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May 13, 2019

Why we should care (more) about the circular economy

A lot has been said recently about the concept of the “circular economy” (or Blue Economy, for those who attended Gunter Pauli’s visit to Buenos Aires). Since the Industrial Revolution, our economy has managed to skyrocket socioeconomic development exponentially. Still, there have been plenty of deficiencies about how this development impacts life in the planet. The circular economy is the absolute reverse of the current lineal economy we are all familiar with. It’s ruled by three principles: to preserve and control natural capital; to optimize the use of resources; and to stop isolated thinking and incorporate systemic efficacy.

In October 19th, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an organization that since 2010 is promoting the transition to a circular economy for the entire world, carried out the first workshop on circular economy. ZIGLA was invited to participate. The event was organized together with the Compromiso Empresario por el Reciclaje (CEMPRE), and was supported by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development. Representatives from all actors in the Argentine inclusive recycling sector were present.

To move toward this transition, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has published studies analyzing structural losses in the current lineal economy model. These studies addressed mobility, environment and food, showing how the failures of the current model produce enormous economic losses and negative externalities.

These losses are structural and add up to other problematic issues like price volatility, demographic pressures and urbanization, signaling an epochal challenge for the world economy. This, paired with new technological developments and business models, is urgently calling for a new type of economy.

The concept of circular economy feeds from other concepts, such as “cradle to cradle”, “performance economy”, “natural capitalism” and “industrial ecology”. The circular economy is regenerative and restorative out of principle. The MacArthur Foundation’s goal is to work actively in creating a critical mass of success cases in circular economy, to allow the benefits of this idea to inspire new applications.

One of the latest experiences, presented in the workshop, was the development of a toolkit for policy makers, which takes Denmark as a case study. It’s an open document; anyone can have access to it and use the methodology to start designing policies framed within the circular economy principles.

Other experiences in alternative systems, broadly within sustainability or sustainable development, have already gained wide attention, so one might wonder: is the circular economy really something new or is it just more of the same? We think this idea is not comparable to others. Sustainability is based on “doing less harm”. It can’t conceive of an economic model which does not produce some kind of negative externality. The circular economy, in contrast, aims at “doing good from the start”. Nevertheless, many questions are left open. Robust evidence will be needed to evaluate the benefits of this transition, and to see if the circular economy is an innovative model.

This takes us to an area in which ZIGLA has worked for a long time: inclusive recycling. Naturally, many relevant aspects of this agenda touch on specific aspects of the circular economy. Our goal now is to investigate these connections further.

References

Growth Within: A Circular Economy Vision for a Competitive Europe

Case Studies

A circular economy toolkit for policymakers

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