Since the last decade, the term ‘Circular Economy’ has gained momentum, not just among academia or researchers, but also amongst top business brands. It is believed that the recirculation of materials can aid reduce the resource footprint, and thus the cumulative global carbon emissions1. Unlike, the usual pro-environment ideals, circular practices – if incorporated strategically – have the potential to monetary benefits.
But, should one really put in the efforts to go and adopt the ‘new trend’ of Circular economy? Should we all just wait for the government to impose rules for us to follow? Or can we go a little ahead, be the good Samaritan and do our bit for the saving the world of the highest possible doom it faces caused by either of the following – extreme weather events caused by global warming, human toxicity caused by exposure to toxic substances, groundwater pollution, breathing disorders by breathing carcinogenic emissions and whatnot.
Oh, and before you think how can Circular economy aid in preserving the environment? Let me answer that for you. The basic idea of circular economy is based on recirculation of resources – that is – reduced mining of newer resources and reduced disposal of existing ones2 – both of which contribute to lower carbon footprint. To sum it up, a Circular economy is the newest way to achieve sustainability 3. Unfortunately, across the globe, only 19% of the waste is recovered for reuse or recycling4. To give you the statistics of it, of the total waste generated, only 37% of the waste is disposed of in landfills – around 8% in proper sanitary landfills, 33% on open-unused grounds and the remaining stays unaccounted. So, let us make ourselves a little more responsible and here, I am going to list down a few simple, but effective ways to make your lives more circular.
1. Segregate your waste: In India, around 70% of the total waste is collected. However, only 12.5% happens in a scientific manner5. Numerous studies have concluded limited to no segregation of waste at household levels6. Average Indian household waste has the following composition – about 40-60% compostable, 30-50% inert waste and 10-30% recyclable waste5. A very basic practice of waste segregation can go a long way. In the broadest manner, waste can be segregated into at least seven types.
But, let’s make our chores minimum and keep the task at hand to be as simple as possible. Separate the waste into bio-degradable and non-biodegradables. The bio-degradable can be certainly composted to form nutrient-rich manure, which aids in reducing the compounding of chemicals in the food chain. The non-biodegradables, or materials that can be reused or recycled need to be sold out to scrap vendors or sent to material recovery units.
What do we need?
A structured waste-to-manure working facility
Efficiently working material recovery facilities
Remember, every single piece of material you segregate and circle back to the system, is contributing to saving the carbon footprint7 and thus, saving the very planet we call home.
2. Minimize disposables: A very common practice among this generation is using disposables. How convenient life has become with all the low-priced use-once-and-throw materials? But we have forgotten how these disposables find their way back on shores when they do not find their way into landfills (let us not forget the ground pollution part here).
Single-use materials have considerable environmental impacts in terms of greenhouse gases emissions, human toxicity, ecological toxicity and marine pollution8. Although there has been a wide acknowledgement of the fact to move towards reusables, the transition has been quite slow9.
But anyway, let us focus on what can be done – Carry that handbag everywhere you go (assuming you can go on a shopping spree anytime), carry a water bottle (you can refill potable water almost everywhere these days), carry a mug (if you are a tea/coffee lover), use steel straws (any idea of how the straws disposed of by the coconut water wala bhaiyya in your area have caused micro-plastic penetration in the food system), take milk in a reusable container or utensil (instead of plastic bags or tetra pack), and I could go on, but I believe you know would know better based on your lifestyle.
What do we need?
Stronger rules on Extended Producers Responsibility
Education across generations
3. Buy local materials: As much as you would hate to hear this, but buying local largely minimizes the carbon footprint various materials have because of their transportation. About 17% of the global carbon footprint can be attributed to the global trades10.
Using local supplies not just means reducing emissions caused by transportation of a particular material, but also reduced supply chain and packaging emissions11. Not to forget the great push it will give to the local economy, and support small and medium scaled enterprises.
What do we need?
Quality assistance to local manufacturers
4. Exchange your electronic gadgets for new ones: So, my mother has this habit of holding on to the old mixer although she has already got a new one (an analogy, do not go literal on this one). Why? Well because its not bringing any money home, so why give it away? Just keep it in some shelf, locked away for years. No harm to us, we have a lot of extra space.
Trust me, that is one heck of a dangerous thought process. The global e-waste generation stood at around 60 Mt in 202012. E-waste is a major source of ecological toxicity owing to the numerous amounts of rare and toxic earth metals that it is composed of13. Many nations still continue to stay unaware of the untapped potential of the recovering e-wastes and thus the earth metals. But unfortunately, the world has a limited number of resources - a limited number of materials resources and a limited amount of energy resources, which is used for extracting these material resources and to further make them usable.
The e-wastes or the electronic wastes have those among the highest ecological footprint – majorly owing to their composition13, the elements they are composed of and the kind of hazards they pose to the environment. When old electronic products are looped back to the manufacturing stage, two very impacts happen – (a) lower environmental toxicity, and (b) reduced mining for more virgin resources.
What do we need?
A trusted vendor for giving away our e-wastes.
5. Use service-based models: People always wonder, ‘what is service based’? Simple, you look at what you want and not the means14. Meaning, get an Uber instead of getting a car. The world is slowly moving to a service-based economy, and I will tell you a reason why that should happen. You have a baby and you buy everything you need for the baby – cradle, toys, bigger toys, stroller, basically baby things. What happens after two, three or let me say five years? You don’t need them anymore. These things either lie in some corner of the house or are trashed away. Unless you are charitable enough to find someone who can put it to proper use. But how likely is that for every parent?
It is not just these, what happens to things of short-termed use across the globe? And imagine what would have happened if we could rent almost everything we need as a service and not have to buy and own the responsibility of its disposal. Can be a multi-factorial impact, for starters manufacturing would become of high-quality to ensure long-lasting durability since utilities will be reused, the resource stress on the ecosystem will be reduced, and finally, you and I will acknowledge the fact that we need to consume responsibly.
What do we need?
Sustainable environment for businesses based on service-based models.
Change of attitude of consumers towards the reuse of materials
6. Use renewable energy: I know it is easier said than done. With the exorbitant cost of solar installations, why would I even bother to spend lakhs, when my bill is only a few thousand. Well, because, you are lucky if you live in India and the government of India is offering this lucrative net metering feature wherein whatever solar power you generate, your bill will be offset by that price15. Even better, you can make money using the same model. What happens if you have no space or if you live in an apartment? You can rent out solar panel installations in regions other than where you live.
The government as well as local authorities also need to look out for ways to go off-grid, making them more resilient to power failures and rising electric tariffs.
What do we need?
Awareness among consumers about new initiatives for renewable energy supply
Financing models for installation of renewable energy sources
7. Share, share and share: It is nearly impossible to use all the resources you have. You can always follow that old Indian tradition of sharing. Hand-me-downs go a long way. Many reputed brands like H&M and Zara collect old clothes. We give away empty books to underprivileged kids. But what about things you need long term but not on a daily basis. It sure is different for everyone depending on your lifestyle, but do your part.
Here are a few examples:
Carpool when the source and destination are similar.
Share things like water sprinklers, or gardening equipment.
The tool kit can be shared or societies can have a common one.
The choice is really simple you see. Either work your way to make a difference today or let the future generations suffer. But given the weather extremities we face today, is the worse yet to come? Or has it already begun?
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About the Author
Purva Mhatre (LinkedIn) is a doctoral researcher at the National Institute of Industrial Engineering, Mumbai working in the department of Sustainability Management. My research is based on the incorporation of the Circular Economy in Built-environment.