Follow the circle to sustainability

A linear resource model of ‘use and discard’ won’t work. It’s time to move towards a circular economy, says V Rishi Kumar

The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything — Albert Einstein

We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it — Jay Inslee.

Imagine this: By 2050, the world’s population will touch 9.7 billion and the per capita resource need will be up by 71 per cent.

The increasing demand for resources such as materials, energy, water and land will impact adversely the availability of these resources, with implications on production systems, economic growth, environmental sustainability and ultimately, human well-being.

Hence it is that, from a linear-economy model, where natural resources are used to make products and, after their life cycle, get discarded, we are now looking at an unfolding ‘Circular Economy’.

In a circular economy, the focus is on reusing and regenerating resources as much and as long as possible so as to make the resources sustainable.

 

 

Be it harmful plastics, electronic waste from computers and mobile phones or, lately, solar PV modules, recycling is the way to go.

Government entities and corporates that BusinessLine sounded out explained why and how a circular economy is gaining momentum.

Joyita Ghose, an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Resource Efficiency and Governance at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), says that the demand for materials is expected to more than double between 2015 and 2050, from 85 billion tonnes to 186 billion tonnes, according to the International Resource Panel. Since “one industry’s scrap may be another industry’s raw material, governments at the national and State level can enable an easier exchange of materials among industries. They can develop policies that incentivise industries opting for circular business models,” says Ghosh.

FMCG major ITC is working on sustainable recycling of even the most challenging category of multi-layered plastic (MLP) packaging, says Sanjib Bezbaroa, Head of Corporate Environment, Health and Safety, ITC.

The ITC Life Sciences and Technology Centre is collaborating with recyclers for viable recycling options for post-consumer multi-layered plastic packaging and also for converting low-value plastics into useful items of consumption.

A formal programme on Design for Environment is also being launched during 2019-20 with ITC’s personal care products business, which will be expanded to other businesses over a period of time, he says.

India, being the second most populated country in the world, is one of the global leaders in the food and beverage industry. At present, packaged beverage consumption in the domestic market stands at 20 billion. This is expected to reach 50 billion by 2030. Hence, the choice of packaging material makes a significant contribution to the overall impact of the beverage value chain, stresses Prakash Nedungadi, Founder Member, ABCAI (Aluminium Beverages Can Association of India).

“There is a dire need for all the stakeholders in the packaging value chain to re-evaluate themselves and choose environmentally sound packaging material,” he says.

Aluminium cans in focus

He points out that aluminium packaging is eco-friendly, with positive features like faster cooling, tamper-proof nature, being easy to carry and dispose of. Aluminium beverage cans take as low as 60 days to be recycled and return to the store shelves. The emissions associated with transporting and cooling aluminium beverage cans are 7 to 21 per cent lower than other beverage packaging options.

ABCAI aims to increase annual per capita beverage can consumption from one can to eight cans by 2030, he says.

S Raghupathy, Deputy Director General, CII, who has been championing the country’s green energy movement through IGBC, says that to promote a circular economy, the government must encourage recycling industries and parks and industry should proactively implement Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) initiatives. Just adhering to the waste management hierarchy will drive the circular economy. This, in turn, will facilitate resource conservation, reduction in virgin material consumption, saving of material and money — ultimately contributing to a ‘zero waste future’.

GreenCo Rating is among the best tools for companies to optimise resource consumption, enhance performance, achieve direct cost benefits and, in the process, contribute to a circular economy. He cites how Tata Motors Ltd has been a forerunner in implementing GreenCo across its seven units. TML has charted out an action plan to actively manage materials from its end-of-life vehicles, through an enhanced recycling process that will put recycled plastic from car bumpers back into new car bumpers.

The recycling process piloted with Banyan Nation, a formal plastic recycler, demonstrates that upcycling of plastic will better retain its technical and economic value, to be used in new cars. TML is reworking its design specifications to support upcycling at the car’s end-of-life.

Anirban Ghosh, Chief Sustainability Officer, Mahindra Group, feels that some trends are clear — “there will be more people in the world, we will be a more urbanised society, urban societies will consume more resources per capita, many resources will be scarce and the environmental cost of creating virgin resources will soon be too much for the planet to bear.This is why a resource-efficient, recycling-intensive circular economy is such an appealing concept. It is a way of life where ‘urban mining’ triumphs over ‘ore mining’.”

Mahindra has discovered that it can build transformer cores from steel scrap, that food waste can be converted into compressed natural gas and that both can be good circular economy businesses for the future, says Ghosh.

An example of what Mahindra is doing with the circular economy concept can be seen in Chennai, where a Bio-CNG plant has been set up in Mahindra World City. The plant is spread over 1,000 sq metres and is a part of MWC’s effort to be a food-waste-free city.

The plant converts eight tonnes of food and kitchen waste from canteens, restaurants and homes, at MWC, into 1000m3 of raw biogas. The biogas is used to fuel tractors, shuttle buses and power street lights at MWC and the organic fertiliser obtained as a by-product helps farmers of the neighbouring villages enhance soil fertility.

E-waste potential

M Goutham Reddy, CEO & MD, Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd, feels India still needs to move significantly in the circular economy as what is already being done is more re-use. “We need to improve end-of-life recovery and recycling -- recovery of materials and then recycling them.”

“It hurts to see the quantum of plastics and electronic wastes that are not being recycled. Plastics are not being recovered owing to the low value of thin film plastics and the energy required to recover them. Indians haven’t yet accepted electronics as waste. It is completely recyclable, however, in our minds we are yet to accept it as waste. As a result we still carry broken grinders, televisions sets, refrigerators, mobiles and their accessories, computers and their accessories… without even thinking of their purpose,” Reddy says. India, although good at reusing materials reasonably, has a long way to go in the circular economy, thereby contributing positively to the global environment.

On challenges in handling electronic waste, Rahul Chowdhury, Member of the Board, Reboot, says, “In an era where the number of SIM cards is far higher then the gross total population, we are sitting on a time bomb called electronic waste..”

Anand Tater, Founder and CEO, Reboot, says a circular economy looped with the 2Rs (reuse and recycle) is the most prudent and probably the only immediate solution. Ensuring optimum utilisation of available resources and unlocking full resource value at end-of-life of these assets is the only way forward. Right to repair and reuse should be promoted with equal focus on end-of-life management.

Impact of tech changes

Most electronic devices use up to 80 per cent of their lifecycle energy at the time of being manufactured. Thanks to fast changing technology, five years and out is now 12 months and out!

In such cases, encouraging new software that work on older hardware.... pushing innovation in resource recycling will make the circular economy a true infinite economy! he says.

TERI’s Ghosh feels businesses, governments, civil society organisations and individuals can all play a role in the transition to a circular economy by improving access to finance, providing tax incentives, and developing procurement policies that include resource-efficiency criteria.

If we need any more convincing about going the circular economy way, here is what Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog, highlighted recently — the circular economy is seen to have the potential to generate 1.4 crore jobs over the next 5-7 years and lakhs of new entrepreneurs.

Published on July 02, 2019

Related

  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.