Circular economy to boost 2030 agenda for sustainable development

Tsinghua University Press

Circular economy is a brilliant concept that has found its way not only in elevating various aspects of our lives but also in solidifying future plans and goals for a sustainable society. In that sense, it also has high potential in achieving United Nations 2030 agenda for sustainable development goals (SDGs) that was adopted in 2015 with the motive of “transforming our world”. It has been recognized composedly by the local and the national governments alike, as well as by mainstream private sectors that aim to achieve the UN agenda for SDGs.

A paper describing circular economy as a vital enabler for the sustainable use of resources for achieving the UN agenda for SDGs appeared in the journal Circular Economy on June 17, 2022 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cec.2022.100001). In this article, Khajuria and co-authors focused on the promotion of circular economy arguing its significance in attaining SDGs under the United Nations agenda that aims on shifting the world onto a sustainable and resilient development path leaving no one behind. The authors review some distinctive case studies concerning the promotion of circular economy and their implementation aimed toward the SDGs and discuss some key points on the current standing and possible future directions in diverse scenarios.

In order to meet sustainable development goals, circular economy (with a “made-to-be-made-again” policy) represents a fundamental alternative to the linear economic model (with a “take-make-consume-dispose” policy) that is restorative to maintain the utility of products, components, and materials, and to retain their values. The main challenge is to minimize the need for new inputs of material and energy while reducing the environmental pressure linked to resource extraction, emissions, and waste. The circular economy model offers a new chance for innovation and integration among natural ecosystems, businesses model, public-private-partnership, our daily lives, society, and waste management. The image above shows a comparison between linear and circular economy models. As the name suggests, the resource goes through a take-make-consume-dispose sequence linearly to finally produce a larger amount of waste material in a linear economy. On the other hand, in circular economy, the resource cycles through the production loop with lesser waste as well as some useful biproducts, which is well in tune with the aspirations of many SDGs.

This article discusses several innovative circular economy solutions to waste including specific 3Rs policies and practices in some fast-developing countries including Bangladesh, China, Guyana, Thailand, and the Philippines. It compiles and discusses several distinctive ideas and visions considered during a special session held at the 16th International Conference on Waste Management and Technology, where several policymakers, engineers, researchers, and experts in the field of waste management from around the world exchanged opinions and shared knowledge on critical solutions and pathways to achieve multiple SDGs. The lead author, Anupam Khajuria, a researcher at the United Nations Centre for Regional Development, Japan, underlines – “3R has a central role in enhancing resource efficiency and creating a circular economy that enables society to maximize the economic return on limited resources”. The circular economy goes beyond recycling and is based on a restorative industrial system focused to treat waste as a resource. The implementation of a circular economy is specifically based on both resource efficiency and eco-efficiency, and it helps to move toward a green and sustainable economy. Khajuria explains that business models based on circular economy represent the decoupling of economic growth from resource consumption that boosts economic growth and product lifetime through repair, reuse, and ultimately recycling. “The unsustainable use of resources generates vast amounts of waste that may lead to serious environmental consequences including extreme climate changes”, articulates Khajuria. Managing waste in the most efficient and environment-friendly manner is therefore of great importance for the future. Khajuria further adds – “Technological innovations grounded on circular economy approach have been proven to be highly efficient for reducing the amount of final waste, for decreasing the use of virgin natural resources, as well as for increasing production efficiency that leads to a quality life concerning environmental health, right in tune with the UN agenda for SDGs”. According to Khajuria, the transition of sustainable waste management to circular economy utilizes the potential of waste by increasing recycling and reuse of waste material and aims to have a climate-neutral waste activity that helps to improve its economic balance.

It is evident that circular economy provides new opportunities and has positive effects on the UN SDGs, particularly, SDG 12 relates to responsible consumption and production. The circular economy offers a solution to address the issue of waste management in developing countries that can lead to maximizing the designed solution of the product as well as alleviate several issues such as poverty, hunger, and gender and social inequality. This also means that circular economy model can add various opportunities for a sustainable economy such as creating new jobs, green public procurement, technology transfer of frontier technology including the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and artificial intelligence (AI), and implementation of digital and transferable knowledge.

“Since circular economy approach is based on recycling and reusing the waste material in a circular manner by extracting maximum benefits from the natural resources, it saves the environment from excessive toxic waste and from unnecessary resource extraction, and at the same time, increases the end product. However, despite several potential environmental and economic benefits of circular economy concept, the current pace of transformation is not adequate, and more efficient strategic approaches are necessary to accelerate this process”, explains Prabhat Verma, a co-author and a professor at Osaka University, Japan.

This article also debates that there are a number of circular economy options, including Nature-based Solutions (NbS) that can facilitate the transition to a circular economy and support the sustainable management of the environment, with a reduced carbon footprint. NbS offer opportunities to evaluate present growth trajectories holistically to balance and regenerate the embedded natural and human capital. The circular economy approach provides the necessary framework and conditions that could be leveraged to attract investments for NbS. Finally, it recognizes that various stakeholders, including governments, research institutes, and private enterprises are promoting and accelerating circular economy waste management solutions that require innovative technologies and management methods. Active collaboration of various stakeholders with their respective expertise would certainly bring in some phenomenon changes in the current situation and will accelerate the transition towards circular economy to meet the UN 2030 agenda for SDGs.

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