By Sameepa Rajapakse*
COLOMBO. 19 September 2023 (IDN) — Against the backdrop of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit at the United Nations headquarters in New York on 18-19 September, it would be an appropriate time for us to focus on moving to a circular economy that respects laws of nature.
While poverty and hunger have decreased worldwide, the rapid growth of global trade, consumerism, and urbanization has resulted in unprecedented environmental exploitation and damage.
In recent years, prominent persons have emphasized the adverse effects of human activities on the environment and biodiversity. Consequently, a growing number of people are becoming conscious of the significance of global ecosystems to our way of life.
Humans must abide by nature’s laws to survive on the planet for long. Nature manages the ecosystem’s resources uniquely. Scientists caution that the frequency and severity of extreme weather events like storms, floods, and hurricanes will increase as climate change accelerates.
The way things are manufactured and consumed impacts us all. Linear economy (take-make-dispose) is the foundation of the present economic system, and its primary objective is the maximum creation and selling of goods. However, this aim burdens the ecosystem additionally and threatens limited natural resources. This linear, extractive, and polluting approach endangers our economic operations. It threatens our well-being—on the one hand, there is a rapidly increasing demand for basic materials; on the other, supplies are declining.
Annually, massive amounts of rubbish are produced by economic processes, as products/materials are disposed of before being used abundantly. By 2050, approximately 3.4 billion tons of waste will be generated annually, representing a 70% increase from the current 2.01 billion tons, the World Bank estimates. For example, Europe’s plastic production has grown exponentially in recent decades, although only one-third of this material is recycled.
An immediate solution
An immediate solution to avoid further detrimental outcomes for the above issue is adopting the Circular Economy model characterized by the 9-Rs concept (Refuse, Reuse, Reduce, Redesign, Repurpose, Remanufacture, Repair, Refurbish, and Recycle), which has inspired environmentalists, governments, and businesses alike recently.
A circular economy produces and consumes goods and prioritizes sharing, renting, reusing, repairing, and recycling already manufactured goods until feasible. Netherlands, France, and Italy are some countries taking measures to transition from linear to circular economies.
A circular economy is oriented towards nature, and this concept aims to keep raw materials in a closed loop, whereby resources are maximally used, the new demand is reduced, waste is avoided, and the product life cycle is increased. i.e., today’s waste is tomorrow’s raw material—similar to nature. This model is based on renewable energies/materials and maximizes digital technology power.
All products used by people are reused in a circular economy. Broken products will be repaired, or new products will be made, where waste is the new raw material. The production, consumption, and disposal order doesn’t exist, which saves raw materials from the environment, reduces CO2 emissions and stimulates innovation, new businesses, and employment.
Manufacturers design reusable products (For example, easily repairable electrical devices), and products/raw materials are reused (For example, recycling plastic into pellets for making new plastic products). Rarely used/stand-still products are more intensively used (Example: sharing items with others).
In a circular economy, people should be environmentally responsible (For example, not disposing of rubbish on streets/natural environment). Governments of most countries have already adopted, such as banning free plastic bags, applying fines for deposing garbage incorrectly, and using low-gage polythene capable of composting quickly. By educating/conducting campaigns, social awareness is improved.
For this model to succeed, consumers should choose sustainable products while reusing, repairing, and recycling.
The advantages of a circular economy, despite limitations (For example, lack of regulations governing legal competition, lack of stakeholders’ environmental awareness, economic barriers, technical skills, and consumer acceptance), are the following.
— Extracting less virgin raw materials
— Decrease fossil fuel usage
— Prolonging a product’s functional life (Example: recycling)
— Decrease waste generation
— Innovation and economic growth
— Changing consumption habits
— Greater independence in imports and supply agility
— Creating new employment
*The writer is the Joint Secretary of UNI Asia & Pacific, South Asia Finance Sector Unions Council. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: A metal scrap worker is pictured burning insulated copper wires for copper recovery at Agbogbloshie, Ghana. Tangled-up wires ready to be burned for copper recovery are also seen near a metal scrap worker who is waiting to pick up copper pieces left in the soil after a burn. CC BY-SA 4.0
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