A circular economy aims to not only reverse the environmental crisis but also create job opportunities across key sectors and impart more value to the economy
Climate change is no longer an abstract threat of the distant future, but is now affecting millions of families worldwide. Tackling such a crisis requires a fundamental shift in the business mindset, exploring not just potential ways to reduce emissions but also areas of technology with considerable promise. It requires businesses to take an active interest in solving the net-zero equation and look for opportunities to create value from the energy transition. Smarter use of materials to lower carbon-dioxide emissions is now central to the idea of a net-zero corporate future. For the sake of the environment and a cleaner and greener future, businesses must transition to a ‘circular economy’.
In contrast to the traditional take-make-use-dispose linear economy approach, a circular economy facilitates incentives to reuse items and extract resources to renew the production cycle instead of disposing of them. It is about more than recycling; it is about sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible.
A circular economy aims to not only reverse the environmental crisis but also create job opportunities across key sectors and impart more value to the economy. In India, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) plays a pivotal role in promoting this fundamental shift in economic trajectory. However, the business world, too, has a crucial role to play by confronting traditional practices beyond their facilities.
There are three principles which steer the transformation to a circular economy:
Principle One - Eliminating Waste And Pollution
The mismanagement of waste not only imperils human health and local ecosystems, but also exacerbates the climate crisis to alarming degrees. According to the World Bank, global waste is projected to increase by 70 per cent from a 2018 baseline by 2050 if companies do not divert from the “take-make-waste” linear economy approach.
Increased levels of consumption of packaged food in recent times have resulted in significantly large volumes of waste. Key players in the food and beverages industry must commit to managing their resources efficiently, and promoting innovative measures to reduce food waste, energy and water usage. The aim is to ensure that all cartons, packets or other packaging materials are eventually collected and recycled, never becoming litter.
Principle Two - Circulating Products And Keeping Materials In Use Longer
In order to let the circular economy become self-sufficient, it is not just enough to eliminate waste from the production process. Recovering and restoring products, components and materials for efficient reuse is an essential aspect of the circularity principle. Since consumer activity is the key in any environment-conscious initiative, several brands are driving collective action by focusing their efforts on generating awareness among the public.
For instance, ‘Cartons to Classroom’ was a joint initiative between Nestlé a+ and Tetra Pak to recycle used paper-based beverage cartons into classroom furniture for schools for less privileged children in Mumbai. Brand initiatives like these drive the circular economy, while also inspiring behavioural change among the public by increasing their environmental sensitivity.
Principle Three - Regeneration Of Natural Systems
Simply put, businesses need to focus on going beyond reducing their harmful impacts on the environment and should actively try to restore the health of our planet. This is the third and final cog of the closed loop system that is circular economy, actively feeding natural resources back into the planet. Through measures like regenerative farming at their respective facilities and opting for renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels, companies can help make sure that nothing ever gets wasted at their end.
Environment-conscious brands are already taking dynamic steps to reduce the carbon impact across their operations and ensure the regeneration of natural systems. Growing organic vegetables at the manufacturing plant, using compost from on-site composting facilities, and using them for regular meal services are just a few ways the industry can give back to the planet for a change.
The Way Forward
In a truly circular economy, all products will be designed to have the minimum environmental impact, the longest possible shelf-life, and can be dismantled for reuse or recycled into a new product – thus eliminating the concept of waste completely. The switch from linear economy will not be an easy journey, but it is entirely possible if we persevere and stay focused. The circular economy revolution could be the greatest development of our history, ushering in a new era where humans live in harmony with nature by treating materials as resources and creating new products with every use.
(The author is Managing Director (South Asia Markets) at Tetra Pak India Pvt Ltd)