Paula Aracama Meyer
Angehende Sozio-Ökonomin
28.09.2022 | reading time: 5 minutes


Circular Economy On The Rise

Consumer-Producer Cooperation: Sharing Responsibility for Sustainability

The recycle-and-repair movement has a long history in Germany. In the wake of the Second World War, the German population had no choice largely but to rebuild from amid the rubble, judiciously utilizing the scarce resources remaining at their disposal. However, as the era of the Wirtschaftswunder or German Economic Miracle got underway, this mentality started to shift. More and more, people adopted a buy-use-toss attitude that made the landfills pile high with garbage. While much legislation has now been passed banning plastic straws and other waste-intensive products in the European market, the problem is far from being resolved, as many things are manufactured in such a manner that repairing them is difficult or impossible – especially electronic devices. In Germany alone, 1.8 million tons of electronic waste are generated annually, with 124 million functioning mobile phones laying around unused.¹

Werbung von Fairphone, wie ein Mann über das Handy springt

For most goods today are not made to last. As a rule they are neither handled with care nor repaired when broken; they are simply replaced. This has to do with lacking consumer awareness: faddish buying habits while ensuring an ignorance of how to either handle products with care or repair them at home. Many brands and businesses benefit after all from overconsumption, short product generations and planned emotional and functional obsolescence. These market mechanics are unsustainable however – they will not survive eternally into the future. Thus there is increasing interest, among younger people in particular, in more mindful consumer behavior and sustainable product manufacturing.

Among the Gen Z age groups, roughly 25% purchase reusable products, while one third strive to live sparingly, buying strictly those products that they need. According to an OC&C study, “To forge durable long-term ties with Gen Z consumers, companies will need to take a close, critical look at the products and services they offer and how these measure up with standards of corporate responsibility.”

Businesses thus need to become informed about and then satisfy the needs of this demographic around the environment/climate and other elements of the growing consumer movement. Examples abound of how companies are effectively approaching this set of issues – makers of shoes, phones and furniture, for example:

1. Fairphone

The Dutch company Fairphone serves as a prime example of a firm dedicated to repair-and-recycle-friendly design. The company manufactures a smartphone that is easy to break down into a few components in a design that makes it possible to replace defective parts rather than having to purchase anew. The phone can even be upgraded by switching in new components, so the owner doesn’t have to buy a new model.

California-based company Topher White has come up with a creative concept for old cell phones that have fallen out of use: turning them into solar-powered “forest ears” for detecting illicit activity. Arrests for illegal logging were then made just two days after pilot deployment of this system in Sumatra in 2013, as the phones relayed the sound of chain-sawing.¹



2. Sneaker Rescue

Berlin-based startup Sneaker Rescue repairs worn-out shoes as part of its mission to extend the usage period of the resources that flow into manufactured products. This year the company launched the First Fair Sneaker as the first shoe on the market to have product repair and disposal included in the price. The shoe is designed for circular economy, meaning it can be broken down and recycled at the end of its useful life.

3. Patagonia

Outdoor gear brand Patagonia is a real pioneer of sustainability, which in 2017 started offering to buy back US customers’ “worn wear”, on its website for subsequent resale after cleaning and repair, thus extending the useful life of clothing and gear into another cycle of wearability. Patagonia also offers a lifetime guarantee on the products it sells, encouraging customers to extend product life while providing corresponding information and support through DIY repair tutorials and workshops.

4. Vitsœ

Vitsœ is a furniture company founded in Germany that motivates customers to buying restraint by raising awareness and promoting the long useful life of its timelessly designed furniture, made to be adaptable and practical when moving. The firm’s modular furniture systems are also made to be easily reparable, and the materials easily recyclable at the end of the line.

5. Homie

The company Homie is a startup devoted to addressing resource home appliance waste by selling washer and dryer usage rather than the machines themselves. The customer pays a fee per washing cycle, and the company assumes costs for installation and maintenance/servicing. The company’s innovative deployment of a pay-per-use model makes for longer machine life while making its customers more consumption-aware, leading to fewer washing cycles and lower energy use.


Nowadays when household and other appliances give up the ghost, it is usually due to a single failing component, and often enough it’s a battery. Hamburg-based company is thus now making it possible to continue product use instead of consumers having to buy a new one.

Responsibility for a better future

What all these firms have in common: they deliver heightened transparency and foster trust, enabling them to retain customers over the long term. This is not about making “green” promises to boost sales, though often enough sales do increase. The company is demonstrating a genuine interest in tackling the problem of excessive consumption together with customers, thus reducing waste.

To make progress in this direction without having to revolutionize production, the first step every company can take is to simply educate consumers straightforwardly before they buy on the product cycle, sustainable usage and care, repair possibilities and proper ultimate disposal.Customer advice must be provided to avoid wrong buying decisions while committing to design that is care, repair and recycling-friendly. Sustainable production means resource-conscious manufacturing and socially responsible labor conditions, but beyond that it means taking responsibility after the sale in partnership with consumers. And truly the time is now to move forward with this partnership, propelling the rise of circular economy.


Reference 1: Katapult (2020). 102 grüne Karten zur Rettung der Welt (4. Aufl.). Suhrkamp. S.67 | Umweltbundesamt

Image references "Header" // "Fairphone" // "Topher White" // “Sneaker1” // “Sneaker2”: Espen Eichhöfer // "Patagonia" // "Vitsœ" // "Homie" // “Repair”



Autorin: Paula Aracama Meyer

Paula Aracama Meyer studies socio-economics at the Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel and is enthusiastic about the interdisciplinary examination of the topics sustainability and consumption as well as about structural theories, which see individual actions as justified by social structures.


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