Take Five: "Women can be the engines and souls of the circular economy”


Maja Lalic. Photo: Natalija Ostojic/UN Women

Maja Lalic is a renowned Serbian architect and expert in gender equality and climate change. Described by The New York Times as Belgrade's "most cutting-edge homegrown architect", Lalic is also the founder and creative director of Belgrade's Mikser Festival. This May, the festival will celebrate its 10th anniversary under the slogan "Circulate", with a call to embrace the circular economy, which minimizes waste and makes the most of resources. Maja collaborates frequently with UN Women in Serbia, including most recently on a survey measuring patterns of household waste.

1.    Why is gender equality important for the circular economy?

The circular economy is based on common sense, wisdom, care and inventiveness. These are things that millions of women across the world demonstrate daily in their struggle to support their families and communities. With small investments in awareness-raising and skills related to responsible patterns of production and consumption, women can be, as many of them already are, the engines and souls of the circular economy and circular culture. This can happen on all levels, from households and communities to businesses and politics.

2.    What is the role of women in the circular economy?

The circular economy provides us with amazing opportunities to introduce new ethical norms in business and fine-tune the balance between profit and social responsibility. Women leaders in various industries are already proving they are ready to go the extra mile to achieve more sustainable business practices coupled with a positive social impact.

There are a number of inspirational examples of women’s and girls’ innovative, socially sensitive, climate smart enterprises. Otro Tempo in Spain transforms used cooking oil into biodiesel while employing and empowering women survivors of gender-based violence. BeeUrban in Sweden provides services such as beehives for pollination, biodiversity gardens and roof farms. These proactive women are taking action against both climate change, and economic and gender disparities.

3.    What differences did the household waste study find between women and men?

Women are more willing to change their daily patterns for the sake of environmental protection and their families’ well-being. They are also more influential when it comes to decisions that directly affect the family’s habits, energy consumption or waste production, such as grocery and clothes shopping, cooking, reuse of packaging, repair of clothes, waste separation, etc. Finally, women are more eager than men to invest their energy and patience to positively influence other members of their family, neighbours or colleagues.

These findings indicate that any public campaign that needs to raise awareness about waste reduction or behaviours to mitigate climate change should have a common starting point: Go, talk to women within your community. They will not only listen, but act and motivate others to follow their example!

4.    What motivates changes in habits?

Both women and men support changing habits when they are not directly linked to increases in utility service payments. But a significant percentage of women would mostly or fully support penalty measures and the introduction of obligatory practices, such as waste separation, for instance.

Information on the usefulness of recycling, education on separating waste and calls for citizen action are rated as very stimulating for about 70 per cent of households. Approximately 80 per cent see financial relief or reimbursement, reducing the price of waste collection for a household, financial rewards for gathered material, waste collection door to door, and free bags for recycling and waste separation, as relatively stimulating.

5.    How do you live the circular economy yourself?

I try to reduce waste in my household and at work by preaching the rule of the three Rs: reduce, recycle (and up-cycle), reuse. I pay special attention to “banning” single-use plastics in my environment, such as plastic bags, disposable cutlery, plastic bottles, coffee takeaway cups, etc. As a family, we have cut down food waste significantly by better planning meals and grocery shopping. Trading clothes with friends has become a joyful tradition.

Once you start analysing your waste, you begin to change your shopping habits, so I try to purchase products that are more environmentally friendly, opting for food that is locally grown and without plastic packaging. I am also constantly reminding members of my family to save energy and water, making a big sacrifice myself after a long day to keep my showers very short.