Transition to a circular economy


Shabir Ahmed

CRIPPLING blackouts, dwindling water supplies, natural gas shortages, increasing demand for consumer goods and deteriorating natural environment have plagued parts of our country. This is the situation when the population of the country is around 210 million. If the population grows at the same rate, it will exceed 350 million by 2050. It is not difficult to forecast the state of affairs at that time since no concrete efforts have been made to address the rapidly dwindling resources. Pakistan may face a devastating scarcity of resources within two decades, the effects of which are already being felt by most of the population. So, what can be done in this regard? One of the most effective ways to address this problem is to gradually switch to circular economy.
Garments production in Pakistan doubled during the last two decades. During this period the number of garments purchased each year increased by sixty per cent but the average number of times a garment was worn before disposal declined by almost forty per cent. Millions of dollars worth of natural resources are lost every year due to clothing underutilisation and the lack of recycling. Situation aroung the world is no different. An environmental group, the World Wide Fund for Nature, has warned that three planet Earths would be required to accommodate the gargantuan waste humanity would produce by 2050.
It is not limited to the garment industry in Pakistan. Almost all the industrial sectors face the same problems. On one hand, the country’s resources are depleting at a rapid pace while on the other hand, we produce thousands of tonnes of waste every year. The ever-increasing population of the country has put enormous pressure on the resources. With every passing year, we need more food, raw material for our industries, more fossil fuel, minerals, biomass and so on. As a result, the burden on natural resources and environment is increasing day by day. Natural resources like forests, lakes and soil is being harmed. Not to mention the damage incurred upon country’s biodiversity. The CO2 emission is also on the rise in the current scenario. Pakistan, being one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, must play its due role in curbing environmental deterioration. Transition to a circular economy can not only address the resource depletion issue but also provide economic opportunities for businesses and the country’s economy as a whole.
Circular economy is a concept in which growth and prosperity are decoupled from natural resource consumption and ecosystem degradation. By refraining from throwing away used products, components and materials, instead re-routing them into the right value chains, we can create a society with a healthy economy, inspired on and in balance with nature.The concept of circular economy has gained prime importance in the recent past. Unlike the traditional linear economy system, which is based on “take àmake -> dispose” production model, circular economy is a continuous development process which does not end at the waste disposal. It reprocesses the wastes produced as a result of production process and regenerate new products. It promotes sustainability and minimizes risk of total collapse of the system. So, the disposal step of the linear economy is replaced by recycling. The Club of Rome – a global think-tank reported that circular economy could bring 70 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2070.
In Pakistan, at the moment, we are confronted with products that were not designed and produced for re-use. If we want to re-use such products, we must take a circular approach with raw material that were used before recycling the products or components as a raw material again. This must focus on realising the highest possible value of the material, as this requires the least effort and/or energy. Recycling is often more energy-efficient than extracting new raw materials through mining or agriculture.
Developing countries have lagged behind which is understandable. However, the international organizations have recognized the potential for circular economic models in some of the developed countries. Like in Pakistan, the textile is one of the major industries and produces millions of tons of waste annually. This waste can be recycled and can serve as raw material for other related industries. It can not only strengthen the economy but also reduces the adverse environmental impact of this industry.Recycling agricultural waste to biogas and other energy sources, waste-water treatment are some of the other potential areas for circular economy. Moving to a circular economy will contribute to the current Government’s aim of sustainable economic growth.It has the potential to increase productivity and create jobs, whilst reducing carbon emissions and preserving valuable raw materials. Since inflation is on the rise in the country and government is struggling to cope with it, developing a circular economy in Pakistan will help to protect our economy against exposure to resource supply risks and volatile commodity prices. By keeping products and material in use in Pakistan for longer we will be more resilient to global resource pressures. In short, its main benefit is that a circular economy is a practical solution to the Pakistan’s emerging resource crisis.
It is the high time for Pakistan to take a call on changing its waste to wealth keeping in view the economic struggles and energy crisis faced by the country. Recycling can save revenues, energy, labour and mitigate environmental degradation. Apart from textile and other related industries, the concept of circular economy can also be applied to agricultural sector. Since it is one of the major components of overall economy in Pakistan, therefore recycling may prove effective in this sector. The government needs to create a strong market for organic fertilisers and gradually phase out petrochemical ones. In fact, it can be employed in every sector of the economy, from food production to textiles, from automotive to construction.
The government needs to devise such policies that provide essential protections while fostering innovation and risk taking by the private sector to advance circular solutions.
–The writer is a freelance journalist.

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