The concept of the Circular Economy in itself is mind-blowing as it imitates natural cycles through feedback loops at several levels of our current extraction, production, and consumption chains. Mind-blowing in the multidimensional benefits that could be hidden, where abundance could take the lead over the scarcity of resources such as water, food, fossil fuels, and other precious metals that one needs in our societies today. The main objective of such a framework being the decoupling of our resource intakes versus our thirst for constant economic growth — as returns always need to be higher than the original investment -. Through carefully designing our products and services, through focusing on nurturing and caring for all the elements that we have invented for the right functioning of our economy, and with the understanding that all these elements and sub-parts thereof have a specific role to play within it, this set of principles and concepts intend to regenerate our economy by a sound comprehension and alignment with environmental patterns — and not to limit ourselves to them, i.e. if we align ourselves well with these configurations, there is barely any limit to endless innovation! 

According to Accenture — under an advanced scenario — we can close the expected resource gap of 40 billion tons (optimist forecast), which are needed by our economies to keep flourishing, by 2050. What does it tell us? Well, it means that we have the opportunity to cautiously design the upcoming decade in such a way that, instead of diminishing the value of the assets which we depend on — with short-term decisions — we could increase it by setting us up for an abundance of food, non-food nutrients, and technical goods, to fulfill all our needs. This also means that, in the current economic framework, growing economies will not have enough resource access — or at a cheap enough cost — to expand as stagnating economies previously did. And we are talking here about the biggest part of the world population…

The spherical economy concept

The spherical economy as the next-generation circular economy; maybe “circular economy 2.0.” Because it’s not just a simple loop. For instance, it’s not just a matter of taking old PET bottles and turning them into new PET bottles. Rather, when we collect PET bottles, that material should be available to make whatever new product is the best use of the material. This is what happens in nature. So we need to recognize that if we want to have an optimized system for technical nutrients (things like plastics), we have to be willing to think about all of the interconnected loops. That gives a  much better opportunity to create a resilient system that provides better sustainability benefits to the planet. One needs to think bigger picture.

Role of the waste and recycling industry in the spherical economy

These companies are critical because we have to get the materials back and put them back in the system. For some materials, that’s relatively easy to do, and for others, it requires specific legislation to drive the collection. Car batteries, for instance, are recycled at a very high rate because states have fees on old batteries, which helps pay for the collection and shipment of those materials to be recycled. That’s an example of how we’ve created a system to get the recyclable materials back—and also keep the hazardous materials inside the battery from escaping into the environment.

For everyday packaging—chip bags, candy wrappers, cheese pouches—these are not as easy to collect via a reverse-logistics system like with the batteries. There are a lot of them, and they’re very lightweight—so to effectively collect these types of items, one needs to aggregate.

This is the concept put forth By Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director at Dow. Dow is a materials science leader, committed to delivering innovative and sustainable solutions for customers in packaging, infrastructure, and consumer care.

Dow has a whole range of projects designed to make the system that we operate more efficiently. It’s relatively straightforward for an individual company to work on a small sustainability project that only impacts their organization. It’s more challenging to work on a project that affects several organizations. And it’s even more complex to work on a project that affects the whole system. But one is seeing companies and NGOs and governments starting to think more holistically. They are trying to determine what the system requires to be more successful and then put in place programs that help drive in that direction.

Dow,  have several commitments on sustainability that they announced—one of which is to reduce the amount of plastic packaging that ends up in the environment, which is outside of our immediate control but within our influence. The y are also working to make all packaging recyclable, after doing the job of collecting and reusing them.

Aligning our economic world with natural cycles seems to be the right (and wise) thing to do, But are we ready to implement such a new framework? Are we aiming in the same direction, i.e. a better life for all, or do we transpose our current model into a more circular one without genuine systemic changes? And, do we want it, this better life for all?

If so, to achieve this vision, we might have to think beyond just a circular economy as it is designed today: with the same corporate powerful actors, in the same financial paradigm, replicating current human interactions and power relations. In a sea of challenges, building a circular economy can be achieved as we learn the lessons of the NOW OLD NEW NORMAL to hit the intended gigantesque intentions for a better life on our planet and its inhabitants.

Author: Dr. Sameer Joshi



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