Circular economy and sustainable society

>> Sunday, November 6, 2016

Ike Señeres

According to Wikipedia, circular economy is a “generic term for an industrial economy that promotes greater resource productivity aiming to reduce waste and avoid pollution by design or intention, and in which material flows are of two types: biological nutrients, designed to re-enter the biosphere safely, and technical nutrients, which are designed to circulate at high quality in the production system without entering the biosphere as well as being restorative and regenerative by design.
This is contrast to a Linear Economy which is a 'take, make, dispose' model of production”. Simply put, it is a type of economy that more friendly to the environment, because it does not pollute so much as it produces, and whatever it produces is cleansed first before these are returned to the environment.
Also simply put, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations (UN) aims to have a sustainable society that in essence would also result in a sustainable planet. Unlike the previous definitions of the UN however, the new meaning of sustainability now includes other aspects of sustainability, and not just the environment itself. True enough, the slogan of the UN says that the SDGs are the “17 Goals to Transform the World”.
Looking at these goals, we could not help but notice that one way or the other, most of the goals would have something to do with the environment, directly or indirectly. For example, the first three goals are “No Hunger”, “Zero Poverty” and “Good Health and Well-being”, three separate goals that obviously could not be met not unless we could reverse the damage of industrial waste to the environment.
History will show that public policies and modern technologies do not always go together when it comes to the restoration and the protection of the environment. Sometimes, there may be public policies in place, but there may be no modern technologies that could be used to enforce these policies.
At other times, there could be modern technologies available but there may be no public policies that have been put in place. In between these cracks, there could be other problems that could get in the way, such as the lack of measures to curb corruption, and the lack of political will. Serious as these problems might be, it seems that looking for the practical solutions for these would be easier than looking for the technological solutions.
As we talk about the political dimensions of this subject matter, it would eventually become clear that the debates about the enforcement of environment laws would boil down to the conflicts of interests between big business and the small people. By the latter term, I would actually mean the poor people who are not only the victims of displacement due to the actions of illegal miners and illegal loggers; they are also the victims of man-made and natural disasters that could be traced to environmental damage.
At times it could be said that the lack of enforcement could be blamed on corruption, if and when public officials would look the other way because of bribes. Aside from corruption however, it could also be the abusive use of power and influence by those who are in public office.
It is not all bad news however, because the incumbent administration now seems to be diligent about curbing corruption and about enforcing environment laws. Aside from that, there is the other good news of more pro-environment forces that are learning how to use the social media as their tools for online protests and public advocacies.
Perhaps what would come out as better news is if these forces would wake up to the reality that all the manufacturers could be pressured to adopt Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) thereby ensuring that all the industrial wastes that they would produce should be cleansed first before these are released back into the environment. In theory, it would seem easier to cleanse industrial wastes before these are released, rather than to clean up after these wastes are already released.
In reality, the circular economy if put into place, is not just all about cleaning the environment. It is also about producing clean energy and clean food.
That is so because more power could be produced by converting waste into energy. That is also because more agricultural land could be made available for food production as more polluted soils are re-mediated in order to make these arable again. That logic would also apply to fisheries, because more marine food could be produced as more bodies of water are cleansed of contaminants. The same logic would also apply to forestry, because more fruits and edible leaves could be harvested as more pollutants are removed from the air.
As the circular economy becomes more widespread, there would also be more value added produced, as more minerals and metals are recovered in the process of cleansing the waters and soils around us. We are often told that we could not clean the bays not unless we clean the rivers, that we could not clean the lakes not unless we clean the lands and the mountains that feed it. While that massive supply chain might seem too impossible to cover, that is not really impossible to do now, because technologies such as Super Critical Water (SCW) and enzymes are now available. All told, all we need to do now is to enforce the already existing laws to make the circular economy happen.

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