Can the Circular Economy Turn Pollution Into Resources?
The phrase ‘circular economy’ has made quite a splash in eco-friendly circles in recent months. This concept deals with turning our waste into usable resources, which would help us reduce our impact on the planet and get more out of our resources. Let’s take a look at the idea of the circular economy and how we could potentially turn our pollution into valuable resources.
What Is a Circular Economy?
Right now, we live in what is known as a linear economy – we make things, use them and then dispose of them. We use our items for as long as possible to get the most value out of them, but when they finally break down, we discard them. Even high-ticket items like phones, computers, and cars aren’t made to be repaired anymore – they’re designed to be replaced.
A circular economy takes that last step where we discard unwanted or broken products and pulls it into a circle. Instead of heading to the landfill, the product gets recycled. It is either refurbished and resold or broken down to its components for recycling into new products for consumers to purchase.
The idea sounds simple enough, but it isn’t always easy to implement.
What about the pollution that we produce? One artist has shown that we can even recycle smog into something better. A tower, first installed in Rotterdam and then in Bejing, can collect smog from the air and turn it into gems for jewelry. Buying a single ring provides 1000 cubic meters of clean air to the host city. Experts in Bejing estimate that the air in the vicinity of the tower is 55 percent cleaner than it was before the tower’s installation.
A circular economy could also help to prevent waste from ending up in landfills or the oceans, as with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This floating monstrosity is the size of the state of Texas and is made up primarily of plastic and other floating waste.
Even human waste could potentially become a resource in the future. The European Union is working on ways to recycle human waste as fertilizer. There are also programs designed to turn food waste, such as waste created during food production and unwanted ‘ugly’ food, into a fuel called biomethane.
Most of these programs are still in their infancy. We haven’t figured out quite yet how to create a sustainable circular economy, but the foundation is there. The ideas are there. We just need to figure out how to turn them into a widescale implementable project.
What do these ideas mean for the future of waste management? It’s too early to tell – our economy is still very linear, and it will take a long time to transition it into something a little more circular. We can start taking small steps in that direction right now, though, by implementing recycling programs in cities, encouraging composting and pushing corporations to make their products more readily reparable.
As the dominant species on this planet, it is up to us to take steps to reverse our impact on the environment. Taking steps to move toward a more circular economy is one of the best things that we can do right now – and even small things like recycling plastic bottles can help move us in the right direction. It won’t be easy, but it is definitely worth it and could help reduce our overall waste production.