Have you ever pondered over the role played by the neighbourhood- cobbler, electrician and tailor in recovering resources and reducing waste? Most of us have never even noticed them. If I say that they like wastepickers and recyclers are going to be the pillars of ‘Circular Economy’ envisioned by economically advanced countries, will you believe me?
I am assured that your first question will be ‘What is circular economy?’
According to the authors- Peter Lacy & Jakob Rutqvist of the book ‘Waste to Wealth- The Circular Economy Advantage’, ‘
Shifting to a circular model means changing our linear economy’s supply logic. We will need more renewable energy, more biomaterials and biochemical that can degrade safely, and more technical materials like metals that are designed to use recovered secondary material and for low cost end of life recycling, effectively closing the manufacturing loop. We need components designed for reuse and products that can be upgraded and refurbished rather than discarded and replaced. This is critical supply side of circular economy.
With devastated natural landscapes, rising temperatures- it is essential that mankind moves away from a linear model of growth- where we produce, consume a little and throw away the rest. Circular economy concept offers an option, where we reduce our dependence on natural environments for resources, make the planet more liveable and leave a lot behind for generations to cherish.
The circular model for food security and organic waste management exists. The left overs of food or material used for production of food, human excreta all can decompose and take the form of compost or organic fertilizer, enriching the soil, increasing its productivity and leaving us with more food.
The challenge is in the domain of inert/inorganic waste. You must have heard those three magical words and referred as three ‘Rs’- Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, we use them in reference to inert and inorganic waste. Those three Rs are not enough to reduce flaws of human growth and destruction of natural environments.
There are materials which are recycled, but the scale of production is way ahead of the scale of recycling. In most cases the process of recycling is – down-cycling, and the outcome of it is further downgraded material, in appearance, texture and usage. The usage of the term down cycling is not at all the denial of the importance of the process of recycling. It is an injunction – a point of reflection to remember that we with all our technological advancements are still down-cycling the product, when there are immense number of possibilities to up-cycle them. In case of many precious metals like iron, aluminium we have advanced a little in finding those possibilities.
Further, instead of limiting ourselves to just 3 Rs. Let us add two more Rs i.e. Repair and Refurbish. The tailors, cobblers and many like them who are piety players in the market today, but have vast experience in repairing and refurbishing- they are going to be the backbone of circular economy. Repair and Refurbishing are foundations for circular economy, whereas recycling is an important process for products when they can neither be repaired nor refurbished. For that mandate for recycling needs to be strengthened. Developing countries with their scale for recycling have insights which are worth studying. Even the operations of refurbishing and repair work exists at an unprecedented scale. Every neighbourhood or Mohalla has cloth, shoes and electrical repair shops.
Therefore, for circular economy to exist- on one side production has to come down, and on the other we need to repair and refurbish existing products, whatever cannot be repaired or refurbished- needs to be sent for resource recovery and compulsory recycling.