“The Covid-19 crisis has disastrous human and economic consequences, revealing our system’s exposure to a variety of risks. The call for a more resilient, circular and low-carbon economic model has garnered support from a growing number of businesses and governments over the past few years, and appears today more relevant than ever. Identifying opportunities, keeping a clear sense of direction and fostering a strong public-private collaboration will help usher in redefined growth towards the next wave of prosperity.” Jocelyn Blériot, Executive Lead, International Institutions & Governments, Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Key aspects of a circular economy, which values and retains materials, is local production and supply, with materials ‘returned’ to the economy after use for added economic value and income opportunities. The pandemic has revealed weaknesses in food supply and in the supply of vital medical equipment, among others:
- Food – local production and supply increases food security for local communities, which are then more resilient to shocks, such as a global pandemic
- Medical equipment – high demand for ventilators for example has initiated calls to ventilator makers to make manuals available to allow local repair and ‘refurbishment’ (key circular economy activities), as well as local production of ventilator masks with 3D printing technology.
Furthermore, as there is largely a disconnect currently between the manufacture of products and packaging and their end-of-life (often erroneously called ‘waste’), we have seen an increase in material sent to landfill, and an increase in use of virgin polymer plastic due to very low oil prices and therefore virgin polymer prices.
- Many landfills in South Africa are at or near capacity, with few options for new landfills – our short term response is compounding a system in near-crisis
- COVID-19 is a current crisis, but we mustn’t lose sight of the need for bold, decisive response to reduce our impacts on global climate. Again, short-sighted current ‘solutions’ as we waste our material resources and thereby increase carbon emissions, will have impacts on income opportunities in the recycling sector locally and global impacts on exacerbating climate change.
McKinsey: “Not only does climate action remain critical over the next decade, but investments in climate-resilient infrastructure and the transition to a lower-carbon future can drive significant near-term job creation while increasing economic and environmental resiliency. And with near-zero interest rates for the foreseeable future, there is no better time than the present for such investments.”
Steve Nicholls, Head of Environmental Sustainability at the NBI: “Climate change and the circular economy are intimately linked, and simply put, we will not archive carbon neutrality by 2050 without the circular economy,” Nicholls said. “This reinforces the findings of the ‘Reimagining Africa’s Future’ report, which states, among others, that there is a conservative annual opportunity of US$350 billion to be unlocked in new, sustainable business models.”
“The National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI), an entity of South Africa’s Department of Science and Innovation (DSI, has identified the circular economy as one of nine priority Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) domains”. NACI describes the “circular economy as focusing on the generation of products that are restorative and regenerative by design, and which circulate through the economy repeatedly, thereby minimising waste”.
As a South African Plastics Pact community, a resilient circular economy in plastics is our goal which requires bold action. Our commitment to this action has been evident in the many sign ups to and participation in Plastics Pact action groups over the last 2 weeks, and the innovations and social action many of our members are undertaking at this time.
Our actions are building into South African resilience and economic inclusivity at this time, and through our initiatives we hope to inspire more organisations to make such bold steps.