Beyond recycling, towards “zero waste” and the “circular economy” – Shri. V.P. NANDAKUMAR
Today’s linear ‘take, make, dispose’ industrial processes are dependent on cheap and easily accessible raw materials and energy to create products that end eventually up in landfills or incinerators. It is a model that has delivered unprecedented growth beginning with the industrial revolution but is now approaching its physical limits as seen in the increasing price volatility, commodity risks in supply chains, and growing pressures on our finite resources. It is said that at our current rate of growth and levels of resource utilisation, we will need three planets’ worth of resources by 2050. Clearly, this is not going to happen.
A viable alternative that businesses have started exploring these days is the Circular Economy which is “a model that decouples economic growth from resource constraints” by reducing reliance on virgin materials. Instead, the goal is to keep materials functioning at their highest utility at all time, preventing would-be waste from reaching landfills. Precious resources are shepherded through the value chain and returned as inputs to new, refurbished or recycled products. The objective is to delink global economic development from consumption of finite resources. Walter R. Stahel, an architect, economist, and a founding father of industrial sustainability coined the expression “Cradle to Cradle” (to contrast with “Cradle to Grave”) that sums up the idea rather neatly.
Embracing the circular economy, then, is all about rethinking and re-strategizing the waste management process. Instead of treating waste as a by-product of industry, it encourages businesses to think of waste as a resource stream. By converting the waste stream into a reusable resource stream, it reduces environmental impact. However, implementing a circular economy system is a process that needs to start at the very beginning of developing waste management systems. Business are encouraged to identify the materials and processes that could play a pivotal role in building circular economy, where the output of one business results in input for some other business.
Inspired by nature, a circular economy aspires not merely to limit waste but to eliminate the very idea of waste: Everything at the end of its lifecycle should be made into something else, just as in the natural world the waste generated by one species is food for another species.
Finally, the concepts of 3 R’s, zero waste, and the circular economy, are all part of the same vision of more sustainable growth for a healthy, prosperous planet. The common objective is to eliminate waste and optimise the use of our natural resources for the sake of humanity and its future generations. That is a worthy objective indeed.
Shri. V.P. NANDAKUMAR
MD & CEO of Manappuram Finance Ltd.
Chairman of the Kerala State Council of the CII.)
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