The circular economy and the global economy
The pursuit of a truly circular economy does not have to come at the expense of the global economy; the environmental and business benefits of resource optimization are tangible.
By Stefan Ranstrand, President and Chief Executive Officer, TOMRA Systems ASA
The concept of a circular economy is not an alien one, but is something that will require significant effort to achieve a change in the way that global governments, businesses and people think.
At TOMRA, we place significant emphasis on maximizing resource value and utilization, which contributes to the principles of the circular economy; to keep products, components and materials at their highest value and create a clear distinction between both technical and biological cycles.
This ethos is integral to the resource revolution, but challenges remain in conveying to nations - and the business and sectors operating within their borders - that embracing the circular economy can have a direct impact on the global economy.
Preserving natural capital
Natural resources are, in effect, capital - albeit of a finite nature - and must be handled and controlled in a way that preserves this.
Balancing renewable resource flows is effectively a case of weighing ecology against economy and generating a cyclical process where the lifespan of resources is maximized through reuse, evolution and intelligent thinking, while the cost of doing this is minimized.
Efficiency versus effectiveness is a constant consideration, but embracing the circular economy creates a natural synergy between the two and illustrates 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.
The role of technology
Technology plays a crucial role in achieving this, with advances in certain fields helping to bring about new approaches that can help maximize the value of resources and – crucially – reduce waste.
TOMRA’s sensor-based solutions play a key role in optimizing resource productivity, particularly in the fields of waste management and recycling, where sensor-based technology can be used to increase precision and streamline processes.
To achieve the ambitious aim of a circular economy, it is necessary to employ state-of-the-art approaches that push boundaries, and TOMRA’s reverse vending and waste separation processes each help to achieve this by recovering materials and providing valuable insight into the composition of these materials.
The result is a greater understanding of where efficiencies can be made to minimize costs and waste, and better utilize resources across other use cycles – further mitigating the impact of CO2 and other emissions and inefficiencies.
Balancing business benefits
Ultimately, every business seeks to protect its bottom line and avoid unnecessary expenditure, but to achieve this, a long-term view must be balanced against short-term aims, and this is particularly true where the use and reuse of resources is concerned.
Every sector is different, and in industries such as mining, the impact of actions taken now may not be felt for years or even decades, which necessitates decisions being made as early as possible in the value chain.
Being able to precisely sort newly mined materials before they are transported to the preparation plant can bring about significant savings on operating costs and help to minimize environmental impact.
Similarly, in the food industry, where minimizing waste has long been a subject of focus, optical sorting technology can help to reduce waste and ultimately maximize the yield, which has a direct impact on the profit margin while addressing the problem of wasted resources and an under-supply of food.
The European Commission’s Circular Economy Package includes clear targets for forming a long-term approach to waste management and recycling, including recycling 65 per cent of municipal waste and 75 per cent of packaging waste by 2030, but these are only guidelines; the reality is that much more is possible.
It is clear that a combined effort from governments, industry bodies and the public will be required to help achieve these aims, but this will require both support and a willingness to collaborate.
Communication is key
Communication is central to a circular economy, where the benefits and importance of resource management must be clearly conveyed. The concept has deep rooted origins, but the key ethos is collaboration between industry and business that facilitates tangible benefits.
The rebuilding of capital can be financial or manufactured, social or natural, or even human, but the end result is an enhanced flow of goods and services that benefits the economy on a local, national and - ultimately - global scale.
It creates a focused view of resources and how their use and reuse can provide major benefits both financially and environmentally.
New technology can play an integral role in maximizing use rates and looping materials back into the system, not only maintaining the core principles of the circular economy, but laying the foundation for future approaches that will take this principle forward and see it evolve.
TOMRA’s vision is to be a leader in the resource revolution. Through constant research and innovation, we are creating the technology to bring about optimal resource productivity and ensure a more sustainable planet. To find out more, visit www.tomra.com/en/about-us/our-mission.