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Circularity can reduce carbon footprints and combat climate change

Circularity can reduce carbon footprints and combat climate change

Shreeshan Vekatesh

The Industrial Age promised that human resourcefulness could solve all human problems. While the effect of industrialisation on the ease of life is clear, the “take-make -waste” model of the global economy, which largely disregards the natural constraints of industrial growth, has remained unchanged for almost 150 years. The result is an exploding carbon footprint and climate crisis.

The need to cut back on humanity’s carbon footprint stems from the urgency of mitigating climate change. Attaining the Paris Agreement’s 2-degree goal would require a 30% reduction in carbon emissions, according to the UN Emissions Gap Report of 2021. However, current NDCs (nationally designated contributions) would only result in a fourth reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG). The material handling account for nearly 70% of global GHG emissions. Therefore, increasing material and energy efficiency can lead to significant reductions in the gap in emission reductions.

Resource efficiency is becoming a critical missing link in achieving decarbonisation goals. Globally, there are increasing numbers of policy interventions that include circularity measures across all economic and industrial sectors.

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Europe Leads the Way

Europe is perhaps the best example. The EU published its first Circularity Action Plan in December 2015, just as the Paris Agreement was being signed. Over the next four-years, 54 distinct but linked policy actions were included in the plan. These actions sought to improve efficiency and lengthen material resource value chains.

Between 2016 and 2020 the EU pumped more than 10 billion euros of public funds into the creation and implementation of a multisectoral policy framework that is well integrated into Europe’s Green Deal and waste management policies. Specific policy interventions were implemented to increase raw material recovery from chemicals or fertilisers, reduce plastic garbage generation, and minimize food waste in the bloc.

The EU updated its 2015 plan with a second framework on circularity in 2020. This plan seeks to incentivize reparability by treating products and services as services. Producers must take responsibility for products’ performance throughout their lifecycles to avoid planned obsolescence.

The EU is also working towards the creation of sustainability-linked incentives to improve the uptake of circularity principles in production. The new plan contains 34 new policy actions that cover sectors such as electronics, EVs, batteries, packaging, construction, and food.



War On Waste

China, which has been criticised for its rapid growth in resource and energy consumption over the past three decades, has started to take tough measures to reduce waste. In 2015, tax exemptions were granted to all industries that recycle materials in their production processes. It is also working to ban 24 types of solid waste, which includes various plastics and unsorted mixed paper.

See Also

California has over 20 policies to reduce waste generation. While general solid waste management, construction and textiles feature in the mix, California’s primary focus has been to reduce the amount of plastic waste generated through targeted policy campaigns aimed at packaging and the use of microplastics in the production of consumer products. The state set mandatory recycled content requirements for beverage containers at 5% in 2021. These standards will be increased over time.



Start with Cities

According for about 85% of the global GDP and 75% of the total natural resource consumption, while producing almost half of the world’s waste and around 70% of global GHG emissions, cities form a critical link in the creation of sustained circular economies.

London, Berlin, and Amsterdam are planning to increase circularity. They will do this primarily by focusing their efforts on waste generation and construction, and putting in place policy frameworks that encourage and reward the reduction and recycling of resources. In the developing world, Uruguay’s capital Montevideo’s 2018 Resilience Strategy and 2019 circular economy strategy provide a replicable example of transitions to “circular cities”. The strategy identified construction, shops and restaurants as areas that need to be addressed. In 2020, the extent of circularity was only 8. This is a decrease of 6% from the previous year. This is a reminder how far the world needs to go in order to achieve sustainability in production and consumption as well as waste management.


The writer is the media policy and research lead at Communications and Research Organisation Climate Trends. He is also the knowledge partner for RePlanet.

Disclaimer: The article was written by BCCL’s RePlanet-Initiative, in association to Coca-cola by Times Internet Spotlight team.

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