From Lines to Circles
(Part 1 of Business, Computing, and the Circular Economy)
One of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals — interconnected goals that we need to achieve by year 2030 — is Responsible Consumption and Production. The rise of the middle class means more buying power. And more demand means more stuff being produced by industries. This results to the compounded increase in waste produced by the industries and the consuming public.
This has affected our society in many ways: pollution on land and water has worsened. To make room for waste disposal, humans have terraformed our landscapes and created mountains of wastes. We’ve began to export our wastes to other places, with 3rd world countries such as the Philippines at the receiving end. Plastic waste has also become a worldwide crisis as microplastics can now be found in our drinking water. Plastics have even been found in the deepest parts of our oceans. Meanwhile, we continue to buy and consume irresponsibly as we continue to make 2 billion tonnes of waste per year — 1.3 billion tonnes of which is food.
On 2012, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation commissioned McKinskey & Company to develop Towards the Circular Economy: Economic and business rationale for an accelerated transition, the first report to talk about the viability of transitioning from a linear to a circular economy. This was when the movement towards circularism really took off.
Linear vs. Circular
The prevailing system, the linear economy, can be summed up as: “take, make, dispose.” Raw materials are extracted from nature, and then manufactured, and sold. And when a product has reached its end-of-life, it is then thrown into waste disposals or are incinerated. This model is characterised as “non-restorative” as high-value, and highly-concentrated resources are continually extracted from nature, processed, and disposed as low-value, low-concentrated ones. A concrete example of this is our current typical food system.
Farmers (or land owners and hacienderos with farmers on their staff) grow fruits and vegetables, which are then purchased in bulk by distributors. These distributors haul the produce into their processing plants wherein they sort out the ugly ones from the good ones. The good produce then get washed and packaged before they are sent, once again to their respective distribution channels such as the markets, groceries, or sari-sari stores. The bad ones, if they’re lucky, get processed to become some other food product; and if not, they get thrown as trash. The good ones that ended in the stores once again undergo scrutiny — now from grocery shoppers who wish to spend their hard-earned money on quality goods; and the ones selected by the consumers get bought, bagged, and taken home to become meals. While the ugly produce that were processed are transformed to dried fruits and vegetables, powders, or as ingredients for other products. This long, linear journey of fruits and vegetables leave behind a ton of carbon footprint due to the numerous processing methods and transportation. It also leaves behind packaging materials like plastic wrappers, aluminium foils, wax papers, and boxes; all of which end up in the landfill.
The circular economy is a mindset change as its intention is for the journey of products to come full circle. Wastes will not end in the landfill, but instead enrich the source from which the raw materials were extracted from. Nothing comes to an “end-of-life” as products get transformed to an enriching substance to help cultivate new life. The circular economy is restorative as it works to keep the economy sustainable by mainting high-value and high-concentration resources intact.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation proposed a new, circular model for food:
They propose for food to be grown locally as much as possible to prevent unnecessary packaging and transport costs and materials. This also greatly limits carbon footprint by shortening the supply chain. By growing locally, produce can also be diversified, leading to more resilient crops. It also encourages citizens themselves to grow their own food as much as they can. Chefs, food manufacturers, and the restaurant industry have a huge role to play in cultivating this culture. They can develop new food products that not only make use of only local produce, but makes the most out of them; and scale it to become food culture that common people can absorb to become common practice. This value chain circles back to enriching crop production by reinventing the way we do waste collection and disposal. Inevitable food waste can be brought to collectors and waste processors to turn them to useful materials that can contribute back to the bioeconomy such as organic fertilizers, and feeds.
How can schools help address this issue? Benilde tried to build better business concepts. Read Part 2: Building a better business