The circular economy is a concept that enables economic growth by turning waste into valuable materials that can be resold and reused. At the moment, most countries have a majority linear economy whereby materials are used to make goods, which are then used and discarded forever.
If countries are able to alter the way its citizens produce and consume goods by adding the waste stream to the manufacturing process, then they will be able to keep materials circulating in the economy for longer. Recycling is the first step in creating a circular economy, but the concept stretches beyond ordinary recycling efforts.
A circular economy also embodies waste prevention, rather than just waste reduction. In a country like South Africa, a circular economy will require technological, organisational and social change to alter the supply chain and extract maximum value from the waste and manufacturing by-products that are usually disposed of.
Circular economies are already in place
There are countries that have made significant advancements in the establishment of circular economies, such as Japan, South Korea and a few European nations. These countries have already seen a massive burst of economic growth, an increase in the average household’s disposable income and a large reduction of carbon emissions as a direct result of the circular economy.
The transformation from a linear to a circular economy has been proven to be better for the welfare of the citizens, environment and economy. In South Africa, following this trend would align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are interlinked and promote better cooperation and engagement between government departments, industry sectors and citizens.
A true circular economy depends on three sectors
For a country to have a truly circular economy, three major industries need to be transformed; water, waste and energy. These sectors need to be closed loops with diverse resources and reuse options. Locally, these sectors are already on the road to becoming a circular economy.
Innovative water reuse solutions, mainly stemming from the Western Cape’s recent water scare, have been implemented in thousands of private homes, office buildings, public spaces and government departments.
These technologies have allowed clean drinking water to be produced from wastewater from taps and sinks. Undrinkable water from washing machines or toilets is then treated for irrigation and other uses. These steps have proved that water can also become a circular economy that minimises water waste and reduces dependence on dams and rivers.
In the waste sector, recycling rates are at an all-time high and South Africa currently recycles more than most European countries. Many industries are starting to find innovative uses for waste and have become better at extracting the most value from discarded materials.
Those materials that can’t be reused or recycled are either burnt for the production of electricity or are sent to landfill. More waste streams are added to the national recycling grid every year as new machinery and processing plants are released. This allows the South African waste sector to generate more revenue from its waste every year.
The energy industry is also taking steps to reduce its dependence on carbon-based fuels. Renewable energy production is on the rise and some wind farms in the Eastern Cape are even adding power back to the national grid. South Africans are also improving their energy consumption by using more efficient cars, electronic devices and saving power where possible.
In all three industries, resource recovery and remarketing must be able to compete with the traditional methods of sourcing materials, such as mining or forestry. As new technologies emerge that allow us to reuse waste more efficiently, the country will steadily progress towards a circular economy.
Averda is a leading waste management provider with over 50 years of experience across three continents. Through growth, transformation and engagement, we strive to find new ways of managing waste while protecting the community and environment.
By pairing international expertise with local insights, we have secured our position as one of South Africa’s most respected providers of waste management and industrial cleaning services. We also operate in the recycling, pipe inspection, CCTV, infrastructure inspection, hydro-demolition, high-pressure water jetting and catalyst handling industries.
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