Can Circular Economies Save Our Planet?
Our world is drowning in GARBAGE. Or, to express it with more elegance: our planet is overburdened with the consumption of human beings. With garbage, litter, waste, pollution, toxins, and chemicals. Although the annual growth rate of world population is decreasing, it is expected to reach 9.2 billion by 2050, and 11.2 billion by 2100, from the roughly 7.6 billion in 2017, 4.4 billion in 1980, three (3) billion in 1960, and 1.65 billion in the early 20th century. (Our World in Data 2017 – World Population Growth; UN DESA 2017).
Our consumption habits are overloading Earth. According to calculations, citizens in many countries consume at a rate that is unbearable for our planet and its ecosystem. The average ecological footprint for instance in Sweden suggests that we would need 3.8 Earths to accommodate this level of consumption. The countries with the largest ecological footprints per person are Kuwait, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, United States of America, Canada, Sweden, Bahrain, Trinidad and Tobago, and Singapore. However, it is not as simple as that – some countries “export” their ecological footprints to others, but ultimately it all comes back to us. We cannot continue imagining that we can export our national environmental problems to another country. (WWF 2017 – Footprint Calculator; BBC 2015 – How many Earths do we need?).
Can circular economies save our planet from further damage and complete destruction? We have already managed to cause perhaps irreversible damage to our Earth within the past century alone, through improper management of natural resources, insufficient waste management and recycling practices, air, soil and water pollution through industrial activities, causing climate change through excess emissions of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, which end up polluting our environment and ourselves as a species, in addition to animals. Majority of wastewater worldwide ends up back in our environment without any treatment or purification, leading to extreme pollution and toxins both in our air, land, and water sources.
It is uncertain whether we can save ourselves and our planet from more environmental damage. However, creating and maintaining circular economies where damage to the environment and all that lives on this planet can be minimized with an increasingly much efficient usage of natural resources, including improving energy efficiency, wastewater management, recycling, and reducing harmful and toxic (greenhouse gas) emissions is already known to be beneficial and reduces costs in all areas of life. As with any other activity, legislation and policies play a significant role in how we shape our economies and create our future on this planet.
For instance the European Union has its own Circular Economy Strategy, a virtual open space platform which facilitates policy dialogue and offers both information and good practices for economies (within the EU) to take action in terms of the creation and improvement of a circular economy. According to SITRA, the Finnish innovation fund, we have a better way of capitalism, a new increasingly much sustainable era where our economies have to be rethought and reshaped. The Finnish innovation fund SITRA has been nominated for the world´s premier circular economy award, and leading for instance a project upon circular economies. Access the full report, SITRA – Leading the cycle – Finnish road map to a circular economy 2016-2025, HERE.
Simply explained, a circular economy is one that not only creates and designs improved and (more) sustainable brands, consumer goods, and services, but takes into consideration the ecological footprint of the complete product life-cycle from design/ manufacture, throughout the supply chain from retailer to consumer, and back to the recycling and/or re-use of materials. It also includes innovating completely new methods and materials for improved manufacturing and production.
How this can and will be done has to be considered not only by support from both legislation and policies, but also through innovation and management practices in companies. Innovation and improvement can be supported for instance by using common sense, questioning current ways of doing things, evaluating business processes, and minimizing/ eliminating useless waste through the implementation of best practices, and utilizing methodologies such as kaizen, lean (manufacturing) and/or six sigma, or a combination of these.
Learn more about circular economies by watching European Environment Agency´s video “Circular Economy”:
Connect with me on Twitter @annemariayritys. For climate/environment-related posts only @GCCThinkActTank. Subscribe to Leading With Passion to receive my latest posts.
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