Adopting a more circular approach to resource management

Hanumante et al. (2019) suggest that the circular economy (CE) concept can deliver benefits to the manner in which we consume and manage our resources. However, the approach adopted should be balanced and within a timeframe of circa 70—90 years. Implementation after this time, or an ‘aggressive’ implementation before, would lead to system collapse, due to the depletion of commonly accessed ecosystem services caused by continued high consumption.

CE strategies therefore should be agile and responsive to the changing markets and be based on more accurate resource forecasting models (Althaf et al., 2019). These strategies might include green product design, creation of reuse markets, development of material recovery technologies, and policies to effectively engage multiple stakeholders in resource conservation and recovery activities (Bocken et al., 2016; Gaustad et al., 2018; O'Connor et al., 2016). Velenturf and Jopson (2019) note that the business case for resource recovery should support multidimensional growth that would enable the redistribution of economic, social, and environmental benefits. There is a need for innovations for resource (e.g., food) security and resource protection policies that enhance a sustainable utilisation of natural resources (von Braun, 2018). Governments should set up the policy, legal, and institutional frameworks to incentivise uptake of biogas technologies, while at the community level, the development of demonstration schemes to promote awareness and overcome sociocultural concerns is needed.

Various writers call for the use of sustainability-driven business model innovations to reduce the overall material and energy demands and facilitate the uptake of more circular approaches (e.g., Cooper, 2010; Tukker, 2015; Brocken and Short, 2016; Evans et al., 2017; Martin, 2016; Yang et al., 2017; Singh et al., 2019). For example, increasing the intrinsic durability’ ofa product and expanding its lifespan beyond one life cycle would serve to reduce resource consumption and thus reduce wastage (Cooper, 2010). Similarly, the provision of repair and maintenance for products (Gnanapragasam et al., 2017), as well as the efficient recovery of components (or parts) and recycling (Cole et al., 2019; Singh and Ordonez, 2016), are also potential approaches to ensure greater resource security.

Specifically for plastics, a number of countries have implemented policies and legislation to reduce plastic waste and encourage recovery. For example, China and Malaysia have banned the import of low-value mixed plastics for recycling, and the Indian government has pledged to ban all single-use plastics by 2022 (PWC, 2019). There is an EU Plastics Strategy (EC, 2018). The

Resource and Waste Strategy for England (Defra, 2018) calls for the development of standards for bio-based and biodegradable plastics and the banning of single use plastics from the central government estate by 2020. The UK Plastics Pact (WRAP, 2018), which is a collaborative initiative to create a circular system for plastics, was launched in 2018. It is led by the charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and is composed of a coalition of members covering the entire plastics value chain. Its ambitious targets for 2025 for plastic packaging are:

  • • 100% to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable
  • • 70% to be effectively recycled
  • • 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging
  • • Action taken to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging items

Plastics Europe (2017a) estimated that banning plastics and other recyclables from landfill by 2025 would lead to savings of 7 million tonnes of CO, and the creation of 300,000 permanent jobs related to sorting, recycling, and energy recovery. In 2016, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched the New Plastic Economy Initiative. Amongst other things, the New Plastic Economy Initiative aimed to establish a cross-value chain dialogue and scale up the adoption of reusable packaging as well as industrially compostable plastic packaging, establish a Global Packaging Protocol, utilise innovation and an evidence base, and decouple plastics from a fossil feedstock. Ledsham (2018) suggests the need to:

  • • Boost demand for recyclable materials by encouraging companies to commit to using post-consumer resin (PCR) wherever possible, thus creating end markets that make the collection of the materials viable.
  • • Design for recyclability. Most plastic items/packaging tend to be composed of a composite of plastics, making disassembly and recycling difficult. Designing for recyclability in mind would overcome these challenges.
  • • Encourage a holistic, collaboration between resin suppliers, packaging manufacturers, brands, waste contractors, and recyclers. For example, CEFLEX, a European consortium of companies representing the entire value chain of flexible packaging, is working to develop robust design guidelines for both flexible packaging and the infrastructure used to collect, sort, and recycle it. Facilities using chemical recycling, which enables not only plastic bottles but other waste (e.g., from oceans and textiles), are also being developed (e.g., Loop Recycling).

Plastics Europe (2017b) calls for the use of:

  • • Full life-cycle thinking (i.e., adopting a holistic approach to the consumption of resources [including energy]) to preserve resources
  • • Environmental protection and well-being. Ensure that products — produced from virgin or recycled raw materials such as plastics — are safe for their intended uses and do not damage human health or the environment
  • • Awareness building to create behaviour change (e.g., for effective segregation of plastics waste)

At a wider level, community/citywide initiatives are also important. For example, through its Smart Cities Mission, India is seeking to incorporate circular economy principles into the design of the infrastructure needed to provide water, sanitation, and waste services at scale (Gol, 2019). The initiative, which was launched in 2015, is an urban renewal and retrofitting program by the government of India with the mission to develop 100 smart cities across the country, making them citizen friendly and sustainable. More systemic planning of city spaces, integrated with circular mobility solutions, can contribute to higher air quality, lower congestion, and reduced urban sprawl. Flexible use of buildings and urban spaces, enabled by digital applications, are also being employed to increase utilisation rates, thus getting more value out of the same assets.

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