It was in July 2009 that I first attempted to visualize the significantly large subsector of informal recycling that fed the informal industrial ecosystem with re-processed ‘raw’ materials for their manufacturing output. The first draft was based on what I’d seen and documented in The Philippines, and in India, during the fieldwork for the ‘prepaid economy project’ researching rural household financial management behaviours among lower income households.
Mapping the circularity of the informal industrial ecosystem was a personal research project that led to the launch of a group blog called REculture: The Post Consumption Global Ecosystem, and inspired the launch of a magazine. It has been ten long years, but the time has come, it seems, to consider launching a proposition that the overlap region between the Global North’s consumption driven economy be visualized to incorporate the last mile activity that occurs in the Global South.
Then, perhaps, there may be a way to see ourselves linking up the global ecosystem in a far more inclusive way, particularly from the lenses of sustainability and environmental conservation. At the moment, from the literature and the discourse, it seems as though the Global North is having its own conversation and does not always recognize the amount of post consumption materials shipped to the Global South.
Secondhand clothes and charitable donations turning up for sale in the markets of African countries is one visible area where the North – South linkages are becoming visible. However, the degree to which materials are repurposed and reused has never been studied in the informal industrial ecosystem of the resource scarce contexts in developing countries. At the very least, in our last project mapping informal trade ecosystem at the borderland of Uganda and Kenya, we found that old tins were purchased by a lamp maker in Uganda from Nairobi, a hub for redistribution of regional flows.
What more could we discover if we lift the blanket of “informality” when it comes to circularity and sustainability?