Leaves Looping Around the Circular Economy


By Colienne Regout, Cohort 8, Groundswell Build

Each week, a participant in Groundswell’s Build program shares reflections, learnings, and experiences from their journey of building a social venture. See current and past participant posts in the Student Blog.

Do you know that if you mention an example of “circularity”, you will see stars shining in my eyes? Well, you may be wondering, what is that sustainable concept? Basically, it is when a system isn’t working linearly but in closed loops.

Sometimes, this may seem abstract for the uninitiated and yet the concept exists all around us, and since long before us! It’s simple, just observe how nature achieves sustainability! Let me take you into the loop through an anecdote.

I'm in charge of a Community Herb Garden (installed by Gordon Neighborhood House on a sidewalk in the West End). It is a wooden box where only edible herbs are grown. Anyone can harvest according to their needs to complement their daily menu. It is up to me (and my little boy) to look after it, to water it in the summer, and to protect it for the winter. Delighted by this sunny autumn, I collected some fallen leaves and placed them on the unplanted soil around the herbs. This gives them a nice blanket for the winter and creates more organic matter as the leaves break down. It smelled of good humus (not the edible one) and, by doing this, I felt connected with nature.

A few days later, I came to visit the box and what a surprise: the soil was totally bare! All the leaves: gone! No need to look for the culprit, we see people everywhere in the streets who are busy making the space as clean as possible! Any means are welcome to accomplish this task: some engage in this exercise in sports mode, scraping the leaves manually; others, in a more demonstrative way, will be equipped with a leaf blower. 

Why? Well, I get the point of making a safe path to avoid slippery rotting leaves. But walkers aren’t supposed to walk on the trees roots or, worse, climb in the herb box! So I have asked the “why” to gardeners in the neighbourhood and the answer is always the same: “It is in the contract, people like when it looks nice.” Really? Is it pretty to emit tons of CO² to drive this ‘waste’ out of our sight? Is it pretty to use trucks to bring more composted soil from somewhere else when spring is coming or even worse, some chemical fertilizers? Have we forgotten that fallen leaves are one of the most valuable raw materials? This free fertilizer comes from trees: gigantic pumps that pull up deeply buried nutrients to store them in their leaves. This is why the seasonal cycle is so marvellous: these leaves enrich the land right where the plants are growing year after year… 

Vancouver, also known as Raincity, doesn’t lack water, but lacks soil rich in humus that able to retain water and allow it to infiltrate. Yes, the thicker the organic matter layer is on your land, the less you have to water in summer for a gorgeous harvest. And the cycle is complete!

Does it remind you of something? The way our society functions linearly and upside down? We are so used to getting rid of our waste that we don’t see the value of the essentials we have at hand. 

Now back to business. The circular economy that gets me so excited is a different way of looking at how we process things. Integrating ‘waste’ in our systems, completely without needing to throw it ‘away’ - that’s a thrilling challenge. And our line of vision can start by being inspired by the earth which is running on a naturally sustainable circular economy.

The short video below (from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation) is a great explanation of the principles underlying the circular economy. Spoiler: the beginning will hopefully make you think about my community herb box story.


Isn’t the future full of awesome loopy possibilities? I hope to see you around in this kind of circular practice… Needless to say, I have already tucked my herbs in with a new leaf cover.