Global events highlight urgent need for creating a circular economy

Along with the immediate impact on lives, public health and healthcare services across the world, the coronavirus pandemic has also had the effect of dramatically exposing the inherent wastefulness and fragility of so many aspects of modern living. From panic buying and subsequent food wastage, to massive stock shortages across multiple industries due to global supply chain weaknesses, this crisis has underlined the need for change.

While the concept of a circular economy – where every element involved in supply, distribution and consumption eliminates waste and encourages recycling/reuse – is not a new one, the dawn of a new decade and its current troubles has given the philosophy new impetus. Not only is there a greater drive for economic and environmental sustainability espoused by both governments and leading business entities, there’s also a growing desire to improve their resilience and self-sufficiency.

The world’s circular economy at a glance

Recent reports from the World Economic Forum make for quite grim reading, as they highlight how the world is utilising natural resources 1.7 times faster than it should, and only 9% of the global economy can be considered truly ‘circular’. However, there are bright sparks of progress presented by both countries and corporations, as they hold bold targets for achieving circular economies and move with a purpose towards that goal. For example, The Netherlands aims to reduce its natural resource consumption rate by 50% by 2030, and become fully circular by 2050, while on the corporate side, IKEA is committed to becoming a circular business by 2030.

In the GCC, moves towards circular economies are already underway as the region aims to change its reputation for having some of the world’s most wasteful countries. Recent estimates claim that by starting with its large and prosperous cities, the GCC can save nearly $138 billion by 2030 through circular economy measures, amounting to roughly 1% of the region’s cumulative GDP, while at the same time reducing its emissions by 150 million tonnes.

Different stakeholders being drawn into the circular economy

While the realisation of a true circular economy relies on the decoupling of natural resource consumption from economic growth, it also requires the elimination of wastage of resources that have already been produced. Reducing plastic consumption and waste is high on the agenda of all GCC governments and progressive businesses, due to the high visibility of the issue and its well documented impact on the environment. Accordingly, we’re starting to see more frequent and wider ranging instances of various stakeholders pitching themselves into the fight against plastic waste in support of growing circular economies.

Bee’ah becomes waste management partner for Dubai International and Dubai World Central: Perhaps the region’s leading sustainability and environmental services provider and innovator, Bee’ah announced this month that it will become the waste management partner for both Dubai International (DXB), the world’s busiest airport, and Dubai World Central (DWC). The airports currently generate 5,500 tonnes of single-use plastic waste annually, and Bee’ah is aiming to build on recent plastic waste reduction efforts which include the banning of all single-use plastics. Further innovations include the introduction of sustainable alternatives to all disposable plastic use, and more efficient waste capture and recycling programmes.

Bee’ah wins Middle East's largest waste management contract: Another milestone agreement for Bee’ah came early this year when it was appointed as the waste management partner for Egypt’s New Administrative Capital. Current plans call for an 80% waste diversion rate for the city, alongside wider initiatives to significantly reduce Egypt’s reliance on landfill sites.

Aghtia produces region’s first biodegradable plastic water bottle: Abu Dhabi-based Aghtia Group has developed a water bottle that is made from 100% plant material. This makes the bottle completely biodegradable and compostable within 80 days, while also consuming 60% energy in the manufacturing process than is typical with plastic water bottles.

Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) announces single-use plastics ban for 2021: EAD aims to make Abu Dhabi an emirate free of single-use plastics by next year. This is a targeted effort to focus on reducing the emirate’s annual consumption of 11 billion plastic bags per year, a rate that’s triple the global average.

Stepping towards a more sustainable circular approach

As the evidence of economic, environmental and societal strain piles up, the calls for drastically and collectively changing our ways grow louder. Without systemic improvements in the way we manufacture, distribute, consume and recycle/reuse resources of every kind, the global scientific community paints a bleak picture for the future. As more organisations take up the challenge of thinking and acting in a circular manner, more viable sustainability improvements are emerging and breeding further synergies that push whole industries and nations towards the realisation of a circular economy.