Less consumption, more recycling needed for goals
Circular economy can offer $2t
Published: Feb 07, 2021 05:03 PM
Countries worldwide will not meet their targets to slash planet-warming emissions unless they cut unnecessary consumption and shift urgently to circular economies that reuse resources, environment ministers and top executives said this week.

In a circular economy, materials - such as metals, minerals and plastic - are recycled to cut back on waste and pollution harming the Earth's environment and climate. Only 8.6 percent of the 100 billion tons of materials utilized each year are put back into service, according to Amsterdam-based social enterprise Circle Economy.

A view of London's iconic Carnaby Street Christmas lights switched on November 14, 2019. This years Christmas lights are different from previous years, with a message in collaboration with Project Zero, they have been created with recycled materials to create a variety of endangered undersea creatures to highlight areas of our oceans most in need of conservation. Photo: VCG

Dutch environment minister Stientje van Veldhoven said changing that should be "much higher on the political agenda."

"What we need to get out there, with much more force, is the incredible importance of a circular economy as an instrument to reach our climate goals," she told a webinar hosted by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a US-based research group.

In a recent report, Circle Economy urged governments to craft their COVID-19 economic recovery plans to boost recycling and reuse, estimating that adopting circular approaches in transport, housing and food could cut emissions by close to 40 percent. Rather than using resources and materials to make products and then throwing them away, a circular economy aims to design waste and pollution out of supply chains, keeping goods in use for longer and eventually recycling their components.

Chilean Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt said her country was completing a roadmap to shift to a circular economy, along with 10 other Latin American nations that have pledged to follow suit.

"The notable contribution of a circular economy is its role in [reaching] the carbon-neutrality goal," she said, referring to targets set by a growing number of countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by mid-century.

Globally, switching to renewable energy could cut carbon emissions by 55 percent, but the rest would have to be tackled by transforming production models, she added.

Adopting a circular economy could offer an additional $2 trillion in opportunities to the global economy by 2050 by creating jobs and promoting innovation, she said.

"A circular economy is not only a possibility - it is a necessity and a huge opportunity," Schmidt said.

Hosted by WRI, the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) brings together business, governments and civil society, who say strategies should focus on key sectors. 

They include plastics, textiles, electronics, food, capital equipment - such as machinery like medical scanners - agricultural equipment and manufacturing infrastructure.

The amount of materials the world uses has tripled since 1970 and could double again by 2050 if no action is taken, the United Nations estimates.

Inger Andersen, head of the UN Environment Programme, said consumers could play a pivotal role in the shift to a circular economy. Two-thirds of the world's carbon footprint is driven by households, including their food and transport, she noted. "That over-consumption... needs to be circular, and it also needs to be pulled back," she said.