Circular economy has wide array of chances


Towards the end of last year, I was privileged to be part of an international jury vetting projects that applied into the No Waste Challenge that was launched by What Design Can Do and IKEA Foundation and partly implemented by KCIC in Kenya.

The global competition involving over 1,400 projects from 105 countries at design-driven solutions that could result to less waste, make waste reusable as well as handling it in smarter ways.

This is part of the push towards an international adoption of a circular economy. To me, this opportunity was a practical revelation of part of my sustainability gospel of the humongous challenges posed by waste products and the numerous opportunities that lie in the mitigation of these challenges.

The zeal displayed by the young men and women who took part in the challenge also gives a lot of hope that the world is rapidly transforming into sustainability.

Circular economy represents a system that is structured with the aim of reduction in waste and use of resources. It is a closed-loop cycle by focusing on recycling and reusing of resources and tends to lessen input resources along with minimisation of waste flows.

It is estimated that annual waste produced in the world is more than two billion tonnes, which translates to an average of close to one kilogramme per person per day. Out of this waste, almost 40 per cent goes unmanaged, which poses hazardous perils to the environment.

As some of this waste decomposes, it releases tonnes of greenhouse gases whereas, in other instances, there is lots of non-biodegradable waste that ends up in the water and land.

Irresponsible waste management is a bedeviling factor to the achievement of SDGs three, six, 11, twelve, 13, 14 and 15 because good health and well-being, clean water and sanitation and sustainable cities and communities cannot be entirely realised with heaps of waste lying unmanaged.

The same applies to life below the water and on land. Failure to adopt circular economy is also noxious to climate action. The negative impacts are not only to the environment but also to organisations themselves.

Yet, with this said, there are numerous opportunities that come within the circular economy. It denotes restorative and regenerative production processes and economic activities that are in contrast to the take-use-waste linear model, such that the growth and consumption of finite resources is gradually decoupled.

This model ends up edifying the economic, natural and social capital by designing out waste and pollution, recycling and upcycling materials, and regenerating natural systems.

The World Resources Institute indicates that there is $4.5 trillion economic opportunity within the circular economy that can be achieved by reducing waste and most importantly, coming up with innovations that will spur development and create jobs.

This is something that organisations can capitalise on even as they continue with their daily activities.

To tap into these opportunities, firms need to conduct a thorough evaluation of the entire circular economy value chain in relation to the kind of operations that they do.

These opportunities could present themselves within the first life cycle of a product for example in reducing/reusing and replacing raw materials between the supply and design of the same and optimising the use of the product.

This could also be dematerialisation, where companies come up with ways of producing more with less.

There are even more opportunities that come especially after the end of the first life of the product that is, converting waste to energy, remanufacturing, recycling, repairing and reusing, reusing, repairing and/or refurbishing, repurposing and recovering for example using anaerobic digestion on biodegradable waste to generate energy.

Banks and other providers of finance need to also rethink financing innovative SMEs and venture capitals working towards a circular economy because in the near future, consumers will put more pressure for sustainable products.

Organisations, therefore, need to shift into a circular economy to not only safeguard the environment but also to remain economically viable and resilient to future trends.

This is due to the reason that the adoption of a circular economy is a collective effort that requires the coherent input of all actors ranging from multinational and large corporations, SMES, financial institutions, government through policy formulation and regulation as well as the consumers/individuals.

As this shift happens, the losers who will be those who will not embrace the circularity of their production systems.

There is a need to build capacity in order to come up with innovative solutions and exploit seen and unseen opportunities. This capacity may come in the form of training or bringing onboard experts to assist in this crucial transition.