Ever heard of the term linear economy? Well, the world has been operating on a linear economy since time immemorial. This economic model is based on extracting raw materials, using them to make products, and discarding over 90% of the 100 billion metric tonnes of materials we consume annually.
This model isn’t friendly to the environment due to increased pollution, loss of biodiversity, and climate change. The situation has become dire with the growing world population, which has heightened the consumption and disposal of more waste, resulting in increased damage to the environment. This reality has necessitated the development and adoption of a more environmentally friendly economic model: the circular economy!
The circular economy aims to eliminate waste from the environment using its three basic principles of reusing, reducing, and recycling waste. It achieves this by providing circular solutions. Circular solutions are one way of achieving net zero waste. Other ways of achieving net zero waste include innovative waste management and net zero strategies.
In this article, we’ll discuss more about circular solutions and their importance. Let’s dive right in.
How to achieve a circular economy
As countries committed to the Paris Agreement in 2015, they developed ways of achieving a circular economy. These ways form the basic principles of a circular economy that you can adopt to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5°C or less. They include the following:
The extraction and utilisation of resources in industrial processes account for almost 70% of greenhouse gases. With high-impact areas being agriculture, building and construction, and industrial complexes, there’s a great need to utilise resources better by reusing waste from these sectors.
Take, for example, ROCKWOOL in the construction industry, which reuses disposed porcelain and sanitary ware to develop new insulation equipment. In the food production sector, KMC- the Danish potato cooperative, reuses residual potato fibres to make high-protein food additives.
If you can reuse the resources that come from your waste, you’ll be practising a circular economy. Therefore, you’ll avoid GHG emissions that are a product of the extraction of new resources.
As the human population continues to grow, so does the waste we produce. The majority of this waste comes from food destined for human consumption. It is estimated that post-harvest spoilage and waste of food stand at 13%, and there’s an extra 17% of food waste from farm to table.
These losses negatively impact our health and the environment by releasing greenhouse gases during decomposition. To combat the release of greenhouse gases, we need to reduce such waste by cutting down on our global consumption by almost a third. This will bring the world to safe consumption limits and limit food waste.
The electronic sector is one of the most resource- and energy-intensive industries worldwide. From the mining of copper to the manufacturing of glass and the assembly using plastics, the sector produces lots of GHG emissions.
You can cut down on these emissions by recycling your electronic gadgets. With fewer gadgets being produced, less energy is required to get new raw materials for production. Did you know that recycling a million cell phones recovers 35,000 pounds of copper?
In other sectors, companies like Re-Match are leading the way in recycling artificial turfs once they’re disposed of. As a result, they prevent around 400 metric tonnes of CO2 from being added to the atmosphere through the burning of turfs.
Another common example of recycling waste is the recycling of plastic waste, especially bottles.
Other ways of achieving a circular economy
Circular solutions aren’t limited to recycling, reusing, and reducing. They also include the following;
You can adopt clean and renewable sources of energy like wind and solar. Adopting alternative sources of energy reduces dependency on oil, coal, and gas, which destroy the environment by producing GHG emissions and are unsustainable.
Companies can manufacture high-quality goods so that they last longer. You can also refurbish them into new products. A circular economy reduces material use, redesigns materials, products, and services to be less resource-intensive, and recaptures “waste” as a resource to manufacture new materials and products.
Governments can promote industrial ecology, where one company’s waste is a resource for another company. A good example of this is the green CO2 in Denmark, where excess CO2 from plant production is reused in the manufacturing of carbonated drinks.
You can build structures that have eco-designs, whereby the environmental impact is low. For instance, you can construct a vertical building on a plot of land to house more people instead of a residential home.
The service sector can participate in the circular economy by implementing environmental-friendly policies. Take, for instance, a procurement plan with an eco-friendly purchasing policy, like purchasing from your neighbour instead of across the globe.
You can manufacture materials that are easy to disassemble. It allows for easy repair of broken components instead of buying a new product. The circular economy favours designing products for durability, reuse, remanufacturing, and recycling to keep materials circulating for as long as possible. Eco-design that allows products to be repaired, reused, and recycled is encouraged in a circular economy.
What are the benefits of a circular economy?
By now, you’ve already gathered that one of the benefits of a circular economy is protecting the environment by limiting GHG emissions. Well, it’s not the only advantage of a circular economy. Here are more benefits:
Applying circular solutions to our economies will create more employment opportunities for our youth. Employment opportunities arise from the collection and sorting of recycling materials.
What’s more, skilled labour is crucial in redesigning easily assembled goods. Such a workforce is essential to improving innovation across different sectors. Also, it makes manufactured goods affordable to consumers since they’re easy to repair, recycle, and reuse.
In the long run, these efforts will improve the economy and the environment.
Alternative sources of raw materials
The circular economy provides an alternative source of raw materials by reusing the existing ones instead of mining or producing more. This makes the production process simple and cheap while vouching for a clean and sustainable environment.
Companies that implement such strategies are bound to have a competitive advantage because of their cheap, durable goods and the loyalty of environmentally-conscious consumers.
Creates a healthy and resilient environment
Circular solutions like composting food waste before it rots allow you to recycle essential nutrients into the soil and enhance its productivity. Its resilience against pests and diseases will also improve due to the environment’s biodiversity.
Challenges facing the circular economy
Some of the challenges facing the circular economy are listed below:
The lack of policies promoting the adaptation of the circular economy is making it difficult for businesses and institutions to shift. Governments can enforce circular solutions in such organisations if better policies are available for promoting their use.
The shifting of business models is expensive, especially for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). However, this can be made possible by formulating tax incentives that promote circular solutions. For instance, governments can lower the value-added tax (VAT) on recycled goods and charge an extra tax to companies using virgin raw materials.
The adoption of a circular economy is beneficial to everyone and the environment. And we all have a role to play in its viability. It starts with our homes, small companies, governments, and even large corporations with big budgets.
You can start by simply disposing of your litter in the correct bin-recyclable or organic. This facilitates easy sorting, recycling, and reusing of raw materials.
On their part, small companies can pursue eco-friendly procurement plans, sensitise their staff on the importance of a circular economy, and organise environmental campaigns.
The lion’s share of the work falls to governments and large institutions where the financial muscle of adapting clean energy, recycling raw materials, and reusing and reducing waste is possible.