A circular economy does not mean a flat global economy
Achieving a circular economy can have tangible environmental and business benefits, with resource optimization feeding into the global economy.
By Stefan Ranstrand, President and Chief Executive Officer, TOMRA Systems ASA
Achieving a truly circular economy is an ambitious yet realistic concept, and something that will require input from governments, businesses and people across the world to bring to fruition, as well as a broad change in thinking.
It is something that has been gaining traction in recent years as the world begins to realize that its resources are finite, and that constant taking without giving back is simply not sustainable.
Placing a significant emphasis on maximizing resource value and utilization contributes to the principles of the circular economy. It keeps products, components and materials at their highest value and creates a clear distinction between both technical and biological cycles.
This way of thinking is essential to the resource revolution, but challenges still remain in illustrating to businesses around the world that embracing the circular economy can have a direct and positive impact on the global economy.
Viewing resources as capital
Natural resources can be viewed as capital - albeit one with a finite lifespan – and, as such, need to be handled and controlled in a way that preserves them.
Maximizing the lifespan of resources is achievable through reuse, evolution and intelligent thinking, which results in costs being minimized. In order to attain this, we must balance renewable resource flows – it is a case of weighing ecology against economy and generating a cyclical process.
We must also consider the benefits of efficiency versus effectiveness; by embracing the circular economy, we can create a natural synergy between the two. This shows that a considered approach to the use and reuse of resources can have tangible long-term impacts, not only on the environment, but the economy as a whole.
Using technology to change thinking
Constant advances in technology make it possible to turn this thinking into a reality, but as demand changes, technology needs to evolve with it. New approaches help maximize the value of resources and - crucially - reduce waste.
Sensor-based solutions are helping to optimize resource productivity, particularly in the fields of waste management and recycling, by increasing precision and streamlining processes.
The circular economy is not a panacea, but it can have a tangible impact on improving our approach to how its resources are used. State-of-the-art techniques in waste separation and reverse vending contribute to this by simplifying the task at hand and making it more efficient , as well as providing valuable insights into the composition of materials and therefore enabling more materials to be recovered.
It results in better understanding about how efficiencies can be made, which subsequently minimizes costs and waste, and improves the utilization of resources across other use cycles. The additional benefits then extend to mitigating the impact of CO2, other harmful emissions and inefficiencies.
All businesses aim to protect the bottom line and avoid unnecessary expenditure, but this is a complex process where long-term thinking needs to be incorporated into the achievement of short-term aims. It is particularly true when it comes to using and reusing resources.
All industries are different, and in sectors such as mining, the impact of actions that take place now may not be felt for decades; with this in mind, decisions need to be made as early as possible in the value chain.
Having the ability to precisely sort newly mined materials before transporting them to the preparation plant brings about significant operational savings and minimizes the environmental impact.
In sectors such as food, minimizing waste has long been a subject of focus, and technology has been developed to reduce waste and ultimately maximize yield. This has a direct impact on the profit margin and addresses the problem of wasted resources and an under-supply of food.
In the European Commission’s Circular Economy Package, clear targets are outlined for the development of a long-term approach to waste management and recycling. This includes recycling 65 percent of municipal waste and 75 percent of packaging waste by 2030, but the reality is that much more is possible beyond these guidelines.
By combining the efforts of governments, industry bodies and the public, we can achieve these aims. However, this not only needs support, but a willingness to collaborate to make it a reality.
A unified message
A circular economy is dependent on effective communication, which conveys both the business and environmental benefits of resource management. A circular economy does not mean a flat global economy.
Rebuilding capital can be achieved through financial or manufactured means, can be social or natural, and is dependent on human action. However, the end result is the same - the enhanced flow of goods and services that boost economies on a local, national and global level.
Technological advancments and new ways of thinking are playing an integral role in maximizing use rates and looping materials back into the system. This is not only maintaining the core principles of the circular economy, but helping to lay the foundations for global economic gain.