Currently, most of the world’s countries base their economic systems on a traditional linear consumption model. This entails extraction, production, usage, and disposal of products, which we know is unsustainable. The current system is designed with the untrue assumption that there are infinite resources on planet Earth. Take, for example, the amount of global electronic waste. Almost 76% of e-waste is undocumented for, which means we have no means of tracing or repurposing these valuable materials. So, what are our other options? Circular Economy (CE) is a concept currently promoted by several national governments including China, Japan, UK, France, Canada, The Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, and the EU, as well as by several businesses around the world. CE provides an alternative model for the flow of materials
What goes around comes around, according to the old saying. And in the case of the circular economy, that’s certainly true. The circular economy takes a different approach to the take-make-dispose model of consumption to which many have become accustomed. By reusing and recycling as much as possible, plus repurposing and selling on items that have outlived their initial use, the circular economy is creating jobs and generating economic activity, while easing some pressures on the environment. It’s an approach based on “designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems,” in the words of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The idea is gaining momentum and truly hitting the mainstream as a growing number of household-name brands adopt circular methods and develop products with circularity built in.
Corrugated packaging giant DS Smith is to plough £100m in research and development (R&D) and innovation in a bid to bolster its circular economy work. The new investment over five years includes the creation of a new breakthrough technologies hub in the UK, new materials development to replace plastics and a pilot to gauge G-force shock in home delivery packaging. DS Smith chief executive Miles Roberts said: “How we live our lives is changing fast due to many factors and how we all take care of the environment is a top priority. We are now investing more than previous years to ensure that we are leading this change and can offer customers packaging that has less impact on the environment.
For many of us, 2020 was a year postponed. While we were focused on coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, we lost ground on other critical issues, including plastic pollution and climate change. It may have gone unnoticed, but the waste management and recycling value chain in South and Southeast Asia has ground to a halt while the use of single-use and virgin plastics has soared. The situation is untenable for the long run and the environmental impact is sobering. As we inch closer to the promise of mass vaccination and kick off 2021 in the Year of the Ox, it is time to adjust our perspective: these crises present incredible prospects for economic recovery and growth, and are not just environmental issues for the dinner table.
We hear the term “circular economy” more and more these days. Can you explain what that means for those who might not be familiar? Why is it important?
In a traditional economy, we take, make, and dispose in a straight line. But the circular economy is all about how we can change that process into something more continuous, finding ways to be more intentional and keep resources within the cycle. It’s all about reducing waste, whether through packaging design or using more eco-friendly materials in general. Another huge element is asset recovery, finding ways to repair, refurbish, or reuse old products for our spare parts inventory. The circular economy is not only good for the environment, but it is good for the bottom line. There can be a lot of cost savings, because we don’t have to extract new natural resources each time. Instead we leverage existing resources in new and innovative ways.