Washington (GGM) Analysis | October 21, 2019
by Noreen Wise
LIGHTBULB! The solution to the climate crisis is for the global economy to shift from a linear economy to a circular. For the past 250 years — ever since the Industrial Revolution began in 1760 — the world has been operating under a linear economy of take-make-waste. Under this paradigm, we take natural resources, make a lot of products and then dispose of the waste. Typically, disposing of the waste nets a negative impact on the environment as well as our health.
The linear cycle is often very inefficient, destroying far more natural resources than necessary, and leaving behind dangerous toxins everywhere. Corporations often build inefficiency into their business plan intentionally in order to increase revenue. For example, if a company manufactures a cheap product (let’s say a refrigerator) and it breaks easily, the consumer will have to buy a new one faster. Corporations are incentivized to produce a flimsy refrigerator. They make more money being inefficient. However, there are negative consequences for the global community with this business plan: increased carbon emissions, poisoning of the environment and the fueling of climate change.
The circular economy model is built on the concept of reduce-reuse-recycle . In a circular economy the manufacturer will produce a very high quality refrigerator that will last a very long time. They’ll make money servicing the hardy refrigerator for the consumer. In creating a higher quality product, the company reduces the number of refrigerators it manufactures which results in a whole series of advantages from natural resources, to the environment, and to the public.
“The circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital.” Again, these are all positives. Breaking down every piece of the economic puzzle so that we can move toward a circular economy to save our civilization, is quite tedious, but must be done. There are layers of issues that need to be analyzed. The product itself, and all its parts, as well as the packaging. The reuse and recycle aspects of the product, the parts and the packaging have variations depending on purity, and other fine details. Take for example glass.
Glass packaging is truly amazing. It can be recycled forever. It will never lose its purity on its own, only when accidentally mixed with cardboard or paper, etc. To keep glass from becoming impure, the new philosophy is to create large community recycle bins where townspeople can drop their glass off for recycling once a week. Northern Virginia is piloting this test program. Curbside pickup of glass has been cancelled in Norther Virginia. Large collection bins have been delivered in key locations around town. We’ll now wait and see the benefits of this minor change in the way glass is recycled, so it can then be rolled out in every community in the United States.
There will be business winners and losers, of course. Fossil fuels and plastics will each be phased out. These industries have benefitted from the linear model for many decades, but will eventually be eliminated by the circular. There’s already pushback, but the transition from linear to circular is inevitable. It’s the only way our civilization can survive.
Plastic packaging MUST be replaced with glass and aluminum, as well as other easy to recycle natural alternatives, or reused as the material to create new products. In nations with large leaves on most trees, the leaves have been harvested for packaging. Recycled paper is also being converted for packaging. There will be many innovations on this front in the upcoming months and years. Keep your eyes wide open as new solutions debut one after the other. For example, straw make-overs have been so much fun to watch. Aluminum straws, paper, and just this week there was a fabulous article about pasta straws being a fab sensation.
You know that any article dealing with the economy is only scratching the surface. Economics is not only a college course, but a college major. The subject is massive, especially when you factor in the global layers. So, one step at a time. In the transition from linear to circular, the EU is leading the way in the West. It’s been transitioning for over seven years now. China is aggressively converting as well. China is the world leader in nailing “reduction” through manufacturing the most long-lasting building materials: aluminum, steel, and cement.
America hasn’t yet begun to rush. Only 16% of US companies are currently using circular principles, however a total of 62% responded positively to a February 2019 survey stating they plan to transition. Investment Funds have begun moving the needle by rewarding corporations that are a match for the circular economy goals and creating a special fund, “BGF Circular Economy” Fund.
We citizens can do our part by recycling religiously, composting daily, purchasing products packaged in glass, eliminating plastic, planting trees and gardens, the list is endless. Begin today, and again proceed one step at a time. We can save our children’s future, and alleviate their daily stress. LET’S GO!
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