Certainly, that’s the view of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which works to promote the concept of the Circular Economy. MacArthur argues that our traditional economy is founded on an essentially linear take-make-dispose model which relies on an abundant supply of raw materials that can be manufactured into consumer goods with a finite life that will be discarded as soon as something newer and shinier comes along. The Circular Economy model strives to create a system where mineral and organic resources are endlessly cycled through the economy, reducing our need to find new raw materials and freeing ourselves from the issues of resource scarcity, price volatility and so on that are the inevitable outcome of a rapidly growing and urbanising population combined with an undeniably finite planet.
Of course we like our models to be alliterative whenever possible, so the MacArthur adaption adds “rethink and redesign” above the apex of the traditional 3Rs model. In MacArthur’s diagram they share a box, but I’d go one step further and place rethink above redesign in a separate box. Our mindset tends to be firmly centred on products and redesign can easily be assumed to apply to a product; using “rethink” as the first prompt makes a more explicit point that we need to go right back to basics and reconsider what human need we are trying to meet and in what form. For example, to use an example borrowed from Kingfisher, customers who visit a B&Q store to buy a drill don’t necessarily need one. What they need is a hole, and B&Q is focusing on finding better ways to meet the need for a hole rather than simply redesigning a more efficient drill.