs, but in a world where consumption is accelerating well beyond our planetary limits, to extend the use of our clothes is a powerful act”. If you are looking for responsible ways to get rid of clothing you no longer use, you can donate them to our Donation Box that has supported people from partner nonprofits like CASA, and more recently people from Social Security in different emergency situations.

At Impact House you can swap more than clothes: books, too! We have our own Book Sharing spot for those who love to read without carrying their entire libraries in their backpack. Leave a book, take another one. It’s as simple as it gets.

We are a collection point for different kinds of materials at the end of their life cycle, supporting different projects—all of them working towards a more circular economy. Because waste is not waste until we waste it, right? If you leave your broken umbrellas with us instead of simply throwing them out in the nearest bin, R-Coat has a chance to turn them into raincoats and accessories! This community-based fashion brand reduces waste while hand making stylish garments and contributing to a more sustainable, ethical and fair type of fashion. Not even cigarette ends are wasted at Impact House—they are turned into thought-provoking art by the revolutionary Portuguese artist João Leonardo. You can also leave your broken toys with us! Plastic Replay will make sure they are dismantled by material category, and then turned into new, useful toys the kids will love to play with! This pilot project in partnership with the Zero Waste Lab and the Precious Plastics gathered every Friday at Impact House to dismantle toys that have yet to be separated. Electrão is one of the drivers of waste recycling in Portugal, and the face behind the Onde Reciclar platform—an initiative where you can check different collection points for specific materials. We accept 3 types of materials from the public: batteries, small appliances and light bulbs.

We also try to be as circular as possible in the kitchen, taking food waste very seriously—as it should, considering it is a silent driver of climate change. Everything starts with the sourcing of local and seasonal products, from nonprofits whenever possible, which are used in our delicious and hearty homemade food. Sometimes our meal counting board is not 100% accurate and we make more food than needed. In those cases, our lovely Impact Mums use their creativity skills and repurpose ingredients in other meals, like the roasted sugary fruits that become juice for the next day! Their creative efforts also created the zero waste delicacy that you can find at the Impact Café—spoiler alert: it will have you beg for more. Surplus food is either sold though food-saving apps at a discounted price, like Too Good To Go and Phenix, or donated to Refood, a nonprofit that feeds those in need. But it doesn’t stop there! Leftovers from clients’ dishes become organic trash, which is then transformed into biofuel instead of piling up in a landfill. Veggie and fruit scraps from the kitchen are transformed into nutrient-rich fertilizer created by the friendly worms in our backyard through vermicomposting — which we use in our work-in-process vegetable garden. There is also a circular system with suppliers, in which we reuse the same containers over again. It also applies to the food we donate. Clients can request reusable bags whenever they need to go grocery shopping, too.

Our procurement policy states that secondhand furniture and equipment is our first priority, and we also own several that were upcycled, something we are very proud of! You can see them all around the house.

Moreover, we try to use as little paper as possible—even though it is recycled, as well as the napkins and paper towels—and transitioned to using and storing documents digitally. Who knew that heat-laminated sheets could be so revolutionary?

At Impact House, we believe the circular economy is the way forward and will continue to promote inspiring projects willing to walk this path with us. What about you? Do you believe in a green recovery?


Written by Raquel Fonseca