A week in circularland

Two circular weeks

In the quest for some higher unity of life and work, I am always interested in applying research methods and findings on my own life. Since no researcher is an island, my poor family is always implicated. For example, for several years already they live in a fully automated home, which is both my hobby and part of my research on domestic user-technology interactions. We have not only devices from one automation system but three (Esphome/Wifi, Zigbee, Z-Wave), which are coordinated by not only one but two different electronic brains (Nodered and Home Assistant). That everything is open source provides me, the pater familias, with total control over the automation logics, the rest of the family endures more or less satisfied when the lights go on because some motion detector was triggered. I am fully aware that this is slightly neurotic on my part - total control in at least one domain of my life is an illusion but a very attractive one. And I would claim that I have learned a lot about everyday life and technology by trying to automate everything related to home media, sun shading, heating and light - and sometimes failing miserably.

The latest installation of subjecting my family to my research, was much more disruptive. Thomas, writing a PhD on circular economy and everyday life and Markus, a MA student writing on circularity and food, were looking for families that are willing to experiment with circularity for a limited time. Since I am part of their supervision teams I proposed that my family could act as pilot family. After a very long interview about our daily routines and practices (with the whole family except the 5-years old who very soon found more interesting things to do), we implemented as many circular elements in our life as possible. After two weeks, we were interviewed again about our experiences.

Which circular elements, you ask? Thomas and Markus had done their research about circular offerings available in Trondheim: All things you can do to reduce your environmental footprint by reducing resource use by eating more locally sourced food, reducing food waste, consuming services instead of buying things, and of course more reuse and recycling.

How did it go? During the interviews it became quite clear that our everyday lives are already optimized considerably with two grown ups who have long and often irregular work days and two kids who each have their leisure activities (both are gymnasts and have to be driven to their trainings) which have to be integrated into an already busy everyday. Any change, especially if it involves additional time use was only possible when one of us reduced another activity or took less recovery time. For example it took a while until I found the time to create a profile at the private car sharing site Nabobil, where we offered our car to the public. Turned out that nobody is interested in a 2012 Skoda Roomster anyway. The biggest change that we implemented was related to our food. Even though it was difficult to find local food at the supermarkets we definitely managed to eat more local with the help of a service delivering local vegetables directly from the producers. The experiment took place in fall last year, a time in which local produce is very available here in cold Norway, which definitely helped. Reducing meat consumption dramatically also went quite well, Indian cuisine (which in our case means rice with some spicy sauce), which our kids are used to provides a lot of options. All other things we could do, like buying used things or borrow books and media from the library instead of buying them, we either already did, or did not work out for various reasons mainly related to availability. Some services that we really wanted to try, for instance the local Reko-Ring - a facebook group which allows to order directly from food producers, the goods are then delivered to a parking lot not that far from where we live - never fit into our busy schedules.

Now, four months later only a few remainders of the experiments are part of our lives: Meat consumption is mostly back to previous levels, we are in the middle of winter (no spring here, yet) and the local vegetables delivery services has been canceled since it is so much easier to shop in a supermarket. But I would claim that the whole family has learned about our resource use by trying to reduce it and mostly failing, which is better than nothing.

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Thomas Berker
Professor of Science and Technology Studies