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Galileu magazine: economy is urgent

Revista Galileu highlighted the importance of implementing the circular economy in a very cool article about the model. Check it out:

Circular economy is as urgent as energy transition, report says

Data from the Ellen McArthur Foundation point to the potential of the regenerative economic model to fight climate change in different sectors; read further

Amidst the worldwide effort to curb the advance of climate change, the expression “circular economy” has gained prominence. If the strategies of this sustainable model were incorporated into production chains involving cement, steel, plastic and aluminum, global emissions of greenhouse gases from these four materials could be reduced by 40% by 2050. In food production, the drop in emissions by the middle of the 21st century compared to the current scenario would be even higher: 49%.

The estimates are part of a new compilation of data from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, "Connecting the Dots: A Guide to Circular Economy and Climate Change." The projections will be presented by the British institution at the United Nations (UN) Conference on Climate Change (COP-26), to be held in November this year, when representatives of UN member countries will meet to establish new goals capable of slowing down the climate emergency.

The non-governmental organization, which works with companies, policy makers and academics to expand the concept of circular economy, considers that the energy transition to renewable sources is "urgent and necessary" in the fight against global warming. But it suggests that it is just as important to consider strategies to transform the business model that governs most consumer goods and food crops around the world. This is the opposite of the circular business model: it is the so-called linear economy.

Predominant since the Industrial Revolution, this approach is based on a chain that consists of extracting raw materials, manufacturing products, encouraging their trade and disposing of them at the end of their useful life. Oil, wood and ore, for example, are extracted and transformed into the goods we use on a daily basis, from plastic bottles to smartphones. The end of this line is to discard and then the one-way route repeats over and over.

The system has been increasingly challenged, whether because of the environmental impact caused by the accelerated extraction of finite resources and their future disposal, or because it emits greenhouse gases in the process. And the amount of these emissions is significant: according to the foundation, 45% of global emissions come from the way we produce materials, goods and products — including buildings, vehicles, electronics, clothing, food, packaging and more — and from management of land for agriculture.

Also according to data from the organization, the food industry alone is responsible for a third of global emissions of greenhouse gases. Traditional beef production, for example, generates large amounts of methane, a by-product of cattle digestion. The high proportion of emissions in this sector is also associated with the use of non-renewable energy along logistics chains, such as processing, transport and refrigeration, in addition to high food waste.

“The climate change, pollution and the biodiversity crisis that we are witnessing today are directly related to a global system of linear economy”, says Luísa Santiago, executive director of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for Latin America. “It is necessary to look beyond a transition energy and also recognize the need for a transition in our production model. This is the vision that we will take to COP-26".

An alternative model

The circular economy appears as an alternative to the linear model. In this system, the proposal is that each of the stages of a product is planned in order to reduce as much as possible the use of virgin materials and the emission of greenhouse gases, without it being necessary to minimize profits. In order to create a production and consumption "circle" , the strategies deployed to achieve this goal involve eliminating waste and pollution from the outset, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

In the industry, service-based business models such as rent, sharing and pay-per-use are identified by the British foundation as measures that can increase the intensity of use of products and assets, such as buildings and vehicles. As a result, it is estimated that it would be possible to significantly reduce the demand for virgin steel, aluminum, cement and plastic; in addition to reducing emissions associated with the production of these items. Recycling the materials used to produce them is seen as another strategy. According to an estimate by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy approach could reduce global CO2 emissions from these industrial materials by 3.7 billion tons per year by 2050.

Regarding plastic, strategies such as waste disposal, reuse and recycling could reduce the emissions associated with the production, use and end of life of these materials by 25%. The model is also seen as a profitable proposition. By 2040, compared to the current scenario, it is estimated that the system could generate savings of US$200 billion per year and create an additional 700,000 net jobs.

In the food system, applying regenerative agriculture practices and eliminating waste along the entire supply chain are some of the methods capable of sequestering soil carbon and avoiding emissions related to uneaten food. Examples of these practices are crop rotation on the same land and the reuse of crop residues as natural fertilizers — as most of these residues end up in dumps or landfills, releasing methane during decomposition. It is estimated that the implementation of a linear business model in the food industry would be able to reduce emissions by 5.6 billion tons of CO2 per year by 2050. The economic benefits of implementing all the circular strategies described in the study for the sector is estimated to be worth $700 billion a year by the middle of the 21st century.

Pandemic and the Brazilian scenario

The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the sense of urgency for a sustainable economic transition. For the executive director of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for Latin America, one of the examples that demonstrate this movement is the recently launched circular economy coalition for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The initiative, launched in February 2021, is evaluated by Santiago as "a regional milestone" that signals the growth of a model already expanding in countries such as Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica. In Brazil, several companies already partially or fully adopt the concepts of circular economy. The country is also one of 70 nations leading an initiative to define international standards on the subject, which are being discussed within the scope of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO, its acronym in English).

According to Santiago, in the last five years, the circular economy has gained a more significant presence on the agenda of domestic companies and startups, especially in municipal governments and in academia. The absence of federal public policies, however, is seen as an impediment for regenerative strategies to expand beyond some cities, such as Curitiba and São Paulo — the latter is considered a reference in the country, with mechanisms in place such as elimination and reuse of plastics and food chain circularity.

For this transition to become nationwide, the non-governmental organization that works to promote the circular economy considers that the commitment needs to be faced by entities, industries, civil society, civil organizations and governments. "The lack of an economic project that regenerates nature is a major bottleneck in Brazil compared to others in the Latin American region", assesses the specialist in sustainable practices. "Because isolated initiatives are improvements in the linear system, but they need to come together. The transition to the circular economy is not a one-off change. It is a systemic change."