Opinion, World

Circular Economy – using and re-using instead of using up

We have plundered our planet’s resources at such a high rate during the last few decades that it has endangered the very existence of all living beings on earth. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) had warned us about this fact a long time ago. The ever increasing human population along with rising per capita income has led to high consumption of innumerable commodities.

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, humans were able to advance further into the 21st century. Technology developed rapidly, science became advanced and the manufacturing age came into view. With all of these came one more effect, industrial pollution.

Earlier, industries were small factories that produced smoke as the main pollutant. However, since the number of factories were limited and worked only a certain number of hours a day, the levels of pollution did not grow significantly. But when these factories became full scale industries and manufacturing units, the issue of industrial pollution started to take on more importance. Industries around the world produce over 1.5 billion tons of wastes annually.

Water Pollution and soil pollution are often caused directly due to inefficiency in disposal of waste. Long term exposure to polluted air and water causes chronic health problems, making the issue of industrial pollution into a severe one. It also lowers the air quality in surrounding areas which causes many respiratory disorders. Although the “proper” treatment of the industrial waste is often stressed by the relevant international organizations but due to lack of resources, skills, manpower and willpower huge quantities of wastes are disposed of into the environment haphazardly.

The concept of circular economy has gained prime importance in the recent past. Unlike the traditional linear economy system, which is based on “take  make  dispose” production model, circular economy is a continuous development process which does not end at the waste disposal. It reprocesses the wastes produced as a result of production process and regenerate new products. It promotes sustainability and minimizes risk of total collapse of the system. So, the disposal step of the linear economy is replaced by recycling. Hence, a continuous system is developed which also minimize the unwanted substance flow into the environment. The Club of Rome – a global think-tank reported that circular economy could bring 70% reduction in carbon emissions by 2070.

Circular economy revolves around the idea that wastes do not exist. Rather, these are used as resource. However, in order to achieve this objective, the products may be designed in such a way that waste flow is minimized. It means, we need to use more and more recyclable material in the production systems.

The European Union (EU) is making some progress in this regard. Businesses across Europe are making the society and environment more resilient. In the coming years, it could go on to save billions of Euros, create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a greater extent. The EU target is to recycle municipal and packaging wastes by 65% and 75% respectively by 2030. Similarly, the United States and other developed regions are making efforts to switch from a linear to circular economy.

The developing countries are lagging behind which is understandable. However, the international organizations have recognized the potential for circular economic models in some of the developed countries. Like in Pakistan, the textile industry is one of the major industries and produces millions of tons of wastes annually. These wastes can be recycled and can serve as raw material for other related industries. It can not only strengthen the economy but also reduces the adverse environmental impact of the textile industry.

Circular economy provides fully renewable and recyclable resource inputs that underpin circular production and consumption systems. It maximizes the economic value of product return flows. In the face of runaway resource scarcity and rising demand for more sustainable products, it is the need of the hour to change our production patterns.

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