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Why the Circular Economy Approach is the Smart Way to Move Forward

Updated: Aug 28

By Theresa Banta

Pasig, Philippines


Typhoons. Severe heatwaves. Drought. Flooding.

When I think about the future, these aren’t exactly what I had in mind. But when you’re living in a place where natural disasters are commonplace, you are forced to anticipate the worst that could happen.


Who suffers the most?


Environmental think tank Germanwatch ranked the Philippines as the top 2 country most hit by extreme weather events in 2018 [1]. Looking at the long-term index (1999-2018), the country was in the top 10, earning the 5th spot. This, despite contributing 0.53% to global carbon emissions [2].


This reality is hard to swallow because the truth is, countries constantly hit by typhoons such as the Philippines need more time to recover because of limited financial resources and geographical disadvantages [3]. Erratic weather patterns make disaster preparedness initiatives futile. Climate change is real, and its impact only gets worse.


Shifting from use to reuse


Interestingly, most climate-vulnerable regions are also on a cusp of economic boom. The World Bank affirms that the Philippines is on its way to make a leap from lower income status in 2017 to an upper-middle income status in the near term [4]. As a rising consumption powerhouse, it has the potential to showcase circular economy on a massive scale.


From waste to worth


Having worked in the renewable energy sector for some time, I would say tackling waste is a good place to start.


Here’s why:


It addresses the solid waste problem


The National Solid Waste Management Commission projects nationwide waste generation to hit 18.05 million tons per year by 2020 [5]. And while local city officials are given full responsibility to take care of their trash, they are also given a low budget and not a lot of options.


Building sanitary landfills entail huge budgetary requirements from construction, operation, up to maintenance. Putting up a sanitary landfill and keeping it running will eat up a big chunk of a city’s budget over time, leaving less for other core priorities such as healthcare or livelihood programs. As a result, illegal dumpsites will be a pervasive problem.



But what if trash can be turned back into something with economic value like fuel or electricity? In this scenario, treating waste as a resource opens tons of benefits for a community with limited resources.


While waste reduction is an end goal in a circular economy, waste-to-energy can be used as a transitional strategy for reducing waste and emissions simultaneously. In comparison to methane emissions from organic decomposition in landfills, waste-to-energy plant emissions are lower and can be controlled.


It meets energy demand


About 63% of the country’s total energy supply still comes from coal and oil [6]. With renewables taking up 30% of the total energy supply, waste can potentially fill in the capacity gap needed to raise the proportion of renewables in the energy mix.


In the last quarter of 2019, the Department of Energy opened biomass development for full foreign ownership. This bold move aimed to encourage growth in the biomass energy sector, by engaging experts to develop holistic solutions both for energy and waste.


It stimulates local economy


Job creation and localization of fuel supply are some of the big benefits of utilizing waste as a resource. A key beneficiary of job creation is the informal sector. Waste pickers for instance, have the opportunity gain access to regular income streams by employing them throughout the waste supply chain.


Localization of fuel supply, through use of plastic-to-diesel technologies, can be a great strategy in lowering the carbon footprint of cities who rely heavily on imported fuel.


The take-make-waste system no longer work. Exploiting raw natural resources to keep up with production targets have created a negative impact on our planet.


We’ve seen it. Worse, we experience it.


At this point, there is real urgency to seek new business models that minimize waste and allow reuse of primary resources repeatedly. And for regions that are taking action, the circular economy approach is a way to progress inclusively and sustainably.



Thanks for reading!


Sources:


[1] https://germanwatch.org/en/17330 - Climate Risks increasing worldwide – even for High-Income-Countries


[2] Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2020) - "CO? and Greenhouse Gas Emissions". Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: 'https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions' [Online Resource]


[3] https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/09/climate-change-and-migration-in-vulnerable-countries/


[4] https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/philippines/overview


[5] https://emb.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/National-Solid-Waste-Management-Status-Report-2008-2018.pdf


[6] https://www.iea.org/countries/Philippines

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A PLACE WHERE SCIENCE, RESEARCH, SUSTAINABILITY AND OPPORTUNITY COLLIDE.