Prakash Govidan, COO of Gradiant –
The industrial revolution has given rise to unprecedented levels of prosperity for nearly three centuries. However, it has proven to be a double-edged sword, having created immense amounts of environmental waste that will remain a problem for future generations. Amid ongoing conversations to reduce global carbon emissions, a limited amount of attention has been accorded to the complications arising from solid and liquid waste generation and disposal. Many waste streams contain toxic substances that will contaminate our natural environment for generations to come.
The World Bank has forecast global waste levels increasing by a staggering 70 per cent by 2050 if the status quo is allowed to continue. With environmental concerns high on boardroom agendas, businesses are expected to increasingly explore ways to operate in an efficient and sustainable manner. Circular Economy models can help organisations fulfil both social and economic goals.
DRIVING LONG-TERM SUSTAINABILITY WITH THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
Rising population levels, rapid global industrialisation, and a growing trend of consumerism are quickly putting pressure on resource management and social development policies. A confluence of these factors, alongside resource scarcity and stricter regulations governing environmental conservation, will catalyse the adoption of Circular Economy models.
In a Linear Economy, natural resources are taken, transformed into products, and disposed of. The Circular Economy focuses on designing-out waste, and maximising the value of resources by keeping them in use for as long as possible.
Circular Economy models aim to close the gap where products and wastes are beneficially reused, thereby reducing raw materials or wastes discharged into the environment – natural resources are channelled back into production, and wastes are minimised or eliminated. A Circular Economy is based on three principles:
- Design-out and minimise waste and pollution;
- Keep products and materials for beneficial reuse
- Regenerate natural systems.
The Circular Economy movement is based on a collection of strategies – some old, such as reducing and recycling, and some new, such as renting rather than owning, or advanced methods to treat and reuse wastewater. A circular economy will require a range of strategies in the design, manufacturing, operation, and monetisation models of our goods & services – in an inter-connected and sustainable systems-based approach.
Some overall benefits that Circular Economy models can drive include:
- A sustainable future for our next generations;
- Lower consumption of our finite natural resources;
- Better environmental conditions in air, water, and soil;
- Reduced greenhouse gas emissions to counter climate change;
- Economic growth opportunities for innovative manufacturing and cleantech.
For instance, the paper industry relies on de-inking processes to enhance the sustainability of its raw material base, while companies such as Timberland, Patagonia, and H&M are adopting increasingly innovative production technologies such as turning recycled materials into apparel.
Beyond solid waste, wastewater is a by-product of mostly all industrial processes, and represents a key opportunity for designing-out in a Circular Economy approach. Advancements in water treatment and clean technology have enabled industries to efficiently recover and reuse wastewater, delivering clear economic and social benefits to the adopters of the Circular Economy model.
RECOVERY AND REUSE OF WASTEWATER
Modern treatment techniques allow wastewater to be reduced and recycled, transforming it into a resource stream.
Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) is a rapidly growing approach where all, or most, of the water is recovered and reused, thereby minimising effluent. Valuable minerals that would have otherwise been disposed of as waste are recovered for beneficial reuse. This produces purified recycled water and recovered minerals that could be used for other industrial or economic benefit – which creates a continuous resource loop, or a circular economy.
As freshwater resources become scarce, governments are becoming more stringent on wastewater quality and quantity, leading to increased adoption of ZLD solutions among industries.
TOWARDS THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
Globally, the Circular Economy approach is gaining momentum with private and public stakeholders. In Asia- Pacific, major economies such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Australia are exploring its implementation alongside private companies such as H&M, Dow, and Borouge.
Early this year, the Singapore government announced the Singapore Green Plan 2030, aiming to ensure a green and liveable home for current and future generations in Singapore. Waste management for Singapore remains a key priority, with the 2026 target of reducing the amount of landfill per capita per day by 20 per cent under the Green Plan 2030. The same priority should also be applied to wastewater management, not just in Singapore, but globally.
Circular Economy is primed to play a major role in our progress towards a sustainable world for our future generations. While some may view environmental policies as a threat to competitiveness, the ability of Circular Economy models to reduce raw material consumption, recover wastes for beneficial reuse, and lower operating and disposal costs, will position it as a sustainable and cost-effective strategy in the long run.