With a boom in the Industrial Revolution, two centuries ago, mankind, since then, has swiftly shifted to a mass-production society which thrives on the ideology of “Take, Make and Waste”. While we now have a more comfortable lifestyle and certainly a high standard of living than what it was two centuries ago, this growth and development have put a massive strain on our planet. With the continuous depletion of natural resources, more and more nations declaring a climate emergency, and spiralling pollution on land, in air and water, we need to collectively change the way we do our business.
Today more than 90 per cent of the raw materials used worldwide are not recycled back into the economy. If we go on our business, as usual, we might deplete all our natural resources, heat Earth and pollute our environment beyond repair. We need an economic system which produces zero waste, where all the raw materials can be either recycled or reused. This idea is the mainstay of a Circular Economy which is based on the principles of no waste, no pollution and the raw materials used for manufacturing a product may be recovered and reused after the life of that product. This is in contrast to a Linear economy which utilises raw materials to make a product and once the product is used up, it is thrown away or it ends up in a landfill.
European nations have taken a lead when it comes to incorporating steps to move toward a Circular economy. In 2014, the European Union Commission adopted a Circular economy package. Since then, countries like France, Slovenia, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland have already laid down a roadmap for this shift in the economy. Sweden, a Scandinavian country in Europe, has adopted a Circular economy and plants to be fossil-free by next decade or two.
A move toward a Circular economy can deliver a range of benefits. Not only will it reduce pressure on the environment, improve the security of the raw material supply, but it will also boost competitiveness and economic growth and is expected to create some 580,000 jobs in the EU alone! However, in developing countries, so far, insufficient attention has been paid to the adoption of a Circular economy pathway. They are at a greater risk of not having a sustainable future. There is a need to align their policies with a Circular economy.
Transitioning to a Circular economy which is restorative, regenerative and efficient is challenging and complex. It will require system-level redesign and new skills. Further, there is a possible chance of quality deterioration of the product too. For example, some plastics can become brittle if it is recycled many times. Then, a small market for re-used products could be challenging too. There is a need for much bigger collaboration from governments, within and across the borders, to transition to a Circular economy, comprehensively. Intelligent market incentives should be given to manufacturers, for example, producers should be encouraged to use raw materials which can be reused many times. The road ahead may sound challenging, but by pushing for a Circular economy, we can gain considerable ecological benefits and make our world a better place to live in.