The reality is that most businesses do not consider the waste that comes from their products or operations as their problem, and few factor the cost of recovering and recycling this waste into their cost of manufacturing, which is in turn costing the environment dearly.
We firmly believe that looking at use of consumer products further than the end of their accepted lifecycle, and re-introducing them back into the economy will go a long way towards reducing our reliance on fossil fuels for new product development.
Here in South Africa, the tyre industry has led the way towards developing a successful, and sustainable circular economy. To date we have made remarkable progress in creating jobs and developing small businesses while turning waste into worth. Through the implementation of this circular economy, we have not only been able to reduce environmental impact of tyre waste but we also have been able to address socio-economic needs.
The rubber recycling industry has been enhanced because we have created a means for them to secure their feedstock – allowing them to focus on their core business and become more competitive and viable. Overall by implementing a circular economy we have been able to support the South African economy through 80% investment back into industry.
However, developing a circular economy goes much further than recycling (given that this is often energy intensive) and there is a strong business case for its development. Analysis by McKinsey estimates that shifting in this direction could add $1 trillion to the global economy by 2025 and create 100,000 new jobs within the next five years.
According to the McKinsey report the economic case for the circular economy is tangible. The cost of remanufacturing mobile phones for example could be reduced by 50% per device if the industry made handsets that were easier to take apart, improved the reverse cycle, and offered incentives to return devices that are no longer needed. The economic gain from materials savings alone is estimated at over a trillion dollars a year. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) a shift to innovatively reusing, remanufacturing and recycling products could lead to significant job creation. Five hundred thousand jobs are created by the recycling industry in the EU alone.
There are many options available to cut emissions, including using energy more efficiently, switching to renewable energy sources and investing in large-scale afforestation.
The circular economy encourages each of us to focus on what we can do in our daily lives to save water, energy and other natural resources, and turn waste into a resource.
The sooner we start revisiting the way we look at ‘waste’, and the more concerned we become about commodity efficiency, the better.