THE term circular economy has gained traction in literature and among individuals and organisations. It is often regarded as the most viable approach to achieving sustainable development. The concept was first adopted in China, where the classical flow of traditional business models was transformed to overcome the linear pattern of production and consumption (take-make-consume-dispose), and to replace it with a cyclical, closed-loop, regenerative system in which resource input and waste, emissions and energy leakage are minimised, and product redesign and reuse are prioritised.

Circular economy aims at increasing the value of used resources by recycling energy and materials in a circular manner. It also provides a solid foundation for radically improving the current business model towards preventive and regenerative eco-industrial development, as well as increased wellbeing based on restored environmental integrity.

It is based on three fundamental principles: reducing waste and pollution, reusing products and materials, and regenerating natural systems through recycling.

The first premise comprises non-renewable resource consumption through input substitution, process improvement, and increased monitoring and management of the manufacturing and consuming phases. It entails creating higher-value products while utilising less resources and avoiding things that harm the environment.

The reuse premise involves reintroducing end-of-life items into the supply chain in a variety of ways in order to extend their lives and reduce waste. Subsidies and customer awareness can both help to encourage reuse. Although the third recycling concept is better recognised than reducing and reusing, it is less efficient and economical. It entails converting waste resources into goods, materials, or substances for use in the original or new applications.

These tenets may be used to achieve optimal resource usage, natural capital preservation, risk reduction, and a renewable flow of resources and products for economic, environmental and social advantages.

To achieve the aforementioned, changes must be made at the macro level (nations), meso level (supply networks), and micro level (companies) to transform the upstream process of production and consumption through sustainability-oriented innovation (SOI), which not only involves product, process and organisational transformation to produce social and environmental value in addition to financial benefits, but also encourages the modification of processes and operations, thereby enhancing eco-efficiency.

To be sustainable, however, all players, including corporate operators, government regulators and consumers, must be involved, and their capacity must be enhanced to co-develop innovative circularity plans and use their convening power to enable cross-sectoral collaboration.

Following the improvement of the system through circular economy, the performance of circularity must be monitored using several approaches. These include life cycle assessment, data envelopment analysis, simulation, material flow analysis, and several others.

Dr Ainy Zehra
Karachi

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2022

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