At its core, a circular economy is about use and re-use, so that the percentage of actual wastage drops drastically. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The term ‘circular economy’ has become something of a buzzword. What does it mean, exactly?

Definitions vary between context and countries, but in broad terms it’s all about the need to re-use, re-cycle and re-purpose resources and commodities as much as possible in a bid for improved sustainability. I have declared many times that I want my current job to be obsolete by 2050. And I mean it.

My mission is to create a thriving cosmos where nothing is in excess and everything is useful. If you think that sounds like a tall order, then you would be absolutely right. I never said it was going to be easy, but there’s no doubt that we have no alternative.

Transitioning to a circular economy will require concerted effort from national and local governments, the private sector and the general public. This will be a vast, multi-disciplinary global project that requires coordinated policy making and reform, and action from an array of stakeholders.

We will not only need to develop new business models and concepts, but we will need to educate as many people as we can to effect the radical shifts in citizens’ attitudes and consumers’ behaviour required to achieve a truly circular economy. To look at how we get there, let’s look at how we consume resources today.

We follow a degenerative linear model that sees us take, make, use and dispose. Currently, this economic framework see minerals, metals, biomass and hydrocarbons extracted from the earth, manufactured into products, used or consumed by consumers and eventually disposed of.

Read More

Use and repeat

It’s obvious that this model can’t be sustained and there are finite resources for us to exploit. Ideally, we need to transition to a model where natural resources are not “used up”, but used again and again. Some countries in the Middle East are being proactive when it comes to adopting this model and sustainable economic practices. Take the UAE. The country has produced its own Circular Economy Policy 2021 framework.

Setting out the need for “waste and pollution to be ‘designed out’ of the current economic system and for the system to actively strive to improve the environment,” the policy has identified four priority sectors for immediate action.

While the UAE is keen for all sectors to adopt these principles, sustainable manufacturing, green infrastructure, green transportation and sustainable food production and consumption were selected based on their current role in the national economy and on their potential for stimulating and developing a UAE circular economy.

How does this work in the real world? Let’s look at the UAE’s manufacturing sector. The UAE is aiming for imported and locally produced items that are more efficiently designed, manufactured, repaired, reused, remanufactured and recycled.

Material and resource use and pollution is therefore minimised and valuable materials and resources are kept in use and not lost or wasted to landfill. Saudi Arabia has also realised that change is needed. It created its Vision 2030 plan in 2016, establishing a strategic framework for future growth.

Frameworks in place

The policy’s aim is to reduce fossil fuel dependence and diversify economically across sectors, improve competitiveness and strengthen the private sector while creating jobs. It also contained provisions for creating a Carbon Circular Economy, through recycling carbon by-products – a pragmatic way of addressing CO2 emissions, but by no means a comprehensive long-term solution.

Food production and recycling, waste management, plastics use and myriad other challenges will need to be confronted head on across the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia along with other governments are still figuring out the most effective ways to reduce consumption and promote re-cycling and re-use.

While policy adoption is important, a major success driver will be public education. Getting people to pro-actively change their behaviour is everything.

Amplify the message

Fortunately, the region’s demographics favour this, with many countries home to young populations that are active online. The digital reality acts as message amplifiers, with consumers then taking up the charge in demanding more sustainable practices from brands and governments alike. Like all successful grassroots movements, the desire for change will be driven from the bottom up.

There is a pressing need to sustain, reuse, recycle and upcycle with a goal to make our world a viable place to live in now and in the future. To achieve this, a voluntary, holistic, inclusive and integrated approach to all aspects of sustainability is required on a global scale.

If we are to fulfil our mission of helping to shape environmental consciousness and, of course, to render my current job obsolete, we need each and every one of you to be the cheerleaders and practitioners.