Developing countries are at the forefront of the climate crisis, putting the loss and damage due to irreversible economic and non-economic costs at the top of the agenda for COP27. Waste management, however, which has a significant impact on the environment, didn’t receive the spot light in COP27, even though the world would benefit by mitigating 20% of its green house gas emissions by just improving waste management practices. Why is waste not featuring in the top agenda? Why are climate conversations mainly centred around Energy and Transport Industries, questions posed by many attendees of COP27. Should we not minimise waste and our reliance on virgin material?
We are using natural resources at an alarming rate. Not only are we burning fossil fuels and creating CO2 far faster than the climate can take but we are also depleting the Earth’s resources unsustainably, with all the negative impacts to the biosphere that come with resource extraction. But recognising there is only one Earth with finite resources has led many policymakers to understand we must move to what has become known as the circular economy.
Tonnes of waste makes its way to the landfill, and waste generation has only increased in the recent years with no sign of it slowing down. A World Bank Report has highlighted that the global waste production is very likely to increase by 70% following increases in population and the continuing mismanagement of waste. Underdeveloped waste management infrastructure across the world continues to pollute the biosphere and can exacerbate the climate change crisis even further, contributing towards greenhouse gas emissions.
The Earth Overshoot Day falls earlier, year on year, and is a good indication of our demands on nature exceeding what our ecosystems can provide for and what can be replenished by the biosphere. At such an alarming rate, we would require two planets by 2030 to cater to our consumption pattern and absorb our waste! Unfortunately there is only one earth and it has finite resources.
It’s against this backdrop, countries are gradually moving towards a circular economy, a systematic approach to economic development, in order to capture value from the waste rather than turning it into an environmental burden. The model being global in its intent, is often local in its implementation, creating new livelihoods. Nearly 41 countries have a national circular economy policy. For example, the European Green Deal (EGD) is the EUs attempt to counter climate change and environmental degradation by calling for just such a circular economy that increases recycling and reduces waste; preventing biodiversity loss and deforestation; overhauling agriculture and electrifying transport.
But even with a compelling framework with the above outlined benefits, we have experienced a relatively low uptake of circular economy policies. The Circularity Gap Report 2019 highlighted that only 9% of the global economy is circular. Availability of infrastructure, lack of regulations and a clear business plan are some of the reasons for a lower adoption rate.
With the topic of sustainability gradually making its way into boardrooms, a few sectors such as Automobile, have started to embrace the concept of a ‘Circular Economy’. Car makers such as Renault, Fiat and others are setting up Gigafactories to navigate their way around recycled waste and make better use of resources. It’s well understood that a circular economy is of paramount importance to achieve net zero, and the commitments have led the Automobile Industry to set ambitious targets of about 20-30% recycled material in their product mix. The move away from the linear approach to manufacturing would reduce our reliance on virgin material. The increasing awareness of the environmental problem of continued resource extraction has led to a call on Governments to move from the linear approach of ‘Take-Make-Waste’ to a ‘Circular Economy’. The evolving concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation, a strategy to pass the responsibility to the producers to promote and increase the use of product recovery and minimise environmental impact, is a pivotal step to move away from a linear approach. But can legislation alone make the shift from a linear to a circular economy?
Back home in India, we framed EPR legislation on plastic waste and e-waste, and extended it to include End of Life Tyres (ELT). The ELT legislation in the country, is still at a very nascent stage, and expects tyre producers to comply by acquiring EPR certifications from authorised recyclers. While on one hand, there is a challenge to identify the certified vendors to recycle, and on the other hand there is a gargantuan task of actually using the recycled material. In the Tyre industry a significant percentage of tyres are recycled, however the ELT market is still lagging behind to ensure 100% recyclability.
Legislation can trigger public awareness as well as supporting the process to move away from a linear economy, however, in a circular economy, reverse logistics play a pivotal role. The end-users and customers play key role here. The public needs to be as participative as industry to bend the linear supply chains to circular ones. The lack of visibility of a circular economy approach to resource use is reflective of the enormous amount of missing actions and mitigation steps needed to fully address Climate Change. As individual and collectively we need a major mindset shift!
Rinika Grover, Head Sustainability & CSR, Apollo Tyres