In a recent Article via the World Economic Forum, author Alexandre Lemille – Co-founder and general secretary, African Circular Economy Network – describes the Circular Economy – a future scenario on my anchor Visual. In doing so, he shows how our current model extracts resources, transforms them into products, and consumes or uses them, prior to disposal. He describes how recycling actually distracts from the realization of a true circular economy – as recycling only starts at the throwing-away stage: this is a process that is not made to preserve or increase value nor to enhance materials.
He points out that in a circular economy, resources do not end up as recyclables since products are made to last several lifecycles. A products’ lifespan is therefore extended via maintain, repair, redistribute, refurbishment and/or re-manufacture loops, and never ends up in a low-value, high-need-for-energy loop called recycling. At an Innovation Session I hosted earlier this year, Faith Legendre – Circular Economy Solutions Strategist at Cisco/Aspen Institute First Mover Fellow – spoke at length about this future scenario. Her thoughts are included below.
The Circular Economy is gaining momentum and organizations are beginning to rethink how they work, how they leverage technology, and how they help make our world a better place – and still be profitable. The Circular Economy represents a $4.5 Trillion Global Economic Opportunity and companies are taking notice.
After thousands of interviews to understand what companies are doing around the circular economy, something became evident – the focus is on “things” and the traditional supply chain. We track it, we encourage consumers to purchase it, but there is very little focus on what happens after purchase. So, when you donate a clothing item, it’s not going where you think. About 90% ends up in incineration or landfill. We’re also seeing the devastating impact of plastic pollution on wildlife and the environment – whales that are dying, albatross birds mistakenly feeding plastic to their babies and in the aftermath of their demise, all that’s left is the plastic. People do care where their stuff goes after they’re done with it, especially the younger generation. Forward-thinking companies do as well. For those that don’t, the government will help move them along. In Europe, they’re actively writing sustainability and corporate accountability into their laws. The question however, is “How do you make it happen?”
Solutions are emerging to help with this challenge – enabling the ability to track and trace a product/packaging’s afterlife. By using tracking devices and then connecting up to the global network, we could actually see where it goes. We can then use waste management streams to put it back in the regenerative system – giving it back to the manufacturer to be used as recycled material for making something new. Consumers can also be involved with friendly technologies, such as QR codes or an RFID, to help them responsibly return products and packaging and ensure they go back into the right stream. So, through this track and trace we can ensure that all of our products end up in the right locations back in the regenerative system and fueling the Circular Economy.