Recycling is changing the model of ‘take, make, break, and throw away’. In a planet with an unequal distribution of resources, it is crucial to make the best possible use of raw materials and processed products. The circular economy is a major contributor to minimising waste and achieving this goal. Developed countries should pay this the most attention, as they are the biggest consumers and the biggest waste generators in the world, and are responsible for much of the global environmental degradation and its consequences.
To alleviate this situation, we are moving towards a new model in which the circular economy is key. The commitment on the institutional side is clear, as set out by the European Union. In 2020 it designed a plan to switch to this economic model. It has the potential to generate 200 times more employment than incinerators or landfills. Which trends stand out in this movement? We discuss them below.
The use of materials and changes in consumption
Given that resources are naturally scarce, it is imperative that we make the best use of them. One of the current problems our world faces is waste generation, which is being tackled by eliminating the very concept of ‘waste’ by re-evaluating the product at the end of its life. This leads to a rethinking of the entire life cycle of a product, emphasising product design (initial phase) and eliminating policies such as planned obsolescence.
Design should focus on not generating waste, or if waste is to be created, that the waste can be recovered and transformed without using polluting processes. This is one of the goals of movements such as Zero Waste, which seeks to promote the reuse of products. In terms of proposals, the European Commission’s Circular Economy Plan (CEAP) is largely based on consumer empowerment and the right to repair. This is the most ambitious and comprehensive proposal ever put forward by the EU to reduce the environmental and climate impact of products and economic activities.
In addition, other propositions such as ReTuna are paving the way forward. ReTuna is the first shopping centre in the world dedicated to recycling. It is based in Sweden and is a revolution in low-carbon shopping. It offers a wide variety of recycled, reused or sustainably manufactured products. In addition, they seek to give objects a second life through upcycling and repair. In this way, there is an increasing number of initiatives that are being developed with local workshops to repair objects.
There are already 1,527 centres throughout Spain, which demonstrates the importance of the circular economy. This cannot take place if the materials used are toxic, as Martin Hojsik, MP for Renew Europe, made clear. There is still a long way to go, and this will require innovation to continue.
What progress has been made in recent years?
Some progress has been made since the adoption of the Circular Economy Action Plan in 2020. One example is Scotland. The Minister for the Circular Economy, Lorna Slater, has proposed a ban on the destruction of unsold new products. It is common practice for some companies to dispose of items they cannot sell. This drains resources and creates unnecessary waste.
Product packaging is also under the spotlight. They tend to become waste rapidly, with a notable amount of plastic waste. To avoid this problem, packaging made from mushrooms and fungi has been designed. It is biodegradable and it is sustainable to manufacture, so it does not negatively contribute to pollution or waste.
In addition, great advances have been made in the fight against waste and pollution. Bacteria, fungi and worms are capable of digesting or decomposing plastic. This material degrades over time, but it can take several centuries. Thanks to these living creatures, it is possible to speed up the process and reduce it to, in some cases, minutes. This makes it possible to prevent such a polluting element as plastic from reaching ecosystems.
Other solutions to consider
In the pursuit for zero waste, there are other solutions to consider. One example in the fashion sector is clothing made from kombucha, bacterial cellulose or recycled bottles. These are biodegradable and non-toxic materials, which are particularly beneficial given that the industry discards 92 million tonnes of garments every year.
Likewise, companies are also trying to combat e-waste (the waste of technological products). Its capacity to pollute is high, which puts pressure on the industry, such as the pressure to improve battery design. The aim is to ensure that they are not disposable, as they have a serious negative environmental impact.
Ultimately, recycling helps to move away from throwaway culture. It is important to reduce, reuse and recycle products. This will optimise our resources. To celebrate International Recycling Day, there is nothing better than taking the first steps in this direction. With the right technological solutions, every company will be able to move towards a more sustainable model.
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