If we don’t implement a new model,our economy is doomed – Circular Economy with Paula Huerta

What is circular economy?

Paula maybe you can explain a little bit more versus linear economy, what is circular economy?

Paula: Circular economy looks like a very new topic but in reality it’s something that has been existing in the world since the beginning of life. In nature everything works circular. 

When I explain this to kids, we go back to the lion king. That conversation that Mustafa has with Simba of how: the lion dies, becomes food to the grass, the grass becomes food to the antelope, the antelope becomes food for the lion,… 

When we look back at our nature class in school, everything is in cycles. The water cycle, the oxygen cycle,… Because nature has designed everything circular, so there’s no waste.

How have we come to this moment in time, us humans? Where we have this huge problem of garbage, and no other creature on the planet, no animal produces garbage. The homo sapiens is the only animal that produces garbage, and we produce a lot of it. 

In the last 50 years we’ve produced a lot more, so now we are facing problems like the plastic.  Even new products like electronics, the e-waste its called, there’s tonage of it. We’ve all heard that computers are made out of rare metals, and we still don’t click that rare means rare! 

What’s gonna happen when there’s no more metals because they’re on landfills?


Circular economy aims to go back to the nature way of thinking.

So that, we can recirculate materials, or we can make use out of the biodegradable system that nature has already established. We can recirculate materials over and over and over or else we’re going to be in a situation where we’re going to have a scarcity of resources. 

Basically to go back and think back there are three principles that are the main principles of the circular economy :


  1. We need to preserve and enhance the natural capital. We can’t keep extracting at the pace we’re extracting. 


There’s many many relation topics on this, but one of them is that we are many people. 


When kennedy died, just before the 70s, there was half the population on the planet, that there is now. Today, we’re doubling like 30 years.


I mean we’re talking that humans have been living on the earth, let’s say 200 000 years and in the last 100 years with destruction of oil and energy resources like fossil fuels we’ve literally grown exponentially our race, the homo sapiens. 


If we don’t implement a way like a circular economy, we’re going to face scarcity on all of our resources. Because we also consume a lot. That’s the first principle we need to enhance.

Why can’t I not reuse things instead of having to cut more forest?



If I allow that forest to rest for a long time, nature will make it grow. It’s just about timing. We just need to let nature, enhance itself, recover itself.


  1. The second principle is optimize their resources, yields.There is this wonderful book, called cradle to cradle, my first approach to circular economy. It wasn’t named circular economy, because that word didn’t exist yet.


But in cradle to cradle, they say why does a shampoo bottle from any brand last 400 years? 


That does not make sense to anyone who is going to use use it, right? These are the yields. Before it was all about economics.  It was cheaper for us to just throw it away. Right now, there’s going to be a moment where with law regulations and economics, because the markets are moving that direction, we need to recirculate those materials. Because if not, we have the problem of where does it go, and why aren’t we using that shampoo bottle?


I mean the first shampoo bottle that you ever bought Julie, you could be still using it!

In your life, when you were like two years old. That’s the second principle, to optimize the yields, the resource yields. Reuse it, reuse it and reuse it.

You have two cycles, which is the biological cycle, so there are things that biodegrade. This is great. We can use that. That’s a natural cycle. That’s what nature designed already for us.


But there are other things that are technical cycles. This is already moving into the markets right now. Instead of me buying a washing machine and in five years it is broken, and I throw it away. I rent the washing machine from the supplier, and in five years he’ll give me a new one and he’ll take the old one and he will dismantle the materials and rebuilt into new. 


It’s more like a service, you rent a service, it’s like a rental. It’s like when these cars rentals and stuff so that way there is not so much garbage because you don’t need to throw it away and then the municipality doesn’t need to deal with it.

The key issue here on the second principle is that for the technical cycle manufacturers and designers. I am an architect, so this is really important. We need to be able to design for this assembly. 


Which is something that we’ve never done before. Right now the European union launched the package of secure economy 2021 and Spain just launched it in our national law and every single brand that sells products in Spain need to ensure a 10-year warranty and a 10-year replacement of spare parts.


They don’t allow these companies anymore. They need to figure out new ways, so this rental methodology is one of them. They’re doing this already in car tires, they rent you the car tire, you use it, when it’s flat you just change it. You’re paying on a consistent base, you get on a contract like a phone company. 


