Circular economy provides golden opportunity to save lives in Rio and beyond, report claims

As the curtains draw on the 2016 Olympics, a new report has claimed that toxic waste polluting the environment in the Olympics Host City of Rio de Janeiro and other cities across the world could actually be used to alleviate poverty and save lives through a circular-economy approach to waste management.

The Virtuous Circle report, from relief and development charity Tearfund and the Institute of Development Studies, suggests that the adoption of circular economy principles by businesses and governments alike could help prevent the deaths of people suffering from diseases linked to mismanagement of waste and pollutants.

Researchers highlight that organic waste can be a profitable source of renewable energy and fertiliser if used correctly, while resource efficiency and waste reduction could result in a triple benefit of reduced air and water pollution, improved standards of living and job creation.

Tearfund’s senior policy advisor Joanne Green said: “We are creating mountains of waste and it’s killing us and the planet. In many cases these pollutants can instead be used to reduce poverty through creating jobs and boosting the economy, by adopting a circular economy approach.

“In our current linear economy, we make a product, we use it and when it breaks or there’s a newer model available, we discard it. This means that the materials used to make it are lost to landfill, and products are made from new materials; with a lot more greenhouse gases and other pollutants released in the process.”

Sustainable global economy

The report calls on Governments and governing bodies to do more to support a transition to the circular economy in developing countries, by setting tougher and safer design standards, developing finance opportunities and investing in more research.

Government partnership with multinational businesses and workforces is cited in the report as a crucial tool to establishing an effective circular economy model. It states that schemes such as the Brazilian Government’s employment of waste pickers has often resulted in increased recycling rates as well as improved incomes and working conditions.

For British policymakers, the researchers suggest that the UK Government should scale-up circular-economy thinking as part of the cross-governmental ‘Global Prosperity Fund’. More generally, an appeal was made for the UK’s forthcoming plan for implementation of the SDGs to include circular economy principles and practices.

Green concluded: “The longer we postpone the shift to a sustainable global economy, the worse it will be for the people living in poverty around the world. The evidence is clear. If we don’t want to undo the development of the past we need to transition to an economy that is good for people and the planet.”

Closed-loop detox

Recent academic and business interest in the circular economy has focused on how organisations can become more resource efficient. Earlier today (22 August), edie reported on the potential of a packaging polymer that is both 100% recyclable and 100% biodegradable in standard waste management facilities to create a much-needed circular economy for plastic packaging.

Refinery and chemicals giant Total recently launched a new range of recyclable polymer packaging made from at least 25% recycled household waste from Western Europe, as part of the companies pledge to embed closed-loop models in its production phase.

And according to a survey last week, consumers would be open to the concept of a ‘closed-loop detox’ which would see mobile phone manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung and LG, improve the life cycles of mobile phones by accounting for recyclability and fewer upgrade periods.

In a recent feature, edie revealed that the real ‘heroes’ of the resource revolution are the people and businesses that are ready to address the real challenges and make real shifts.

George Ogleby

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