Ever thought about what happens to the tonnes of newspapers that are circulated nationally?
Well, when I was in school, we had this art project known as papier mâché whose basic components were old newspapers and glue.
Once it dried up, we put it to good use, making boxes and ornaments. I was thinking about it the other day while writing this article and came to the happy conclusion that it was a practical way to put old newspapers to use, teaching children to apply themselves by making useful things for purposes of learning.
Traditionally, most businesses engaged in a one way economy, or what I would like to call linear economy. Under linear economy it is “take, make, use, waste and dispose”.
No one, at least not in the formal system, cares about what happens post disposal. That is how tonnes and tonnes of plastic carrier bags ended up on land and water, poisoning aquatic life, endangering the health of domestic and wild animals and hurting the productivity of farmlands. Yet, these used materials could have been reused or recycled to make useful, affordable products. Although thin plastic carrier bags were banned more than a year ago, the menace of PET plastic bottles still looms large.
Now let us flip it back to circular economy. Here, we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life. Circular Economy entails rethinking, redesigning, Reusing and Recycling. It results in local manufacturing, job creation, value addition and low-carbon economy.
I can mention in passing that circular economy has inspired a number of well-known brands that are making a difference globally. Plastic Whale, for example, is the first professional plastic fishing company in the world. A social enterprise with a mission: make the world’s waters plastic-free and create value from plastic waste, it started in 2011 with a single challenge to build a boat made of plastic waste.
Today, we have a fleet of 11 boats made from Amsterdam Canal Plastic. Today, it is famous for ‘overfishing’ of plastic waste and would be only too happy to go ‘out of business’ for then it will have accomplished its mission.
Closer home, Dunia Designs, an eco-friendly design company that specialise in the up-cycling of plastic bottles, plastic bag waste and other recycled materials to create beautiful & bespoke furniture, is making its own history by making sense out of waste and in the process protecting the environment, creating employment and building a viable business.
The last century saw a massive increase in the extraction of construction materials, ores and minerals, fossil fuels and biomass, driven by population explosion and increased prosperity in many parts of the world.
As the demand for natural resources such as water, energy, raw materials and fertile land continues to rise, they are becoming not only scarce but more expensive.
Moreover, rising consumption is putting a strain on the environment, leading to the depletion of forests and fish stocks, and the extinction of many species of animals and plants. Left unchecked, Kenya will certainly face an uncertain future with reduced agricultural productivity, rising poverty and growing inequality. The way out of the quagmire is to significantly improve the way we manage our resources - phase out waste, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the use of hazardous substances and make a complete transition to renewable and sustainable energy supplies.
It is conceivable that process optimisation could prevent more radical changes from occurring in the transition to a circular economy. The increasing miniaturisation of products and components, for example, may mean that repairs become much more complicated, or that recycling no longer pays.
Ideally, in a circular economy, waste streams and emissions are used to create value, providing secure and affordable supplies of raw materials and reducing the pressure on the environment. This is an essential condition for a resilient industrial system that facilitates new kinds of economic activity, strengthens competitiveness and generates employment.
The existence of a recycling infrastructure, an active market for repairs and maintenance, and a lively second-hand market (the success of sites such as eBay and Marktplaats.nl in the Netherlands being prime examples) show that society is capable of moving towards a more circular economy.
Increasingly, businesses in various industrial supply chains are co-operating in order to generate industrial symbiosis – by reusing waste, energy, water and material streams, for example – in an economically responsible way.
Karin Boomsma, director, Sustainable Inclusive Business.