This is all like a new challenge, but it’s already happening, and it will happen more. We just need to jump on it.


  1. The third principle is to force their system effectiveness. There’s a lot of things that we have been producing and manufacturing for years that are super ineffective. We don’t care because of the linear economy.


The difference is that linear economy:

They extract – > They manufacture -> They sell


They don’t care about after the consumer time.


It is really important to acknowledge that, and that has to be part of the responsibility of the manufacturer. Right now the consumer is responsible for it, but there has to be that shift into the manufacturer, and a lot of the things for example, the effectiveness, we need to start caring about these externalities.


How much do you pollute?


For example concrete, concrete is a mix of cement and gravel, or a different medium like sand or gravel. It’s been the material we’ve been using for building together with steel forever. Now steel is quite circular because steel gets reused a lot. 


A lot of the steel you will get is probably it has a recycling content of like 99%. However concrete is really hard to reuse, because once it gets harder you can only use it as gravel right, like rubble.


But one kilo of cement comes from limestone, and before you buy it. When you buy your sack of 25 kilo of cement, you don’t know that to produce that cement, your one kilo of cement is one kilo of CO2 to the atmosphere.


That’s an externality, imagine how many kilos of cement, any building that you own or that you have, has. hThink that um in the last 10 years, China built more, used more concrete than ever before in history.


That means that all of those kilos of cement, in a building is tonnage, that goes to the environment and no one was looking at the cement companies for that. Those things are externalities.


If we go to food production, it’s the same no one is looking what the cows are eating…


For example, building sector is the number one CO2 polluter sector in the world.


The building stock which includes the consumption inside buildings, their heating, aircon, all of that. But it also includes the process of building, construction. I had no idea cement, the production of cement is eight percent of the global world emissions, it’s huge it’s huge.


The second sector is meat production, and no one is aware of that. Those are those externalities that the principle three is telling you that we need to design out those externalities. We need to foster effectiveness, and we need to design our externalities. 


Companies, manufacturers, designers, need to consider their negative impact that they’re producing. Which until now was completely ignored. 


Those are the three things the Ellen Mc Arthur Foundation is the foundation that tackles all related to circular economy. If they’re really interested, I would recommend to read cradle to cradle. That’s the book written by a chemist and an architect, and then if they want to dig in more, they could go to the Ellen Mc Arthur Foundation, they have a lot of material about it.

How did you end up in circular economy?

I’m an architect, and I have a master’s on sustainable architecture and building performance. I’ve been really connected to the environment, the sustainability and the impact of buildings. I’m always reading, and looking for material. I heard on the radio in Spain that the head of the climate in the office of President Obama, the sector of climate change, the principal of that office, he was from spain.


I followed him on social media. I mean this guy’s Spanish, and he’s the head of environmental office of Obama’s administration. He announced on his social media that they were gonna launch this bootcamp about circular economy

I heard it on the radio, and then I went to his social media, and I saw and you needed to literally apply for it, and write an essay, send all your credentials. 


I had been working in Singapore as a sustainability consultant for already 10 years. I wanted to know what this was about. Then I saw who were going to be the teachers on the boot camp, and Obama was coming. There were five nobel prizes, there were two economy nobel prizes, and then there were people like this the minister of happiness of Bhutan, we had Jeremy Rifkin we had the principal of the climate financial institute, so it was going to be a week off all these trainings, so I applied for it, and i got selected.


It was in the summer in july and I did that and I got trained to become an ambassador for circular economy, and it was fascinating. 

Then I was wondering how come all of these high-profile people were so interested about this topic of circular economy?


After participating in the boot camp, it was very clear to me, that they have real data. We had two economic nobel prizes that were saying gdp is not going to grow we have a huge environmental problem. We depend on the environment, our resources are going down. If we don’t implement this new model, this is going to be be doomed. Economy is gonna be doomed, and this is prior to the global pandemic.


It was really clear to me that it’s really important that we start doing this now. 


Since then in that boot camp, I realized that that book that I had read before cradle- to- cradle, was exactly this. It was talking about this same problem. It’s just that they hadn’t named it circular economy.


That book is the essence of it and that’s the book I read when I was in my early years after finishing architecture. My boss gave it to me as a present. Because i was kind of concerned about the environment. He gave it to me, and that is when I decided to do my master’s.


