…As REVOLVE Circular Shifts Focus
Story: Mohammed Abu,ADM,Accra
Sören Bauer, President of Austrian non-profit REVOLVE Circular, says even though currently there may not be anything such as a global Master Plan or Strategic Action Plan for a global Circular economy, nonetheless, the popularity of the paradigm is gaining attention.
According to the most recent Circularity Gap Reports by the Dutch group Circle Economy, the world is less than ten percent circular as consumption and production continue to increase the pressure on planet earth’s limited resources. In other words: the world economy is still more than ninety percent linear which, according to Sören Bauer, is unacceptable and needs to change rapidly and in a systemic manner.
He notes, the necessity to preserve natural resources in a resource-constrained world, and the dependence of industrialized economies on certain raw materials even called “critical raw materials”; these are amongst the main reasons leading more and more governments to develop national circular economy strategies often referred to as “roadmaps”.
In Africa he said, the paradigm is led by two groups: the African Circular Economy Alliance ACEA initiated by African governments, and the African Circular Economy Network ACEN led by entrepreneurs in over 30 African countries.
ACEA was founded by the governments of South Africa, Rwanda and Nigeria in 2017, who are looking into how African nations can develop their respective circular economy roadmaps. In 2018, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire formally joined the ACEA, and other countries such as Niger, Senegal, Malawi, Cameroon, and the DRC have expressed interest.
Such national circular economy roadmaps, he observed, need to be based on the assessment of the national economy and industries to identify where exactly, how exactly and in which industries exactly circular policies and practices make sense and the potentially biggest impact, since each economy is different.
“Having said that, circularity makes a lot of sense also across national borders because the waste of one nation may easily become a resource for the industries of a neighboring country, and ‘circular regions’ need to collaborate on cascading waste hierarchies and other approaches to ensure waste becomes a resource and facilitates collaboration, rather than competition.”
Mr. Bauer was speaking on the sidelines in an exclusive e-interview with “African Development” (ADM) during a recent online Press Conference hosted by his organization advocating for Circular economy and the African Press Organization APO, prior to the global launch of the survey initiative #ImagineCircularity at Home – Imagine Circularity (imagine-circularity.world)
This survey aims to engage one million respondents around the globe to gather their views and perceptions of a more circular economy; it exposes each respondent to the basics of circularity and thus educated participants while at the same time gaining data about each respondent’s preferences and priorities. “This survey is not about knowledge or expertise – there are no right or wrong answers. It is about how people imagine a circular economy, and what their gut feeling is when answering the questions”, explains Sören Bauer.
On what at all is circularity, he notes it is as an increasingly popular, but still new, paradigm which demands that, the generation of any kind of waste can and should be avoided by addressing it at the very beginning: how do you design products in a way that their lifetime is as long as possible and in a way that they have more than one lifecycle? This is usually referred to as ‘circular design” and product designers are increasingly using the approach. Increasing resource efficiency is a further key component of circularity: how do create more with less, and how do you avoid wasting resources? Circular economy proponents also call upon producers and product designers to start refusing certain resources such as toxic ingredients in a given product and replacing them by other, non-toxic, components.
“Let’s just recognize that we all live in a predominantly “linear” world economy characterized by what is referred to as ‘take-make-(use)-waste-lose’ or the ‘throw-away society’. And there is indeed some ‘rivalry’ because circularity requires a different way of dealing with resources, different tax regimes and very different regulations allowing for waste to become a resource. So-called EPR schemes, an acronym for Extended Producer Responsibility, also aim to make producers more accountable for the waste they are generating the burden of which is currently borne by the taxpayer. Industry lobbies will certainly oppose such systemic changes, but they are unavoidable; those days when we could just dump everything in the landfill or burn it, and think we can get away with it, are over”, says Sören Bauer.
“ When you explore these questions you learn about “secondary raw materials” for which, in many countries, there is no legislation. ‘Waste’ in one country is also not the same as waste in other countries, legally speaking.
“The rivalry – and biggest barriers to circularity – therefore come from outdated legal and regulatory frameworks which were designed to satisfy and drive a linear economic model – they e.g. push recyclers to eliminate waste, even using illegal methods, instead of incentivizing them to preserve the value of objects and materials.
“ Politics continue to support the linear economy, despite increasing environmental impairment – they have a lot of work to do to fulfil their commitments. Having said that, circularity also provides a clear opportunity for entrepreneurs to rethink their business models: can my waste be the resource for another industry? Can I extend the life cycle of my products by offering higher quality and extend my business model by offering to repair high quality products with a long life cycle? And even create more jobs due to an investment into repurposing, repairing, remanufacturing, recycling and other circular practices all of which have a positive impact on resource management – and result in new job opportunities.
“These are questions which entrepreneurs should ask themselves as circularity invites them to rethink, as one of the key ‘action imperatives’ of the circular economy”.
On what is the estimated time frame for the anticipated socio-economic impact of circularity going to be felt , he explained that there is a lot of scientific evidence that circular practices and principles can make a huge impact and enormous contribution to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals SDGs.
“We find that the best analytical work here is done by colleagues at The Chatham House but also, increasingly, the African Circular Economy Alliance hosted by the AfDB”.
At REVOLVE Circular he said, they keep reminding governments around the world that they already committed to achieving the SDGs by 2030 and that they need to embrace circularity much more in order to consider its practical potential for achieving the SDGs.
In the circular economy community, he noted, there is a lot of talk and reference to 2050 which is probably an appropriate time for the systemic change that is needed.
“As a non-profit we do however stick to 2030 to remind all involved stakeholders to focus on what they already committed to in 2015, what they can do now and by 2030 rather than developing great plans and promises which they might not be able to deliver and implement by 2050. Who will hold them accountable anyway? The policy-makers and corporate leaders in charge today have either retired or passed away by 2050 – they should focus on 2030.”
A Presss Release issued on the 14th April by REVOLVE Circular indicated together with the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at the Utrecht University launched #ImagineCircularity with the catch phrase ”the circular transformation will not be live-streamed” as a reference to the late Gil Scott-Heron who released “The revolution will not be televised” in April 1971.
Systemic change, the release noted, in terms of the way we produce, consume and treat the environment needs to happen live – in our brains, corporate board rooms, and parliaments. In order to better understand how people around the globe perceive a transformation from a linear take-make-waste economy to a circular refuse-reduce-rethink society, the survey aims to gather people’s perception around the globe.
The circular economy, it said, is still a relatively new paradigm which different stakeholders understand, apply and promote in a different manner.
Some, the release further noted, also criticise the concept for focusing narrowly on resource challenges and resource efficiency while neglecting environmental and societal concerns.
‘Imagine Circularity’ will seek to understand how consumers, producers and product designers perceive the circular economy adding,” findings shall feed into policy-making processes, influence corporate decision-making, and help change consumption patterns globally”.