When access to resources is limited, human beings around the world have been known to automatically conserve, re-use and value whatever they have to make money last longer. This native behavior falls by the wayside as affluence seeps into society and convenience is valued more than conservation. As a result, take – make – use – dispose becomes the native paradigm. Climate change has given us a chance to alter this nativism and has created a massive opportunity for economic value creation by reshaping the way we live and work.
In a 2018 report, the International Labour Organization says that circular economy could make world employment grow by 0.1% by 2030. Closer home, Amitabh Kant, CEO of Niti Ayog stated that circular economy practices could create thousands of new entrepreneurs and 14 million jobs in the next 5-7 years while speaking at FICCI’s 3rd Circular Economy Symposium in Delhi. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that circular economy can create additional economic value of $218 billion by 2030 rising to $624 billion by 2050 in the Indian economy. Clearly, we are looking at a very large opportunity.
The urgency to alter nativism is borne out by the fact that the earth’s annual natural resources “budget” has been used up within the first 7 months of the year in 2019 and this period is reducing with every passing year. Given that resource utilization is closely linked with population and development, the problem can only get worse unless we do things differently.
Sometimes circular economy is interpreted very narrowly and resource efficiency presents a broader umbrella. This brings all of building durability, using less material and energy, repairing to extend life, reusing or repurposing materials at end of life, etc. into the realm of possibilities. One inherent benefit of resource efficiency is the reduction of emissions per unit of value created and this shapes a low carbon growth path.
Remanufacturing and refurbishing equipment to extend their useful life are practices that have been followed profitably by Caterpillar Inc. and Xerox Corporation for some time now. For more than a decade Close the Loop (CtL), an international company headquartered in Australia, has made materials from old printer cartridges suitable for using in road building. The equivalent of 530,000 plastic bags, 168,000 glass bottles and waste toner from 12,500 printer cartridges are used in every kilometre of road constructed. When these materials are mixed with asphalt, the road surface lasts up to 65% longer.
Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, has created an ecosystem where dry waste is recycled, wet and garden wastes are converted to compost, construction and demolition waste is segregated, processed and reused leading to more than 85% of total city generated waste being diverted from landfill and used productively. In addition, waste water is processed and recycled extensively. As a result, the 1.4 million people living in the driest capital city in the driest state of Australia do not experience water shortage, the vegetables and grapes produced in the region are of the highest quality and the landfill is an insignificant element in the city’s ecosystem.
India has the opportunity to do all this and more. With 70% of India projected to be living in urban settlements by 2050, the quantity and concentration of materials available for processing will increase sharply. Virgin resources are becoming scarce and recycled material is becoming a better value proposition for many industries. There are plenty of best practices around the world to get started with and then let indigenous ingenuity build from there. It is an opportune moment to set up a Centre of Excellence for Circular Economy in India to alter the current nativism of take – make – use – dispose. Imagine a landfill free country and let’s get started on the journey.
(The author is Chair, FICCI Working Group on Circular Economy, and Chief Sustainability Officer, Mahindra and Mahindra)