Waste as resources: moving towards a circular economy

The availability of resources that we extract from the planet is decreasing, and by contrast, the consumption of resources is increasing, especially in developed countries. Therefore, the availability of (non-renewable) resources is one of the crucial challenges facing our society in order to, on the one hand, be able to guarantee the quality of life and survival of its inhabitants, and on the other hand, to have competitive and sustainable economies, in the not too distant future. We need resources.

The production of products or goods has thus far occurred linearly where: raw materials are extracted; products are made; consumed, and finally, they are rejected and generally sent to landfills. For some years now, a concept that aims to turn linear production into circular production has been on the scene. This new idea sees waste become a resource which can be used to produce new goods and services, and thus close “the product’s lifecycle.” We are imitating the biological cycle of nature. This new concept is called “circular economy.”

The products of today can become the resources of tomorrow

Some of the principles upon which circular economy is based are the following:

  • Global economic model: The aim is to untie economic growth and the consumption of finite resources, with the aim of developing a resilient economy that works in the long term.
  • Eco-conception: The design is aimed at the efficient use of materials, considering the environmental impact of products during their life cycle, integrating this into their conception (to be able to recycle them or take better advantage of them). The products have a long life, can be disassembled, are easily repairable, etc.
  • Economy of opportunities and functionality: This involves the promotion of new opportunities regarding design, products and services and business models. For example, turning a product into a service (such as the rental of blue jeans http://www.mudjeans.eu/). Another example are the eco-industrial parks, where some industries have and produce waste that could be raw material for others.

Of course, we must also add the principles that we have already discussed such as reuse, repair or recycling.

Waste recycling helps to reduce the pressure on the environment that creates the need for resources and raw materials in order to manufacture products. In 2006,[1] waste recycling covered 41% of paper consumption, 42% of iron and steel consumption, 14% of glass consumption and 4% of plastics consumption.

By recycling more, we could increase the requirement coverage for some resources, but not for all of them. The potential for consumption coverage for iron-steel is 60%, for paper it’s 55%, for glass 25% and plastics around 10%.

Recycling helps to reduce the pressure on our environment, but it is not enough

A conceptual change is needed, from the current linear economy to a circular economy. It certainly won’t be easy and it requires everybody’s collaboration: civil society, politicians and the business world. Promoting sustainable production and consumption policies, reorienting production processes and developing new business models is vital.

The circular economy benefits the environment (stops climate change, saves energy and water, reduces the emission of polluting products) and society (generates employment, fosters opportunities for new businesses, encourages growth and competitiveness).

Want to know more?

  The book Stop garbage. The truth about recycling, Alex Pascual, February 2019

► European Parliament video about circular economy(ENG):

http://europarltv.europa.eu/es/player.aspx?pid=b14e4401-dea5-4b47-ac67-a517009f495e

► Ellen MacArthur Foundation video (ENG):

►Circular economy El Escarabajo verde TV documentary RTVE (CAST)

http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/videos/el-escarabajo-verde/escarabajo-verde-economia-circular/2828228/

i Information (ENG, ENG)

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/index_en.htm

http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/


[1].“Income, employment, and innovation: the role of recycling in a green economy,” Study of the European Environment Agency, Copenhagen, 2011, published by the MAGRANA Ministry

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