Circular Economy – The Path to a Sustainable Future

Reducing consumption for the greater good is an unpopular idea, just like the idea of cutting down on expenses to rein in debt has few fans. Instead of drastically curtailing consumption, society can embrace the concept of circular economy. Emerging models highlight the fact that the transition to circular economy is not only possible, but also beneficial to individuals and societies as a whole. The road ahead is wide open and the transition from current to circular economic systems is within our grasp.

Cities to Lead the Circular Economy Revolution

Cities account for a significant percentage of pollution worldwide, but they can turn into catalysts for growth. Urban concentrations can act as a springboard for circular economy, and open a new chapter in human evolution. Instead of relying heavily on waste generation and resource extraction, society must switch to turning finished goods back into production. Cities are perfect for this new approach, especially large ones, as they are places where consumption and production overlap.

City dwellers should also be more inclined to switch to circular economy, because resources are particularly scarce in their habitats. Large urban hubs are also the places where unchecked pollution and improper handling of waste produce the direst and most visible consequences. On the flip side, it is the cities that have a tradition in fostering innovation and where the brightest ideas can be implemented.

Small but meaningful steps have already been made in this direction, as cities have ramped up recycling.
Smart management of energy, water and plastics helps these cities alleviate the burden, and mitigate the negative impacts of pollution. Important as they might be, these changes are not enough to make a successful transition to circular economy. Thorough change is needed to business practices, technology but also consumption preferences of regular people.

Pushing Energy Efficiency Gains into Overdrive

The fact that advanced nations have found a way to prevent the increase of electricity use in spite of significant economic and population growth is reassuring. Cutting down on unnecessary expenses is the first and most important part in addressing the threat of climate change. Equally important is the fact that a significant percentage of the energy used comes from renewable sources. This has a two-pronged effect, as both costs and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.

The greatest enemy of recycling is money, more precisely the high costs associated to turning finished products back into raw materials. Aluminum and metal are far more appealing because the energy costs associated to recycling are offset by the profits. Plastic on the other hand is not that profitable, which explains why only a small percentage of plastic packaging is recycled. This is where renewable energy comes in, rendering the recycling costs virtually irrelevant and highlighting the profits.

In anticipation of the day when we‘ll be able to fully tap into the potential of renewable energy to recycle anything, another pressing matter must be addressed. Keeping existing product in circulation as long as possible is at the cornerstone of the circular economy concept. Given the magnitude of this process, the goal can’t be achieved by a single actor, no matter how committed. Partnerships between public and private sectors, citizens and local authorities are essential to create the setting needed for this new chapter.

Swift and Painless Transition is Possible

The advent of any disruptive technologies implies certain costs and the transition to circular economy is no exception. The good news is that the significant disruption caused by this process doesn’t have to produce collateral victims. As environmental costs are internalized, this will reverberate across the entire production chain, as well as the final price. Decentralization of current public service models will also be needed, as well as a major switch to new and more complex networks.

Progress can’t be made overnight and the switch to circular economy will require patience and time. That is why it is essential for the public to be kept in the loop at all times, so everyone understands the long- term benefits. Sometimes it needs to get a little worse to get much better and this is precisely how the transition to circular economy can feel for some parts of the society. Stakeholders must be willing to find ways of mitigating the side effects and protect the most vulnerable members of society.