Have you ever wondered about the possibility of your ready- to- throw soda bottles transform into a completely new product? A brand new t-shirt, fleece jackets, sleeping bags, carpets or more bottles perhaps? While the concept of plastic transforming into a completely new product almost seems like a miracle, it is possible and already thriving.
You can easily obtain a brand new t-shirt from 10 plastic bottles, a sweater from 63 plastic bottles and a sleeping bag from 114 plastic bottles! Amazing, right? Not just the bottle, but the cap can also be transformed into batteries, storage containers, ropes, brooms, shopping bags, and whatnot. All of this is derived from the outcome of a simple yet important concept of Circular Economy (CE).
The concept of the Circular Economy focuses on the regenerative designing of products that would enable continued use of it. Basically, it aims to retain the quality and usability of products for a longer period of time. It entails closing the loop so that the functionality of resources is restored and waste is kept minimal. The current trend of the linear economy works on the culture of use and dispose.
The idea behind the circular economy primarily emanated as an antithesis to the linear economy and is derived from the relationship between natural resources and the economy. Economy is fueled by natural resources but the same economic activity eventually creates negative repercussions for the environment by unnecessary waste production. Circular economy intends to form an ecosystem that thrives on long- term use and sustainable quality- one that retains the use of natural resources and reduces waste.
Although the concept traces its history from different sources, one of the pioneers of CE can be taken as Boulding who opposed the practice of the existing linear economy and termed it as unsustainable owing to the limitations of the natural system. He introduced the concept of ‘Spaceman Economy’ is contrary to the ‘Cowboy Economy’ and popularised the idea of a closed system with looped resources.
Another complementing concept to CE is the Cradle- to- Cradle theory developed by American Architect William McDonough which draws its inspiration from nature. A plant takes up nutrients from the soil, grows and provides nutrients to the surrounding soil from its scattered leaves. It basically works on the principle of the natural system where nothing goes to waste and is circled around for use. The theory has taken reference from biological metabolism and developed the concept of technical metabolism. It considers the inputs or raw materials used in production as ‘nutrients’ which must be returned back to its source for greater efficiency. Here, nothing is taken as waste but rather ‘nutrients’ with the possibility of further use. The theory in line with the concept of circular economy aims to put an end to waste and make resources part of a closed system.
The human civilization and the environment are presently at the helm of mounting plastic pollution. The growing trend of consumerism has fostered throwaway culture. People consume all they can and if they do not require them anymore, there is no hesitation to dump it- ignorant of the massive repercussions of their actions to the environment. To tackle this problem, circular economy can emerge as a relevant solution. Businesses and manufacturers need to revise their business model and make it more sustainable by planning the entire life cycle of their products so that it does not end up in landfills as waste.
Recycler Saathi, an initiation of CREASION is a good addition to the increasing culture of circularity in Nepal. The ongoing project aims to refrain PET plastic bottles from ending up in landfill as waste by forming a legal channel for their export. The PET bottles are collected, baled, reduced to flakes and then legally exported to India for repurposing. While the environmental benefit is the primary highlight of the initiative, the economic and social impact is equally noteworthy. Since the PET bottles are legally exported, revenue generation is higher which eventually increases the living standard of waste workers, our Recycler Saathis.
In this way, resources after use are not labelled as waste but rather attain a second life and shuffle along the same system. This cuts the production cost of new PET bottles provides better and enhanced employment opportunities for more people and also cuts off unnecessary costs and hassle of managing waste that does not belong to the landfill. The recycling of PET bottles in this way is a win-win for circular economy since it contributes to improving the overall efficiency of the entire socio-economic and environmental system.
While initiatives like Recycler Saathi contribute a great deal in the institutionalising circular economy- which is the need of the hour- the baton must also be carried by manufacturers and ensure the supply chain of products inclines to the principle of the circular economy. Similarly, consumers also play an important part in taking responsibility of their actions and being mindful of their patterns of consumption. In this way, ensuring the system adheres to circular economy requires the effort of not just one party but a joint collaboration of various parties involved- be it consumers, producers or third party organizations.
Hence, in the wake of increasing environmental problems, growing population, and skyrocketing industrialization it is crucial to consider and modify how we approach our everyday activities. Transitioning to a circular economy can prevent our failing economic and environmental state from collapsing and contribute to the world’s vision of sustainable development.