According to the Circularity Gap Report 2019 published at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, only 9% of the materials we use globally is reused. That means more than 90% is wasted. How crazy is that?!
We are using up the world’s resources faster than ever. The global use of materials tripled from 26.7 billion tonnes in 1970 to 92.1 billion tonnes in 2017, and it is likely to double again by 2050 to 184 billion tonnes, says the report, quoting UN International Resource Panel data.
This matters because we are using up finite resources more quickly than they can be replaced and creating mountains of waste we don’t know what to do with. It also matters because materials extraction and processing is a major contributor to the global greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change.
Simply put, making goods from virgin resources creates more greenhouse gas emissions than using recycled materials. According to Circularity Gap, better use of material stocks already in circulation could offer a major contribution to mitigating climate change. This is a huge opportunity for business and policy makers.
If we are to limit the change in our global climate to 1.5°C as the 2015 Paris Agreement demands, then we need transformation, not just in energy and transportation as is the rightful focus now but also in the way we make and use stuff. We will need to transition to a circular economy based on the use and reuse of materials that are already in circulation. We need to replace the using-up of finite resources, traditionally associated with economic activity, with systems that are designed to recognise the value of ‘waste’ through efficient reuse, remanufacturing, recycling and recovery.
The planet is already 1% warmer than pre-industrial levels and rising. The IPCC tells us we need to reduce global emissions of CO2 by 45% by 2030. While more than 90% of the goods and materials we make is lost beyond recovery, dispersed as emissions or unrecoverable waste, the opportunity represented by circular economy innovation is obvious and urgent.
Circularity Gap Report 2019 Circle Economy, January 2019 https://www.circularity-gap.world