“The world generates 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste annually, with at least 33 percent of that—extremely conservatively—not managed in an environmentally safe manner.” mentions a World Bank report. Amidst our tryst with consumerism, circular economy is a concept that’s gaining a lot of attention lately. The definition of ‘circular economy’ is that it’s a way of producing and consuming goods that minimises waste and maximises resources.
What is a circular economy?
As the world population continues to grow, so does our consumption of the world’s finite resources. This has led to a plethora of environmental problems such as pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss. However, there is a solution that can help us address these issues — the circular economy. Circular economy is a regenerative system where waste is minimised, and resources are kept in use for as long as possible. Instead of throwing things away, we try to find ways to reuse, recycle, or upcycle them so they can be used again. For example, instead of throwing away a plastic water bottle after we’re done with it, we could either recycle it so the plastic can be used to make a new bottle, or upcycle it into a bird feeder.
How is it different from linear economy?
The prevalent egocentric approach of extracting raw materials, producing goods out of them, and then dumping them after single use, is known as ‘linear economy’ or the ‘take-make-waste’ economy. A circular economy, on the contrary, aims to create a closed-loop system where waste is eliminated, and materials are continuously reused. This doesn’t mean that linear economies are always necessarily harmful to the environment, but the effectiveness of the approach is not at par with that of circular economies. Where one approach would look at the ways to minimise its negative environmental impacts, the other tends to have positive environmental impacts while also manufacturing the desired product. The former is called eco-efficiency, whereas the latter is called eco-effectiveness.
Why is eco-effectiveness better than eco-efficiency?
To illustrate the difference between the two concepts, let’s consider the example of a car manufacturer. A car manufacturer that implements eco-efficiency measures may use less energy in its production process, recycle waste materials, and reduce emissions from its factories. This would make the company more environmentally sustainable, but it does not necessarily mean that its cars are eco-effective. On the other hand, a car manufacturer that produces electric cars that are powered by renewable energy sources, have low emissions, and are designed for recycling at the end of their useful life, is considered eco-effective. The cars not only reduce negative impacts on the environment, but they also fulfil their intended purpose of providing transportation effectively.
The principle behind circular economy
There are three principles that guide the circular economy: stamp out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use at their highest value, and regenerating natural systems. This means that products are designed with end-of-life in mind, and waste is either eliminated or repurposed as a resource. One example of a circular economy in action is the Cradle to Cradle certification system. This system evaluates products and materials based on their environmental and social impact and provides a framework for creating products that can be continuously reused. Another example is the sharing economy, where instead of owning products, people can share them through rental, lending, or swapping. This not only reduces the consumption of resources but also provides a new way of thinking about ownership and consumption.
What is our role here?
When we buy something, we can try to choose products that are designed to be reused, recycled, or upcycled. So, when we’re done using them, they can be repurposed rather than just being thrown away. The idea behind the circular economy is to reduce waste, which is good for the environment because it means we’re using fewer resources and producing less pollution. It’s also good for businesses because it can save them money by reducing the need to constantly buy new resources and materials.
The circular economy provides a sustainable solution to the environmental crisis by reducing waste and maximising resource efficiency. It requires a shift in thinking towards a closed-loop system and a commitment from individuals, businesses, and governments to implement circular practices. With the right policies and initiatives, India can leverage the circular economy to address its environmental challenges and create a more sustainable future for all.