Creating Circular Economy Communities
A collective look at communities’ roles in transitioning from a linear to a Circular Economy
“Tag sales” are a summer tradition where I live: Neighbors sell household items they no longer need so that instead of going to the landfill, things like toys, books and decorations end up with new owners.
Tag sales exemplify the reuse, repair, repurpose principles of circularity and show us that when it comes to the Circular Economy (CE), everyone has a role to play. That concept was fully on display recently when Covestro LLC held its first THINC30 event of 2021 titled “Creating Circular Economy Communities”.
THINC30 is a corporate social responsibility platform we established in 2017 in the U.S. that stands for transforming, harnessing, innovating, navigating and collaborating for a purpose-driven, sustainable future by 2030. Bringing community stakeholders together with sustainability experts, THINC30 takes the form of one-day summits, subject matter-focused THINC30 Tanks and virtual conferences several times a year – all with the purpose of driving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) in our local communities.
Our CE THINC30 Tank featured some 16 international, national and regional experts, sharing their circularity work and how it fits into efforts to reach our collective sustainability goals and mitigate climate change.
In these efforts, CE plays a critical role. By transitioning from a linear economy, which Takes, Makes and Wastes into one that Reuses, Recycles, Repairs and Repurposes, waste disposal and the need for raw materials are minimized as they are kept in the production cycle and reused.
Again, many entities play a role here because waste is created by so many different streams. Whether it’s excess food, plastics, packaging, construction debris, or carbon dioxide created from manufacturing processes, so much of the waste turns into greenhouse gases which, in turn, accelerates climate change.
The big question before us was this: How do we as cities, companies and citizens take that waste and keep using it over and over again?
Here’s what we learned.
- Building a CE requires a complete systems approach, not just new waste management practices. To be realized, it will take an integrated, re-engineering of whole systems that take into account economic, environmental and social and human factors – something the UN SDGs have exhorted from the outset.
- Waste must be viewed as an asset and the building blocks for economic development activity and a circular ecosystem.
- Cities are an important place to start. They’re major drivers of the global economy with the majority of the population and GDP. Yet, currently, they’re resource parasites. Cities utilize three percent of the global land surface, but consume 75 percent of resources and produce between 60 to 80 percent of greenhouse gases. The good news – they are important knowledge centers with the capacity and financial resources to successfully build out a CE.
- Industries like fashion, food, plastics and construction are among those that hold the greatest promise for circular transformation and leadership. Here are some examples:
Plastics Novoloop, co-founded by Silicon Valley wunderkind, Miranda Wang, has developed proprietary technology that is keeping plastic in use, giving it new life in the form of high-performance materials used in shoes, cars, homes and more – all with a low carbon footprint. Covestro’s sustainability expert Lynette Chung described how we’re looking at waste like carbon, steel gas or chemicals as potential forms of energy and/or materials that can be put back into use – and stay there. For example, how we’re using waste CO2 to replace fossil fuels in the production of polyurethane foam mattresses and working with organizations like the Mattress Recycling Council to recycle polyurethane foams.
Construction Skanska USA, part of Skanska, a global construction company, is working to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in its own operations and in its value chain by 2045. It supports a nonprofit organization called Building Transparency whose sole purpose is to provide the free tools and data necessary to mitigate construction’s impact on climate change, with a focus on carbon emissions from concrete and steel.
Food In the U.S., 35 percent of all food goes unsold or uneaten. Most ends up in the trash and becomes greenhouse gas in the form of methane. ReFED is an NGO working with the food industry to reduce food waste through education, technology and sound policy. And it does so by examining – and changing – every aspect of the value chain from farmers and growers to supermarkets and restaurants to investors.
Fashion Apparel resale is expected to grow twice the rate of the overall market in the U.S., with projected growth at 64 billion USD by 2024.
- New industries are emerging. Carbon capture is one of them. Pulling carbon out of the land and air and creating new markets for it requires major innovation and investment. Carbon180 is blazing the trail for this burgeoning industry and all that is needed.
- Higher education is pivotal as institutions striving to be sustainable entities, as educators of the next generation innovators and business executives building out this new economy, and as the researchers who push the boundaries of discovery. New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology, for example, is using a cross-collaborative approach involving teams of material scientists and faculty members from production management, and design and textile development. Students have called the learning experience transformative.
In all of this, collaboration is critical. This message resounded throughout the day’s discussions. It’s been Covestro’s guiding philosophy and the goal that inspires all our THINC30 work – UN SDG #17 Partnerships for the Goals.
We invite you to watch the video at www.covestro.us/thinc30-summit and hope it inspires you on your CE journey.