Earth Day is a great opportunity to acknowledge our impact on the environment and explore circular economy solutions for improving the ecological well being of the planet. While the world’s average temperature keeps climbing with greenhouse gas emissions, the world is eager to make ambitious gains in the mission to improve the sustainability of our civilization. To limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, emissions need to fall by about 45% by 2030, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
IMPLEMENTING CIRCULAR ECONOMY SOLUTIONS
Implementing the circular economy principles is vital for meeting such goals. Pro-circularity initiatives include reducing, reusing, recycling, remanufacturing, sharing, repairing, refurbishing, etc. The shift away from fossil fuels to renewables has already engaged investors, industry players, and eco-entrepreneurs. The next step requires a similar transition in other sectors. How can we move from outdated linear –“take, make, dispose” — model and integrate more sustainable practices to mitigate climate change. Here are the top five circular economy solutions.
1. THINK CIRCULAR
With the circular economy principles, your outputs become your inputs. In other words, use waste to create new resources and thus restart the cycle.
For example, Recover Brand collects and sorts plastic bottles – to be remade into t-shirts. They salvage cotton from discarded industry scraps, sorted by color, and blended with polyester. The reclaimed fiber is then spun into yarn and knit into fabric, which is ultimately cut and sewn into a garment. With a proprietary process, they’re able to produce unique, 100% recycled apparel.
Reimagining the way we do business requires us to use global resources efficiently, reducing unnecessary waste generation.
Food waste is another global challenge. While food insecurity continues to rise, more than 40% of food continues to pile up in landfills in America. UNEP’s Food Waste Index Report 2021, “8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed.”
The hospitality industry could make a huge difference by preventing surplus food generating, properly composting, or donating extra food to food bank like Food Rescue US. Every day, they pick up hundreds of pounds of food from companies such as Starbucks, Wholefoods, and other stores, hotels, restaurants, to deliver it to those in need.
The US generates over 260 million tons of municipal solid waste annually. More than half still end up in landfills, with about 30% being recycled or composted and only as little as 12.7% being converted into energy. One of the viable solutions to close the loop in a circular economy is a Waste-to-Energy system (WTE). This market is expected grow by 6.54% by 2025.
In today’s Sweden, trash heats homes, powers buses, and fuels taxi fleets. Although it involves a complicated sorting system, Swedes have managed to divert most of their waste either into recycling and compost efforts or into incinerators rather than landfills. According to Avfall Sverige, the Swedish Waste Management and Recycling Association, less than 1 percent of household waste in this Scandinavian country finds its way to landfills.
Today, Amager Bakke claims to be the world’s cleanest waste-to-energy plant. It was designed by architect Bjarke Ingels, who incorporated a ski slope and a hiking path on its roof, turning the plant into a public gathering space. The plant can burn through 70 tons of trash each hour, producing hot water and energy for 120,000 households in the city, and its filtration system clears the pipe discharge of pollutants.
3. EXAMINE OUR CHOICES
Globally, we buy 54.9 million plastic bottles every hour. If all these empty bottles were collected into a pile, it would be higher than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (and happens to be the world’s tallest building). When plastic was invented in 1907, the world must’ve lacked the foresight to imagine how these highly malleable materials would turn out highly toxic for the environment: 90% of drinking bottles are never recycled in the United States; and so, their life continues off our shores and in our oceans.
This month, New Seasons Market, a chain of 19 stores primarily based in Oregon, and New Leaf Community Markets, its California-based subsidiary, are eliminating standard single-use bottled water from all the store shelves. Plastic and glass bottles will be replaced by a smaller number of reusable bottles. Change behavior could really support reuse and preventing waste before it becomes an issue in the first place.
4. REDESIGN AND SUBSTITUTE CARBON-INTENSIVE MATERIALS
According to Material Economics, “a circular scenario for the built environment could reduce global CO2 emissions from building materials by 38% by mid-century,” thanks to reduced demand for steel, aluminum, cement, and plastic. And, along the way, it would “offer residents improved access to goods, services, and housing, as well as improved outdoor air quality in which to live and work.”
The cement industry alone is responsible for approximately 5% of current emissions globally. Alternative circular solutions could accelerate energy efficiency measures.
An example of this forward-thinking approach is ABN AMRO Bank N.V. The Dutch bank’s pavilion in Amsterdam is built entirely based on circular principles using recycled and reusable materials. Even the insulation is made of fibers taken from 16,000 pairs of old jeans donated by the bank’s employees. The lift inside the building remains the manufacturer’s property and is leased on a use-only basis, a great example of product-as-a-service in practice.
5. PARTNERSHIP FOR THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY GOALS
Last but not least, circularity solutions mean reducing our dependence on raw materials. As a result, we may see a reduction in the amount of energy needed to extract, transport, and process these materials. As energy needs in these stages decrease, so does the need for energy infrastructure, pipelines, coal terminals, and refineries.
Collaborations with supply-chain partners, financial and governmental institutions, knowledge centers, and consumers should be focused on extending the lifetime of products and building a closed-loop business model that allows companies to recycle and reuse various products in new ways.