A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (i.e. make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life. This sort of approach aims to redefine growth and focus on positive society-wide benefits. A circular economy is about fostering the development of new ideas, technologies and practices around resource efficiency.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is one of the main charities taking the lead in accelerating the global transition to a circular economy. This organization works with businesses, governments and academia to build a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design. You may ask yourself, why is this so important, what does it have to do the food and beverage industry, and how does it benefit your business? Trinidad and Tobago’s largest manufacturing sector outside of oil & gas is the food and beverage sector and as a result, these companies consume vast amounts of resources to produce these products in order to meet demand and increase sales. If we were to measure how energy efficient and how much waste is produced in pursuit of food and beverage products manufactured in Trinidad and Tobago, we will definitely identify many ways in which our local companies can improve their carbon footprint, reduce their cost of production and minimize waste.
A diary cooperative company from Poland, named Wloszczowa was able to make upgrades to their boiler room which translated into many benefits for the company, which included a reduction in production and energy costs, increased capacity of the plant, a decrease in operational downtime and access to more power from their newly installed boiler room infrastructure. All these improvements were made without disrupting the company’s production schedule. The initial cost of the upgrade was high but there are ways to spread the cost over time. Organizations such as Veolia from France, the global leaders in optimized resource management took the lead in engineering this change for the company and was able to offer them payment options.
Studies from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation show on average, a citizen in an OECD country buys 800 kg of food and beverages, 120 kg of packaging and 20 kg of new clothing and shoes every year. These goods are not returned, for the most part, for any further economic use. So you could imagine in the year 2030, when the market grows to approx.3 billion additional consumers, the volume of waste we’d produce would be devastating to the environment and the overall availability of resources would be extremely limited if we continue with this linear approach. The degree to which the circular economy is something new is a matter of debate. Even before environmental concerns became the defining issues, resource efficiency was always crucial to companies. However, the concept of the circular economy is becoming an increasingly critical frame of reference for both companies and governments.
In order to transition to a circular economy across all industries in T&T, we must not only adjust initiatives aimed at reducing the negative impacts of the linear economy but rather work towards a systemic shift that builds long term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.
While we are in some instances trying to promote recycling in Trinidad and Tobago (i.e. PlastiKeep, Ace recycling, SWMCOL, etc.), we as a nation still have an attitude of a “once through” process. Raw materials are extracted, processed, turned into products which are then dumped at the end of their lifespan. Companies must see that they can save a lot of money in a circular economy. Ecofriendly product design, innovations and reuse of materials in production can make significant savings for manufacturers that adopt this approach. Energy efficiency will reduce your power bill and new opportunities will arise as a result of reusing waste water, Co2 and other residual waste.
Although businesses often take the linear direction, there are a large number of companies which are trying to renew, recycle and reuse existing materials or waste in production. For example, Kaufland which is the world’s fourth largest retailer looks into how to best recover and reuse waste heat from refrigeration equipment in their new facilities. Today they use it for heating and for air handling and air-conditioning systems.
Let us try to use our natural resources more efficiently, and let us create job opportunities for innovators. The application of the principles of circular economy can ensure long-term growth to our companies in Trinidad and Tobago. These principles can be implemented in all industries no matter if we produce steel, oil and gas, build houses, manage clients’ bank accounts, or sell food,
drinks or electricity.
Here are a few inspiring examples. Dell as a major manufacturer of electronics started reinforcing shipping boxes for servers with materials made from mushrooms. The quality of this packaging is not only comparable to that of commonly used plastics, but it is biodegradable, you can even use it as compost in your garden. Adidas, on the other hand, cooperates with the Parley for the Ocean organization and helps eliminate dangerous plastics from our water resources by producing sneakers from oceanic waste.
How to apply the principles of circular economy in your company?
1. Treat waste as raw material.
2. Use energy from renewable resources and optimize its use.
3. Design products so that harmless materials can be recycled in production.
4. Design products as material banks.
5. A product should be of benefit both to people and the environment.
Did you know that making the font in your reports or projects smaller can help save large areas of forest? Each material can be given a second chance. Another popular example is H&M, they makes new clothes from old clothes collected from customers.
Today developed economies use annually between three and four times the amount of resources that are sustainable in the long term. Businesses have to be at the heart of the transition to a materially sustainable economy, using cleverness, pace and force for innovation.
The opportunity for businesses is growth and sustainable leadership. The alternative is higher prices as raw materials become scarce, increased regulation as governments require companies to take back products at the end of their life cycle, and increased irrelevance as the global economy embraces new business models and new ways of working. None of this is easy. Most businesses are highly efficient in single use processes but we have to reflect on the bigger picture and set an example for the rest of the Caribbean.
We must think differently in order to protect the environment and manage our consumption of natural resources.