Moving to a Circular Economy Is Vital
If the world is to tackle its growing environmental problems, the global economy is going to have to shift away from dumping 90% of its resources and into a circular model of reusing and recycling, according to Dutch-based social enterprise Circle Economy.
At the moment less than a tenth of resources put into the global economy are reused, with 90% of materials ending up as waste – the majority after a single use.
Circle Economy points out that the current linear model – dubbed ‘take, make, waste’ — comes at huge environmental, economic, climate change and health costs.
Instead its recently released Circularity Gap Report has outlined ways in which a circular economy – defined as one where materials and nutrients are recycled and reused instead of being wasted after a single use – can be achieved.
Each year about 92.8 billion tonnes of resources from ores and minerals, fossil fuels, construction materials and biomass are extracted, with just 8.4 billion tonnes recycled. Circle Economy has called this the ‘Circularity Gap’.
The report says: “Our linear model is effectively no longer fit for purpose, failing both people and the planet. Circular economy strategies have the potential to be instrumental in the push to mitigate the associated climate impacts, given that majority (67%) of global greenhouse gas emissions are related to material management.”
In order to close the gap, Circle Economy has laid out a four-point strategy that requires global cooperation as well as ‘leadership and action’:
- Build a global coalition for action, comprised of front-running businesses, governments, NGOs and academics, that will input and convene an authoritative annual report on the circular state of the global economy and measure progress towards its implementation
- Develop a global target and action agenda by working with all relevant stakeholders to agree clear goal-setting and alignment with the SDGs and emission-reduction targets
- Translate global targets into local pathways for circular change, taking big-picture directions and interpreting these for nation states, individual sectors, supply chains, regions and cities to embed strategies in their specific context and align with incentives and mandates
- Improve our understanding of how different levers for circular change affect aspects such as material saving, value retention and climate mitigation. Also consider fully the dynamics of international trade and employment, plus implications for education, training and future skills
The aim of the strategies adopted can be summed up simply as ‘Stop extracting, stop wasting, optimise what we have and recycle more and better’.
As far as climate change action is concerned, the report points out that using waste as a resource can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On average, products that are produced from recycled instead of primary resources have an almost 1.4 tonne CO2 lower carbon footprint per tonne of product.
It also points out that phasing out of fossil fuels for energy and transportation sources is vital, as they are inherently linear and a significant source of human-made greenhouse gas emissions.
The GHG emissions from agriculture can also be significantly reduced by closing nutrient cycles, for example by deploying nutrient recovery technologies to replace high-impact fossil and synthetic fertilisers.