Five Enablers of a Circular Economy

Attaining circularity is challenging but not impossible. Today, we discuss five steps that could be an enabler to the circular transition. - By Shalini Goyal Bhalla


March 7 2023
 
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The goods of today are the resources of tomorrow at yesterday’s resources prices. This is a promising solution provided by the Circular Economy model.

The circular economy is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. It means moving away from the world’s enormously wasteful economic model of ‘take, make, throw away’, in which resources are extracted, turned into products, used and discarded.

A circular economy offers a wide range of social, economic and environmental benefits. Circularity reduces both the demand for raw materials and the impact of obtaining them. The journey towards a circular economy also guarantees reduction of carbon emissions, air pollution and toxicity exposure and improvement in positive actions such as habitat restoration, renewable energy usage and improvement air quality. It also promises to deliver substantial economic benefits as well, such as scaling up of reuse, repair, remanufacturing, and recycling activities to create millions of jobs and stimulate innovation.

1 MATERIAL CHOICE

Material choices play a fundamental role in designing for a circular economy. By choosing only safe, sustainable and circular materials, we can ensure that products are safer to both humans and the environment, and the materials used to make them can be reused without causing contamination. There are a number of ways products and materials can be kept in circulation and it is helpful to think about two fundamental cyclesthe technical cycle and the biological cycle. In the technical cycle, products are reused, repaired, remanufactured, and recycled. In the biological cycle, biodegradable materials are returned to the earth through processes such as composting and anaerobic digestion.

2 DESIGNING FOR INNER LOOPS

Inner loops in the technical cycle are like sharing (business models), reusing the products, repair and maintenance, and refurbishment. While in the biological cycle, the inner loops consist of composting or anaerobically digesting organic materials, valuable nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients. We can grow more renewable materials like cotton and wood.

3 STURDIER PRODUCTS THAT LAST LONGER

Products need to be manufactured keeping in mind their eventual circulation in either the technical or the biological cycle. Durability is important to elongate the life cycle of a product. Manufacturers should design products considering the end of life. In a circular economy, repair should always be an easy and economical option instead of buying a new one. By offering long-lived items, conscious shoppers could buy less and throw away less too.

4 MODULARITY IN PRODUCTS

Modularity is an important strategy to improve the process of product recovery, recycling and circularity of materials. It is the key in retaining the highest value of a product as long as possible. Modularity is all about the components that are included in the product. True modularity is achieved by enabling easy separation, by using no glues or adhesive that cannot let the components be separated anymore without demolishing the product. Modularity helps facilitate durability (longevity), repairability & maintainability, recyclability, sharing and upgradeability. Most often, modularity requires design changes, or for new products, design considerations.

5 EMBEDDING REVERSE SUPPLY CHAINS

Circular economy business models rely on reverse supply chains and reverse logistics to close material loops, such as recycling waste and scrap into secondary raw materials, and extending product life by promoting direct reuse, repair, refurbishment and remanufacturing. Such activities can extend beyond borders and require the trans-boundary movement of end-of-life products to enable economies of scale.

To achieve circularity, we would need to rethink the current status quo to enable economic and ecological savings. This would include rethinking the design, ownership, logistics and material flow.

It’s a new mental framework and should be embraced for the progress as well as the survival of the human race on planet earth. Earth’s nature is a circular system. It maintains equilibrium among the nonhuman systems via reusing, repurposing and regeneration. Waste management and resource planners should thoroughly identify factors that promote the implementation of circularity, and the social benefits to be realised. A system needs to be established for low carbon consumption and production in food sectors in countries such as China, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and other countries in the Asia Pacific region. Some economies have It has been recently observed that some countries have passed legislation based on the 3 R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and CE principles. Furthermore, it has been also observed that CE can result in many net benefits and support to achieve the sustainable development goals 2030.

Shalini Goyal Bhalla is the Managing Director of International Council for Circular Economy.

“A circular economy offers a wide range of social, economic and environmental benefits. Circularity reduces both the demand for raw materials and the impact of obtaining them.” - Shalini Goyal Bhalla