Unlocking the Value of a Circular Economy
A circular economy is based on the theory of keeping waste to near zero through the principles of designing out waste generation, keeping products and materials in use instead of throwing them away, and regenerating natural systems. By contrast, a linear economy is essentially the reverse, and is more representative of our current systems and practices; we take resources from the planet to make products that we use and when they are no longer wanted, we dispose of them in landfill; “Take-Make-Waste”.
In response to increasing public sentiment that governments must do more to reduce waste, particularly here in Australia where we have been experiencing significant impacts from China’s National Sword policy, regulators are scrambling to develop legislation that matches the public’s growing expectations. Locally, the Victorian and NSW governments are in the midst of developing circular economy policies to move consumers from a linear to a more circular way of doing business and thus reducing each state’s waste and impact on the planet. Promoting the reuse of materials embedded in obsolete products is a key element of reducing waste to landfill.
Traditionally governments have adopted this hierarchy to set preferences for managing different waste types with the impetus to manage public health. However, this approach does not consider a solution for addressing the root of waste generation as a problem itself, it assumes waste will be generated and then sets out how to dispose of it. A circular waste hierarchy (established under a circular economy policy/framework) would maximise the use of resources and materials by extending the life of products and extracting optimal value once no longer useable. Adopting this view, all policies would be required to demonstrate through a lifecycle-based analysis, achievement of the highest-possible level of circularity and material re-use.
One of the most exciting aspects of the circular economy is the huge potential impact on global emissions if we do it right. Emissions from extractive activities such as mining raw materials accounts for 50% of global GHG emissions. By unlocking currently unused value from resources and materials already in circulation, we reduce the need for extracting further resources, thus reducing the emissions associated with creating new products.
The Promise of the Circular Economy
When carefully measured, designed and integrated, the circular economy holds enormous promise for the environment, consumers, business and government, as it can:
Reduce unnecessary waste and associated cost of disposal
Extract more value from products and reduce the cost of raw materials
Reduce damaging emissions
Currently the circular economy is generating considerable interest in many sectors. This is no surprise as it is a concrete, near-term action that governments and the private sector can take to reduce raw material use and improved GHG outcomes.
So what can I do?
Preparing for the changes that will be required to move from a linear to circular economy can seem a daunting task as there are a multitude of factors to address, the importance of which will vary from business to business, and industry to industry. At The Glacier Group we can help you identify opportunities relevant to you, prioritise key activities and plan a pathway forward to improve your supply chain and products.
A move from a linear business model to circular will take time and require significant effort and a well-considered plan, but generally we suggest considering the below key steps as a part of your program development.
Set goals and create an action plan
Educate and activate your organisation and supply chain
Review and improve