The planet is excessively overloaded not only with the large population but also with an increasing amount of trash and waste we make every single day. We are urgently faced with the challenge: how to cope with waste so we would not be running out of energy and materials too quickly, and at the same time, keep the environment friendly for us to live. In order to overcome this difficulty, the transition from the traditional ‘take-make-waste’ linear model to a more sustainable circular economy has to be accelerated. This blog will illustrate what a circular economy is, how to achieve it, and what measures the two frontrunners — the Netherlands and China have taken to implement a circular economy.
What is a circular economy?
Often considered as the economic system of the future, the concept of a circular economy is becoming more and more popular nowadays. Different from the widely used “take-make-waste” linear model, circular economy aims to be environmentally friendly based on three principles: design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems. It attempts to create a closed loop in which the value of raw materials, components and products can be maximised by intention and design.
A good example might be sharing cars. Sharing means there will be less demand for car consumption, which reduces the use of raw materials in car manufactory. The broken parts of a car can either be repaired or further processed into raw materials again to make new cars. Clearly, this loop makes the best use of materials and produces waste as little as possible. Under this circular economy, we are able to preserve the environment and gradually build a green and sustainable future.
How is a circular economy becoming a reality?
Implementing a circular economy is a big project that needs collaboration between at least three parties: product designers and manufacturers, governments and the public. Each group can make their own contributions to the implementation of a circular economy.
When it comes to waste and pollution, design is partly to blame but it can also offer solutions. Actions like using green materials and making components repairable and reusable can effectively solve the problem. During the recently held Dutch Design Week 2020, the company Dutchfiets presented us with their latest bicycles made of 100 percent of recyclable plastics that would not end up as waste. Many other companies are also taking actions to help reduce waste. Another great instance would be Pieter Pot who delivers groceries in glass jars instead of plastic bags and other types of packaging, and then collects the empty jars for reuse. Working together with their customers, the company keeps the glass jars in use for as long as possible.
Apart from product designers and manufacturers, the consumption mindset of the public also has to change. To bring about a more circular economy, we urgently need to consume less and make our choices more wisely. It is presently common for people to purchase unnecessary goods in order to meet their insatiable material desires; thought is too rarely given to just how disastrous overconsumption actually is to our environment. Thinking twice before buying is something the public must learn if the goal is to build a sustainable society.
Lastly, governments and intergovernmental organizations also have a role to play in accelerating the transition to a circular economy. Many countries, including the Netherlands and China, have set up plans and implemented laws to reach this goal. Organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union (EU) and the G7 have achieved agreements to take necessary measures. With the involvement of governments, a circular economy is more likely to become a reality.
Frontrunners in the implementation of a circular economy
Many countries are striving to implement a circular economy, and some of them are moving far ahead. The next two sections will illustrate what the two frontrunners Netherlands and China have done in order to shift to a circular economy.
Circular economy in the Netherlands
Dutch people are rather ambitious to establish a world without waste. Early in 2016, the central government launched an important program, aiming to build a 100% circular society by 2050. But before that, the nation will need to halve their consumption of primary raw materials by 2030. Two years later, transition agendas were set up in 2018, prioritising five sectors in the Netherlands: biomass and food, plastics, manufacturing, construction and consumer goods. These sectors were expected to make a great contribution to a waste-free society with measures taken appropriately. For instance, circular design should be introduced and encouraged in the manufacturing industry in order to decrease the use of metals and reduce its severe damage to the environment. In general, the Dutch government made these transition agendas to provide guidance on how the sections mentioned above could become circular by 2050 on a national level.
On the local level, the Dutch regions and cities also show initiative to transition into a circular economy. One of the largest projects combating plastic trash is the Great Bubble Barrier that was successfully implemented in 2019 in Amsterdam after a long researching and testing period. Pumping air through a tube with holes at the bottom of the IJssel River, a wall of bubbles is formed which directs the plastic waste to the riverside for collection instead of letting them flow into the North Sea. This smart solution effectively prevents the plastic trash from polluting the oceans and allows fish and ships to pass freely at the same time.
Circular economy in China
When it comes to a circular economy, China is definitely a frontrunner. This concept was first introduced to China in the 1990s. This new sustainable development strategy aims to tackle the problems of environmental pollution and source scarcity by making a better use of resources and energy. Just like the Dutch government, China attaches great importance to the circular economy by adopting financial measures and legislation. In 2018, the government set up the Circular Economy Promotion Law to spur this economic system, making China a leading country in this respect.
Under the guidance of Chinese government, local companies and organisations endeavor to facilitate the circular economy. Guangzhou Huadu Worldwide Transmision is a remanufacturing company in Southern China. It focuses on the gearboxes and other automotive transmission systems, and produces 35,000 remanufactured units every year. With its own repair and service centers as well as its skilled technicians, Huadu successfully turns old and worn products into new and well-functioned ones. Moreover, Huadu is one of the few companies entitled to receive the subsidy from the Trade Old for Remanufactured Scheme which gives customers a 10% discount when trading worn products for remanufactured ones.
Companies like Huadu are thriving in China, contributing to a sustainable society. Apart from the above mentioned examples, sustainability is also implemented in other ways. Restaurants in Suzhou are required to send their food waste to Jiangsu Clean Environmental Technology where the organic waste is used to grow insect protein. In addition, several second-hand marketplaces, such as JD reuse platform, were set up for the public to sell or exchange their goods.
A circular economy is the economic system of the future and will, due to its distinct advantages, replace the conventional linear model. In times of source scarcity and environment deterioration, implementing a circular economy is not only necessary but also urgent. Today’s blog takes the Netherlands and China as two examples and reviews how they facilitate circular economy respectively. However, changing an economic system is never easy. Despite all the attempts and effort, there is still much room for improvement in both countries and worldwide.
Orange Swallow has experience and expertise in the field of circular economy and can offer consultancy services if you wish to engage in this field either in China or the Netherlands. Contact us to see what we can do for you!