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Non-formal education for Circular Economy

13/07/2020
von Volker Ludwig
Sprache: EN
Document available also in: DE LV

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This article was originally published in German by Volker Ludwig.

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Garveriet Food all used


Photo of Garveriet food for non-formal education by Dr. Volker Ludwig (CC-BY 4.0)

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Circular Economy Know-How needs to reach the people

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The European Union is focused on promoting a sustainable attitude among its citizens and on implementing adequate measures, such as the 2018 Circular Economy Package, which has introduced new waste-management targets regarding reuse, recycling and landfilling, strengthening provisions on waste prevention and extended producer responsibility. As we all know, these changes have to go along the radical shift in people’s mindsets and values, in order to achieve a long term substantial change in the way we interact with our environment. Our project partnership believes that education is one of the cornerstones to make it happen.

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Some aspects of green economy and circular economy are new not only for citizens and students but for teachers, too.
(V. Zenchanka, S.Zenchanka 2018).

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Gaining competency vs. just learning content

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The biggest question is, how teaching economy should be different from teaching circular economy framework, in essence? Once this question is out of the way, the methods can be adapted to formal or non-formal contexts. In many discussions that have been held during SCRCE project meetings, we have addressed an issue of knowledge or value ‘bubbles’. To elaborate on that, people who would study or be interested in circular economy, or other sustainability related issues, are already in that mindspace. Very often we surround ourselves with like minded individuals or seek out groups with common interests. Therefore, the most important part is to extend the circular economy education outside those ‘bubbles’ - so it reaches groups that are not familiar with it. For example, not only sustainable business students should study the principles of circular economy, but ALL business students, and so on.

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Including Know-How about Circular Economy into curricula

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Ellen Macarthur Foundation, one of the biggest CE initiatives, believes that: ‘The circular economy engages students in one of the most challenging and complex issues facing our global economy: how to move beyond the linear 'take-make-waste' model of production and consumption to one that is regenerative.’

They suggest that the CE network fits well into the curriculum of economics, geography, design, business, environmental and other science subjects. Therefore, if we start thinking about CE teaching via non-formal education, we can follow the same pattern. Here are some ideas that came out of the practices that our project reviewed:

  • Not necessarily creating new methods, but integrating the CE framework into the existing methods

One of the examples of a CE related practice, that our project partners reviewed, was a project called ‘Building cycle’ (Berlin), where architecture students explored circular materials, designed and built a standing structure, serving as an information centre in a public green space in the city.

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  • Focus on an interdisciplinary, project-based approach

In order to emphasize inquiry, collaboration, and creativity as well as system thinking that is at the core of the circular economy, project-based non-formal education suits the purpose very well.

A good example would be Garveriet, a repurposed tannery outside Gothenburg. The building complex has been renovated and transformed to bakery, restaurant, café, shop and educational center. In an educational center for people, their non formal teaching approach is to show that all parts of food can be used, nothing has to be wasted, plus informing about the importance of seasonal and local produce in the bigger context of a circular economy.

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  • Bringing Circular Economy into community based projects

Another example SCRCE got to know about is one of the biggest community gardening projects in Wedding, Berlin - Himmelbeet. For the circular economy focus Himmelbeet is bringing community based knowledge in diverse fields around gardening to action and offering space for creating common knowledge and developing hands-on skills.

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It is important to continue the educational initiatives at all levels, be it formal or non-formal learning. However, the main challenge is still to evaluate the real impact of these initiatives, and how we are really reaching change to more sustainable behaviours. Nevertheless, the team at SCRCE is determined that bringing the CE topic to light through NFE in the Erasmus Plus community is an extremely important milestone in the transition towards a more circular way of life.

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Über die Autorin: 

Rimante Rusaite

Rimantė Rušaitė, originally from Kaunas in Lithuania, helds a Master of Environmental Science (MSc) of the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands. She has many years of experience in European project management and design in the field of Education, Culture, Research and Innovation. Currently she lives and works in Berlin and is the responsible project manager of SCRCE at NGO NEST Berlin.

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