Think about the last item you threw away. Did you consider where that product ended up, once you threw it away?
The Earth’s growing waste problem can be traced back to a culture that treats virtually every item we buy and own as disposable. Rapid urbanisation, population growth, and industrialisation are major contributors for the burgeoning volumes of waste that humans are producing each year.
But what if there was away to get around that?
Introducing the Circular Economy
Today’s post from BlackRock highlights the key benefits of adopting a circular economy, and examines the factors that will make the biggest impact in the years to come.
A Culture of Consumption
Mass production is making products cheaper, more readily available, and more readily disposable, bringing levels of material comfort unimaginable to previous generations.
Companies are making new products at a frenetic pace to keep up with global demand─consuming finite resources as if the Earth had an infinite supply.
The intense effects of this mass consumption are visible across multiple industries:
- Construction: Construction waste alone is expected to reach 2.2 billion tonnes annually by 2025.
- Fast Fashion: Roughly 87% of clothing is discarded or burned each year, costing US$100 billion.
- Plastics: Over 95% of plastic packaging value is wasted every year, costing up to US$120 billion.
As natural resources decline and waste continues to pile up, our society is at a crossroads.
A Tale of Two Economies
Today, most of the world follows the Take-Make-Waste practices of the linear economy, with little regard for future use of these resources and products. Unfortunately, most of this ends up in landfills─by 2050, we could be producing 3.4 billion tonnes of waste each year.
The circular economy, by contrast, is focused on redesigning our systems, processes, and products to enable goods to be used longer, repurposed, or recycled more efficiently.
The circular economy is a major transformational force that will last decades…investors are increasingly considering sustainability factors when making investment decisions.
Companies and governments that choose to adopt a circular economic model could end up saving €600 billion (US$663 billion) annually─and potentially add €1.8 trillion (US$2 trillion) in additional benefits to Europe’s overall economy.
Designing a Better Future
Three major factors are driving the gradual, global shift to a circular economy.
- EconomicCompanies will need to switch from wasteful to sustainable practices, and many are taking steps towards a better future. The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment was signed in 2018 by over 400 organisations to eliminate plastic waste and pollution.
- RegulatoryRegulations such as bans on single-use plastics and international waste imports are growing more stringent, and some governments are also offering tax incentives for corporations that follow sustainable practices.
- SocietyMore consumers are actively researching and questioning the impacts of the products they buy, and consumer demand is showing a preference for reusable products and practices.
While few public companies today are actively using a circular economy, several major brands are leading the way in sustainable business practices.
- Philips: Light-as-a-service that provides access to lighting rather than ownership of lightbulbs
- Levi Strauss: Repurposing old garments into building insulation, upholstery, and new clothing
- Toshiba: First multi-function printer, heat-sensitive erasable toner can do up to five reprints per page
- Renault: Revamped old vehicle drive trains, engines, and gearboxes to almost-new condition
Companies and governments in the circular economy have a structural advantage to solve some of the world’s biggest economic issues ─ giving them a strong, long-term market for goods and services, the potential to lower costs, and open profitable new business streams.
Lasting Impact on People, Planet, and Profit
In order for the circular economic model to achieve widespread adoption, both sustainable investment and partnerships across sectors are needed.
This rally for change is making an impact on financial markets─sustainable investments around the world grew from US$13.3 trillion in 2012 to US$30.7 trillion in 2018.
Healthy economies rely on a healthy environment, and building a circular economy is integral to the future health of our economy, planet, and society.