By 2030, the world’s population could sit at 9 billion including 3 billion new middle-class consumers. Expanding supply of consumer goods and services to meet this future demand presents a formidable challenge, but one that a regenerative circular economy is capable of meeting – if it can be switched on within every country, region and community.
There are only a few countries who are experimenting with more circular thinking – these include the UK, the Netherlands, France, China and Japan. How can lessons learnt so far from these early adopters be made relevant to other regions and economies? This will not only require a honest dialogue between governments, businesses and NGOs, but the creation of robust knowledge transfer mechanisms.
Large multi-nationals in particular have a valuable role to play given their lobbying power with world governments and global reach through supply chains, but complex trade, regulatory and cultural barriers persist. Furthermore, the diverse nature of waste disposal/recovery infrastructure, ranging from established networks in industrialised nations to virtually non-existent in low income countries, means there won’t be a silver bullet solution when it comes to re-designing products and material specifications.
Assuming the circular economy can be scaled up, there is also the wider issue of how these circular loops will interact and intersect with each other to ensure they operate in the most efficient way. This may necessitate the need for intercontinental frameworks or global governance.
- Should a global perspective be the starting point for a circular economy? Or do we need to begin at a local level first?
- Which stakeholder groups (e.g businesses, governments, educational bodies, NGOs) – are best placed to facilitate knowledge transfer on a multi-national level? What networks need to be in place to enable this to happen?
- Businesses are very much leading on this agenda at the moment – but they need support from policy-makers to help stimulate the right market conditions to enable their efforts to be scaled up. What positive signals are out there from legislators right now?
- One of the major obstacle to implementing the circular economy across borders is that of addressing systemic leakages of material/product flows due to market failures and geographic dispersion of manufacturing sites and suppliers. How can we begin to identify those leakage points?
- Could setting up reverse global networks for takeback of products and components be one enabling factor to address such leakages?
- Given the diverse nature of waste management systems across the world, how do we design products so they fit the system? (For instance, in an industrialised nation you might design the product to be easily disassembled at the end of its life, but in a developing country, if there is no waste collection service, you might have to design it to be completely degradable)
- Looking ahead, the issue of geopolitics is likely to heighten. Is there a danger of developing increasingly closed loops as individual countries look to become more self sufficient and safeguard security of raw materials supply?