Articles, Blog

How waste can save lives and create jobs – the virtuous circle

September 18, 2019


The circular economy is a new way of thinking
about the world. Industry is already embracing it. European
businesses that work on the basis of circular principles are amongst the fastest growing
in the economy. The potential for job creation is great. But
the possible benefits go even further than this. At present, around 9 million people die of
diseases linked to mismanagement of waste and pollutants each year. That’s 20 times more than die from malaria.
A circular economy would help us fix this. So what is a circular economy?
Well it’s like this… We currently have a primarily linear economy
which means we make a product like a toaster or phone and when it breaks or there is a better model available we throw
it away. At this point all of the energy, metals and
water used to make the phone are lost. Nearly all of a product’s material and energy
value is currently wasted in this way. But in a circular economy this waste and inefficiency
is avoided. Resources like cars and machinery are shared
so the amount of time they sit idle is reduced. And products can be used for longer because
they are designed to be easily repaired or rebuilt with remanufactured components. This system echoes our natural world: when
an organism reaches the end of its life it provides nutrients for another part of the
system. So how does this apply to development? The circular economy holds out the promise
of a better development model that creates jobs, improves health and reduces pollution. But despite this triple win, few people in
development are working on it at present. Many are even unaware of it.
Nevertheless, circular practices can already be found in many sectors of the economy in
low- and middle-income countries. The Kumasi complex in Ghana is a major remanufacturing and repair cluster for vehicles surpassing anything found in Europe. More than 12,000 small businesses employ 200,000 workers an increase from 40,000 in the early 1980s. In the huge Suzhou National District industrial
park in China, firms collaborate so that byproducts from one industrial process – like waste water
– are used as the raw materials for another. This not only saves money and resources; it has reduced sulphur dioxide emissions by a third resulting in cleaner air for local
residents. In rural Brazil, Tearfund partner Diaconia
are working with family farmers to install bio-digesters that convert animal waste into
cooking gas and nutrient-rich fertiliser. Ordinarily the animal waste would break down
and emit greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. Now these emissions are prevented,
and farmers’ livelihoods are improved because they spend less on cooking gas, and the fertiliser
increases the output from their farms. This is just a glimpse of what is possible.
These nations can build on these existing examples and potentially leapfrog straight
to 21st century circular systems and institutions. Tearfund is working towards this, helping
communities and policy-makers overcome the barriers to circular approaches.
More widespread adoption of the circular economy by those working in development would accelerate
this transition, helping communities create jobs and save lives now and for generations
to come.

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