When it comes to sustainability, experts agree that circularity is key. We need to enact a closed-loop system in order to make the most of both renewable and non-renewable resources so that we can reduce waste and use materials to their highest extent. Waste management is a key piece of this.
A circular economy is impossible without circular waste management systems. Essentially, waste management is where we close the loop; we must reuse and recycle as much waste as we can so that it can re-enter the economy rather than sitting in a landfill or littering the environment. A circular economy depends upon using materials to their most efficient extent, and waste management is the last step in that process.
But, what are the benefits of a circular waste management system, and are they worth the effort of a transition to a circular economy system? Let’s discuss.
Perhaps obviously, there are multiple environmental benefits to enacting a circular waste management system.
When resources are being reused, there’s less of a need for virgin materials. This is especially important when considering non-renewable resources. These types of resources are finite, and circularity helps us to slow down our use of these precious materials.
Beyond this, circularity results in less waste. In fact, the ultimate goal of circularity is zero waste. This is achieved by using all materials to their fullest extent. Materials will be reused or recycled as much as they can be, and materials that can no longer be recycled are converted into energy sources. In a true circular economy, there is no longer a need for landfills or other areas where waste is left to rot. Instead, it’s used to its highest extent.
Circularity also helps to reduce emissions. Under a circular system, countries will need to import fewer materials since more resources are being kept within the economy, lessening the need for transport.
When waste is managed in a circular manner, countries are able to neutralize the amount of waste that they produce. In this way, waste is no longer a problem that’s poisoning our Earth but rather a valuable resource that allows communities and countries to enjoy sustainable living while saving money, preserving resources, and creating new jobs and industries.
Economic benefits to circular waste management
The United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as, “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Under that definition, sustainability practices must also promote economic growth and ensure that those who come after us can enjoy a good quality of life. The good news is that circular waste management isn’t just good for the environment, but it also comes with many economic benefits.
A circular waste management system has the potential to create new jobs and industries. In fact, the opportunities from this type of system have an estimated commercial value of up to $4.5 trillion in Australia alone. This type of system requires sorting, recycling centers, and innovative use of materials, all of which provide a plethora opportunities for workers and business owners.
More efficient use of resources also allows countries and communities to keep materials within their own economies. This is especially important for regions that have few resources of their own. With a circular system, they are able to reuse and recycle their own materials, diminishing their reliance upon other countries and entities to provide those resources.
From a business perspective, circularity has its own benefits. Consumers today want to see sustainable practices from the businesses that they support. If your company shows a circular waste management system and that you are headed toward a zero-waste system, they may be more likely to support your company over your competition.
How to implement circularity within waste management systems
The key to circularity is the three R’s of sustainability: reduce, reuse, recycle.
Per the waste hierarchy, ideally, we would be working toward avoiding waste at all costs (which falls under the reduce part of the three R’s). However, we already know that some production of materials is needed in order to maintain a healthy economy. Circularity comes in when we begin reusing and recycling these materials as much as we can.
In order to enact circularity, it must be up to governments and producers. Individuals do have a role in waste management, but they are not the top producers of waste. In fact, in 2014, only 8.3% of the total waste produced in the EU came from households. This shows that, although circularity should be a universal goal, the key players are law makers and producers.
According to EPR (extended producer responsibility), producers should be given responsibility for nearly all waste management. Under this type of policy, something that the EU is very serious about implementing, businesses will be either financially or physically responsible for the sustainable management of waste. This means that producers need to make changes now in order to prepare for EPR policies that will require them to pursue more circular waste management systems.
The first steps to circularity are to decrease use of landfills in favor of reusing materials, recycling materials, or converting materials into energy if they have already been used to their utmost extent. We must keep in mind all aspects of waste creation, from the extraction of materials (whether through mining, harvesting, etc.), to production of products and final materials use. While your company transitions to a circular business model, it can also invest in credit systems, like TONTOTON’s plastic credit system, which allows them to reach waste neutrality now while taking steps to reach circularity on their own.
How TONTOTON promotes circularity within Vietnam and Cambodia
Here at TONTOTON, we’re all about circularity. We agree with the experts that the future of sustainability is a circular economy system, and our projects support this type of sustainability.
We collect waste that would normally be ignored because it can’t be recycled—orphan plastic—and convert it into energy and raw materials. This represents a key part of a circular waste management system; once the materials have been used to a point where they cannot be reused or recycled, it can finally be converted into energy. In this way, zero waste is achieved.
All materials, even those that can be reused and recycled, reach an end of life stage where they cannot be used anymore. Instead of throwing these materials into landfills, we make use of them one last time as an energy source. This allows us to close the circle, boasting a circular waste management system.
But, our projects go one step further. We don’t just promote circularity, but we also monetize the process, offering new income opportunities to the members of the communities in which we work. We purchase orphan plastic from waste pickers and households in order to eliminate the waste in a circular manner providing economic support while enacting positive environmental change. It’s a win for all.