The GREEN Economy
What Are the Environmental Benefits of a Zero Waste Circular Economy?
Globally, industries have been developing at a rapid pace for the past few centuries. While our achievements in terms of production and construction are impressive, they come at a price.
Air and water pollution has reached unprecedented levels and are directly affecting our lives, health, well-being, and the well-being of the planet. Issues like climate change are more pressing than ever, along with global health concerns related to poor waste management. However, steps are being taken to fix those significant problems — both from governmental bodies and private organizations alike.
In this article, we will take a look at what a zero waste circular economy is and how it aims to restructure the global industry for the better. We will explore how the principles of circularity can be implemented and the direct benefits they have for the environment
What Is a Zero Waste Circular Economy?
The circular economy — circular sustainability — is a model of production and consumption that focuses on recycling, reusing, and repurposing materials. It was developed as a direct opposite of the linear economy, which is the process of production, consumption, and discarding of materials. Historically, the conventional linear global economy has led to the creation of copious amounts of waste and pollution worldwide.
The circular green economy, on the other hand, uses a closed-loop methodology for production and consumption, with materials being preserved and reused as long as possible. The global zero-waste movement aims to develop an infrastructure in which no materials or products are discarded. Instead, everything is recycled and reused to the fullest.
The circular economy is designed to solve some of humanity’s most pressing global challenges, including climate change and marine pollution. This mindset is being adopted by more and more countries and international businesses around the world. Major global organizations and governments are taking active steps to implement circularity. We are realizing that this approach is the only way to protect our planet — and us, by extension — from the detrimental effects of traditional global industries relying on conventional linear economic models.
Environmental Benefits of the Circular Economy
As we already mentioned, the main objectives of zero waste circularity have to do with benefiting the environment. Currently, a myriad of issues need to be addressed — including continuous increases of hazardous landfills, ocean pollution, dangerous GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, and more. However, circular economy methods can help us deal with those pressing matters in the near future.
Let’s look at some specific examples of how a zero-waste circular economy can be helpful to the environment:
- Reducing Plastic Pollution
Plastic is one of the most used materials on a global scale, with production exceeding 300 million tons on a yearly basis. Of those, 5 to 15 million tons end up in our oceans, causing a wide variety of environmental issues, along with social and economic ones. Marine pollution is a critical problem, as it directly affects water quality and public health. On top of that, marine fauna digests and gets entangled in plastic waste, resulting in a danger to biodiversity.
The problem with plastic is that it does not degrade fast — instead, it breaks down into even smaller particles. In the end, plastic pollution in the oceans keeps on increasing annually.
A zero waste circular economy can do a lot to remedy marine plastic pollution and all its negative consequences. With reusing and recycling plastic materials as the norm, much less of it will end up being disposed of into the oceans. Regulation for both government and private manufacturers will result in better waste management and collection.
As of now, not enough is done to properly incentivize or regulate a circular approach to waste in both the public and private sectors. However, with international organizations adopting a zero-waste circular economy mindset, we can expect that to change in the near future.
- Reducing Air Pollution
Other important environmental issues that zero waste attempts to tackle are air pollution and the related ongoing climate change problem. GHG emissions resulting from excessive burning of fossil fuels directly contribute to climate change and have a detrimental effect on the environment — including human health. One of the key methods of combating this is recycling, which will result in less production and less harmful emissions overall.
However, recycling by itself may not be enough to deal with this serious issue. A zero waste circular economy requires manufacturers to rethink their processes and the hazardous materials they are using now. For example, the steel and concrete industries are responsible for a huge amount of CO2 emissions worldwide. Circularity emphasizes the need to find eco-friendly alternatives to such materials and practical ways of reusing what is already available instead of throwing it away. Overall, circularity will significantly reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change and related issues.
Of course, production is not the only cause of air pollution. Landfills also generate high volumes of toxic chemicals, along with incinerators and other means of disposing of materials. For example, landfills are known to expel mercury, benzene, and toluene in the air — all of those are dangerous pollutants that can severely impact human health.
Incinerators, on the other hand, produce cancerous chemicals that are both persistent and accumulative. A circular approach will also eliminate those emissions, leading to a healthier environment across the world.
- Developing Sustainable Business Models
As circular economy strategies are adopted on a global scale, the responsibility will fall not only on governments but also on manufacturers. The traditional linear economy needs to become a thing of the past — all materials and products should be designed with sustainability, reusability, and recycling in mind. As a result, the private sector will change its business models to be less harmful to the environment. Product durability and lower material demand will ensure that fewer GHGs are produced and pollution is reduced to a minimum.
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