In the post-Covid era, the importance of industrial growth in harmony with nature has increased. People want to build a more ecologically balanced world supporting sustainable development.

But the reality is only eye-opening. According to Ellen McArthur Foundation, the demand for vital raw materials like plastic, concrete, aluminium, and steel will increase four-fold, resulting in worldwide CO2 emission of 649 billion tonnes by 2100. But the same report says, emissions from the production process can be reduced by 40 per cent by 2050 if businesses adopt a circular economy.

A Circular economy would essentially mean moving away from a 'Take, Make and Dispose of' model that has seen its time through a linear economy to the ‘7 R's’ of Sustainability — Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Repurpose, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (composting food scraps).

Maximising resource use

A circular economy’s impact is based on the broad principles of tackling waste and pollution, making sure products and materials are kept in use maintaining natural systems. It extends beyond recyclability, focusing on keeping products as resources at the end of their lifecycle and giving a similar output as its linear counterpart with minimal ecological and environmental impact.

As our country reduces emissions further, it is the right time for India to examine policies and strategies that allow maximum resource use, tackle pollution concerns, and open up various business opportunities. How better can a sustainability plan be implemented than focusing on the macroeconomics of a circular economy through a model using '7 R's' of Sustainability?

The ‘7 R’s’ of Sustainability applies to both saving the environment and living a zero-waste life. While businesses, governments, and industries aspire to balance the environment and industrial growth, there is a need for a metal that bridges these two essential wheels of development.

Aluminium is one metal that offers the benefits of a circular economy to the industry. It can be recycled multiple times without losing any mechanical, physical, or chemical properties. As per the World Economic Forum, 75 per cent of the aluminium ever produced is still in use.

At the same time, according to the latest IAI (International Aluminium Institute) figures, the sector, including primary, secondary, and downstream aluminium producers, contributes roughly 1.1 Gt CO2e or 2 per cent of global emissions.

Add to this; recycling aluminium takes 5 per cent of the electricity required to produce the same quantity of virgin aluminium. Thus, aluminum-in-use should be an integral part of a plan to achieve the planet’s green goals and development ambitions. If put through an organised circular economy, it would help reduce CO2 emissions worldwide by up to millions of tonnes a year by 2050.

Aluminium’s low energy use and emission levels have helped it transform the world. Downstream aluminium has efficiently enabled developments in transport: air, road, rail, and sea; food, beverage, and pharmaceutical packaging; construction; electronics; and electricity transmission. It has been made possible due to aluminium's solid yet lightweight properties, something other metals lack.

This is why aluminium is also called the green metal making the EV possible.

Compared to other metals, aluminium alloys boast a high strength-to-weight ratio, provide superior thermal and electric conductivity, and are corrosion resistant. Aluminium’s malleability, elasticity, and surface reflectivity help manufacture a wide range of high-quality and sustainable products.

Macro goals and results

By applying the principles of a circular economy, businesses will generate new ideas and explore new ways of working with technology. India can lead this path of innovation through the Circular Economy in industry 4.0.

A NITI Aayog report, backing the need for an aluminium policy, notes that even at low consumption levels, aluminium contributed to 2 per cent of Indian manufacturing GDP. However, it is expected to increase with the consumption growth, critical for achieving 25 per cent of GDP from manufacturing over the next few years.

India’s circular economy development path could create an annual value of ₹14 lakh crore ($218 billion) by 2030 and is expected to touch ₹40 lakh crore ($624 billion) or 30 per cent of India’s current GDP by 2050.

Consequently, industry projections indicate that by following a circular economy, high-growth markets like India could move directly to a more effective system and avoid getting locked into linear models and infrastructure, as is the case of mature markets.

The writer is Vice-Chairman and Managing Director at Jindal Aluminium Ltd