Circular economy has been really present in my life for a while now. 

You live, like me, on a tropical island, in Lombok, it might be very challenging there to try and implement circular economy?

I move from position in corporate, really good money, to come here to the village with a thousand Indonesia fishermen.


It’s a bit crazy when you think back, but it worked out pretty well. I mean how do you feel about it?  It’s like there are challenges, like everywhere. But I feel like, because this place is so raw and development hasn’t really started so much. Me and my husband built our house here. 


I was tired of the corporate world, and I thought okay I’ll just give it a try and then I started with my architecture office here, and now I do a lot of architecture. But because this place is so raw, we see development coming.


You’ve lived in Gili’s, right? 10 years ago Gili had nothing, and now it’s everything. aYou’re facing the problems that humanity are facing, but in the small scale. You are facing water issues, overloading electricity issues, septic sanitation, plastic and garbage,…


Especially in a tiny island, a bigger island like here is a really good place to do the exercises of understanding the impact of humanity. Because it’s endless. When we live in cities and in our countries we don’t see it. 

  • Because it’s like iI flush the toilet, I don’t know where my poop goes.
  • I throw my garbage, I have no idea where it goes. 
  • I have no idea where my electricity comes from. 
  • I have no idea where my water comes from.


You are completely disconnected from all of these things that are key essential to us.


  • We don’t have water we die 
  • Energy 
  • All of those things are so important, 


and coming here to a tropical island, that has nothing, it puts you in a place, where you know you are connected to nature. 


Julie: All of your impact on nature, it’s right there, at your door. There is no other way, y

  • You have to be conscious about your trash 
  • You have to be conscious about the consumption of your water 
  • and you have to be conscious about just all of it 


and yet this is supposed to be a place, where it’s developing for tourism.


But because it’s such an early stage, and you know even though covid stopped tourism, it also gave opportunity to have time reflect on all of this. 


Implement the foundation of what you’re going to build on. Three years ago, iI went to a meeting at the head of the island. We were receiving a foundation the Daur projec,t who did a lot of great things for the plastics on this island. 


I remember the head of the island saying, I want this island Gili Air to become zero waste. I was sitting on my chair, going oh my God! What a revelation! let’s do it! 


Then of course the next day we had a triathlon, and we all received these little single use water bottles, which is basically a cup with a straw. You drink it, you throw it away. I was like, well you know if you want to be zero waste, the first thing to do is start with refusing this.


I think it’s been a lot of steps from the island community and people really care and now with covid they’re really starting to implement things. 


Paula: Because right now suddenly sustainability and green is marketed as something good. Every time we have all these projects with the government, I go to them and I tell them this idea of Lombok to become the first sustainable island. 

I want Lombok to become the first real circular island of the world.

It’s the same as zero waste. We are way worse in our countries right here is still you know. They were farming you know 10 years ago, eating coconut and banana leaves. A lot of things are easier to do. We have the all these projects, BSF,… Those give you compost, and give you larvae. They are applied to farming, and here it’s very farming. I think it’s relatively easier.


However if I’m in architecture and I work with a lot of developments and they provide water, electricity and roads. What about waste?


It’s not in the formula of the developers. However Lombok doesn’t have waste collection. The landfills are full here. How much garbage gets to the landfill? Very little…


There’s the need to implement, it’s just really hard. 


Julie: I think it’s a really slow process, to change the habits of a person. Because if you think, I’ve been changing my way for a couple of years and it’s not that hard. Once you separate the organics from the plastics, everything’s kind of clean and then what gets recycled goes back into the economy. The organics goes back into the economy. Then what you have is actually very little. I have a very little trash going out the door.


Paula:  There is a lot of plastic sharks. A lot of companies approaching, to come here to use the plastic. Do the paralysis or do the plastic break. There is already a lot of upcycling ideas. 


We started the first black soldier fly waste conversion facility, for organic waste near south of Lombok.

BSF Lombok



Our problem is that we don’t receive the garbage. You make the facilities and now you have the problem of the collection. You need to go deep into the collection so it’s like a lot of steps. 


Julie: However once it starts to get rolling, you already have everything set up. Changing someone’s habit is hard, but once it’s changed it becomes automatic.


Talking about a chicken worm and black shoulder fly farm, I think maybe we can talk a little bit more about that because a lot of people don't know what it is.

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