If you enter ‘end-of-life’ into Google it returns something like 5.4 billion hits. For someone like me, it’s a familiar term, practical in its intentions. But after a week of mourning, I wonder at the meaning – and pretty much everything else. It’s a bittersweet notion that at least in the industrial world we’ve been able to create closed loops.
I’ve been thinking long and hard whether or not to write about something personal in this latest column. It’s something I usually frown upon as a professional journalist. I strive to present stories neutrally with facts free of judgement or bias: to make myself invisible. But today is a week since the passing of my beloved grandmother, whom I consider to have been instrumental in my upbringing. ‘Oma’ was the one who always believed in me, always knew the right things to say and celebrated my accomplishments as if they were her own.
She was an eager reader of Recycling International, even though she had never taken any English lessons. She was self-taught, taking in the language by watching BBC documentaries and films or listening to music – you should have seen her record collection. Every time she got her copy of the magazine, she phoned or texted me (yes, even at 83 years old she owned a brand-new smartphone) to announce she was reading my newest work – and what her thoughts were.
Every time I attended a conference or trade show, she accompanied me in spirit. ‘I’m right there with you, in your suitcase, in your pocket,’ she used to say, excitedly. ‘Where are we off to next?’ I video-called her from many fancy hotels and dining rooms across the world. Paris, Barcelona, Jaipur, Pattaya, Vienna. She loved to hear about my travels; people I’d met; what I’d learned. And she was always the first one wishing me a safe flight, staying up until midnight to make sure I got home alright.
Her passing was unexpected. It came after a short stay in hospital, following that dreadful year and a half of coronavirus-manifested absence. I’ve heard about many families becoming almost strangers and I am sorry to say the pandemic hadn’t spared us either. As anyone in the industry can attest, virtual meetings just aren’t the same.
These raw emotions stirred deep thoughts in me. I see even more clearly now that we are all connected. That life is precious. That our resources are precious. That our time on Earth is precious. And that we have to do the best we can to ensure we leave the planet in good hands.
Life is made of moments. There is so much potential in all of us. Sometimes I think we forget what we’re doing, so busy hurrying from one appointment or deadline to the next. Let me invite you to take a step back. Look a little closer at your life. What led you here? What do you believe in and what are you fighting for?
We’re so good at taking apart complex products and sorting components into neat piles using state-of-the-art technology. We are good at fixing things, looking for answers – but are we asking the right questions? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. We’re only human. But I want to believe that our heart is in the right place. We are innovators, entrepreneurs, engineers, researchers, taking on the world’s most pressing waste management problems. We are trying to build a better world inside the world we have.
A closed loop. ‘End-of-life’ not as a destination but as a transition point. A circular economy that recognises the potential that every person, product and material has in the value chain. A positive network that channels the combined strength and expertise of everyone involved. That’s the foundation we are laying right now. I realise that future won’t be here tomorrow – and many of us won’t be there to witness it – but if we are patient and resilient, we will get there. Together. All of us playing a part.
That’s the circle of life.