Eight perspectives on the circular household of the future

Published on
March 8, 2022

We are in the middle of a transition towards a circular society. Changes are underway, but how will they impact our daily lives? And, is the transition fast enough? Wageningen University & Research scientists discuss their research in two documentaries. They look at the past and provide their perspective on the future in the year 2050.

The main topic of episode I is the circular household, with examples that are literally close to home. Episode II discusses the impact on our living environment. From how we interact with nature and what we eat to options for circular electricity and living in a healthier, green city. How we build, but also how we interact in a matching society. 

‘The city of the future is healthier and more sustainable’

‘Cities will become healthier and greener, Eveline van Leeuwen, professor of Urban Economics, expects. ‘Green has many advantages. It lowers the temperature in the city, provides shade, improves health and increases biodiversity. The city of the future is also more sustainable. We no longer use disposables, share items more frequently, and recycle items we no longer use. Shopping sustainably will be easier in the future thanks to a proper infrastructure that collects, cleans and returns packaging to the producer.’

‘Furniture from the neighbourhood’

A solid plan is indispensable for the development of a circular city, says Marleen Buizer, assistant professor of Social Sciences. ‘It’s not just a matter of material, resource or energy flows, but also about the social context. Take, for example, De Binckhorst. A former inner-city industrial site in The Hague that is currently being transformed into a sustainable residential and business quarter. It would be great if the furniture the future residents need is made from local recycled wood. And if fruit, vegetable and garden waste is processed in their own urban garden. And if new furniture you can buy in the neighbourhood is made from recycled wood. De Binckhorst has a rich history of small businesses that help return people to employment. That type of social circularity fits well within a circular city.’

‘Nature is our ally’

Lawrence Jones-Walters, programme director of Nature-inclusive transitions, stresses that nature is our ally in creating a circular and sustainable living environment. ‘We can benefit nature, but we also utilise nature for our benefit’. We can plant reeds to purify our sewage water and trees to provide animals with shade. And we eat safe food produced through sustainable farming that does not adversely impact the environment. This means our diet will also change, as climate change leads to different crops.’

‘Opportunities for multiple land use’

Jeroen Sluijsmans, project leader Research programme solar parks, sees opportunities for multiple land use with solar energy in our living environment. ‘Agriculture and solar parks may be an interesting combination, particularly in areas facing drought. The soil under solar panels stays moister, decreasing damage to crops.’

‘Separating, recycling and using plant-based resources’

And how about our household? How circular will that be in 2050? If it were up to Christiaan Bolck, programme manager of Materials, every product made would be produced from recycled products and materials. ‘For a household, that means diligent separation of products at the source. Advanced technology will then take care of further separation of materials. But there is more than just recycling. We must also make the switch from fossil resources to plant-based resources. Consider the corn plant, for example. Its stalk can be used for the production of textiles.’

‘Clothing made from materials from 1900’

This matches the future perspective of Michiel Scheffer, programme manager Sustainable Textiles: ‘In 2050, we will wear clothing made from the same materials used by people in 1900. Back then, clothing was made from hemp, linen and cotton, and we will use these materials in 2050 as well. There will no longer be any fossil-based materials in our clothing by then. If we all eat less meat, there will be plenty of land available for the production of plant-fibres for clothing.’

‘Mainly plant-based food, a little meat, dairy and eggs’

What will our daily meals be like in 2050? ‘Mainly plant-based, seasonal and local’, says Imke de Boer, professor of Animals and Sustainable Food Systems. ‘More vegetables and fruits, wholewheat products and legumes. A little meat, dairy and eggs from animals fed with plant-based waste streams and grass. We will still import products that we cannot produce locally, so we will remain dependent on trade. A product such as cocoa, for example. In 2050, however, we will no longer import cocoa beans but chocolate bars. Thus, the added value benefits the country of origin, creating a more equitable distribution of wealth in the world.’

However, sustainable change is difficult

Finally, a remark from Gert Spaargaren, retired professor of Sustainable lifestyles and consumption, regarding behaviour: ‘Sustainable change is mainly a social issue. The technological possibilities are enormous, but these new technologies do not automatically find their way into our households. We must bridge the gap between technology and behaviour by having experts and civilians move closer to one another one step at a time. And not by cutting off an entire neighbourhood from the gas supply overnight, or by allowing subterranean CO2 storage in the immediate vicinity of people’s homes.’

Would you like to see and hear more about these researchers' perspective on circular households of the future? Check out the two videos below:

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