Environmental sustainability and circular economy – When waste becomes a resource

The high availability of raw materials in the previous century made it possible to rely on a linear economy, characterized by the old take – make – dispose, which involves transforming raw materials into a product, using it and finally disposing of it. But the way we produce and consume has an impact on the environment. With the increasing of population, less availability of raw materials, and higher CO2 emissions, the linear economic model is no longer sustainable.

We need a change in the business model, which must take into account the current environmental dynamics.  Introducing the Circular Economy model, in which the end-of-life of a product is eliminated and strategies are put in place to extend its life, regenerate it and prevent waste production. This implies circularity in the entire process, from idea and design, to manufacturing, distribution, consumption, use or reuse, collection and recycling.

The three pillars of the circular economy, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, define well what it means to rethink the product and its life cycle. This implies reducing waste, reusing materials and recycling whenever possible. It means rethinking the individual activities involved in these processes of production, distribution and consumption, where someone’s waste or discard can become a resource for someone else. Creating a new product from recycled materials thus becomes a sustainable choice with a low environmental impact.

But how to assess the environmental footprint of a product? This is done by the LCA – Life Cycle Assessment, a methodology that makes it possible to make an accurate assessment of the consequences on the environment during the life cycle of a product or activity, thus starting from the collection of primary resources to its disposal. In a circular sense, up to its recycling and reuse. The LCA methodology makes it possible to obtain ISO 14040:2021 Certification following a company audit and to intervene where necessary in the various phases of the life cycle of a product or service. At the same time, it allows strategic choices in terms of marketing and brand communication.

The Ecomondo trade fair in Rimini, held from 8 to 11 November 2022, focuses precisely on the theme of the Circular Economy. It is an annual event that brings together the operators of the circular economy in a single hub, acting as a reference point for the ecological transition, and this year celebrated its 25th edition with 1400 exhibitors. Discussions revolved around the topics of ecological transition, green economy, environmental sustainability and the future of the circular economy. Attending the fair was Too Good To Go, a well-known application that makes it possible to combat food waste by making unsold food available at the end of the day at a greatly reduced price. Here is an example of circular economy and environmental sustainability. Another example of circularity is Ikea, which is aiming for a zero-waste future by studying solutions for reselling, reusing and renting used furniture with the aim of giving it a new life.

The European Union itself has been moving in this direction for some time. In line with the Green Deal is the approval of a Circular Economy Package, with a view to reducing waste and protecting the environment. In this regard, ambitious recycling targets have been set, two in particular: the recycling of at least 60% of municipal waste and 70% of packaging waste by 2030, with the common goal of reducing landfill disposal.

In general, we also speak of a circular bio-economy, which is part of the circular economy and is entirely based on the organic sector. In general terms, circular bio-economy means the production of renewable biological resources and the conversion of them and their waste into value-added products. It therefore means that these resources are not dissipated into the environment but their waste reused for other purposes, such as the production of feed, bioenergy and biological products in general. For example, it is possible to use agro-food industry waste for a biogas plant to produce electricity. And again, it is possible to create a fabric from apple waste.

There are numerous examples and the applications of these practices: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle involves a different approach to production and consumption that opens the door to a new business model. It also involves choices from an ethical point of view and the design of products from an ecological and sustainable perspective. The necessary commitment on the part of businesses, policymakers and organizations initiates a process that considers the use of our resources from an environmental conservation perspective, at a time in history when it has become crucial to change certain dynamics in order to preserve our planet. The concept of the circular economy is not an option, but rather an imperative and necessary choice for the conservation of the environment.



Chiara Capraro

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