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Five Reasons to Build Back Better

“Building Back Better”. More and more often, we can hear this slogan from the mouths of the top EU politicians, environmental activists, businesses and international organizations such as the UN or OECD. This growing group unanimously calls for a sustainable economic recovery after the COVID-19 crisis.

Such a recovery would go hand in hand with an accelerated switch to a healthier economic set up: the Circular economy.

linear economy circular economy

Image source: Circular Flanders

But what do the three magical words "building back better" actually mean? Why shouldn’t we go back to normal, and strive for the new type of economy instead? To get a clearer idea about this, let’s briefly outline the 5 biggest benefits that a circular future can bring us. 

1.   Improved health

According to the actual data, almost 550 thousand people worldwide have died from COVID-19 over the first 6 months of the pandemic. To compare: it is estimated that air pollution is accountable for about 7 million deaths globally each year (and no country is switching down its economy because of this fact).

But back to the topic. The problem of air pollution can be partially addressed by the transition to clean energy. However, according to Ellen MacArthur Foundation, "45% of total emissions come from the way we make and use products, and how we produce food and manage land”. The circular economy can reduce this part significantly. Further, it can bring us healthier food supporting local products of regenerative agriculture, or preventing microplastics releasing into the environment.

woman doing yoga with hula hop

Photo by Timothy Paul Smith on Unsplash

2.   Less waste

The circular economy teaches us to preserve what is already made. As such, it prefers to reuse things and packaging before disposing or recycling them. Reuse is not only good for protecting the limited natural resources, but it is also an effective way of preventing waste. (By the way, reuse is much more environmentally friendly than recycling - find out more in this article.)

Recent examples: during the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw shortages of personal protective equipment and other essential medical supplies - such as disposable gloves, respirators and face masks that are mainly imported from China. At that moment, the circular economy naturally seized the opportunity. Various businesses have applied circular economy principles to help save and protect lives. Reusable face masks designed by Michelin can be reused safely up to five times, if they go through a sterilization process, preventing 100,000 masks from ending up in landfills every day. Thanks to a large public initiative in the Czech Republic, a vast part of the society and hospitals got quickly equipped with home-sewed cotton face masks that can be sterilized in hot water and reused again and again.

reusable hand-made cotton face mask

Photo by Bára Buri on Unsplash

3. New Jobs

In the 2018 documentary Closing the loop, numerous South Africans gained new jobs thanks to the REDISA project which enabled them to collect disposed tyres and recycle them. At the same time, the environmental problem of littering has been solved. This is a typical example of the potential of the circular economy to create new jobs, even for low-qualified people. But the possibilities of circular jobs are much broader. Check the five typical examples that are already emerging in the job market.

A South-African worker collecting tyres for recyclingPhoto credit: REDISA

4. Resistant Economy

The linear economy with its extremely long supply chains showed to be extremely vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. This could even become life-threatening for any of us when suddenly faced with a shortage of the largely China-produced medical equipment. The circular economy can help us build more resilient and stronger economic systems. Through shorter distribution chains, higher local self-sufficiency and lower dependence on raw materials, our ability to resist tough times in the future can grow significantly.

5. Better Climate

It is quite simple. If we do nothing, natural emergencies caused by climate change and biodiversity loss will become more and more common, and will cause even greater economic damage than COVID-19. But in relation to the climate crisis, a switch to a 100% clean energy would solve only a part of the problem. As already mentioned, up to 45% of total emissions come from the way we make and use products. The circular economy can help reduce those emissions in several ways. For example:

  • by prioritizing reuse and repair over the take-make-dispose logic
  • by shortening the supply chains (Today, it is not unusual that fish caught in Scandinavia is being sent to China just to be turned into fillets, and then back to a French store to be sold.)
  • by preventing food from getting landfilled and releasing methane emissions

Students demonstrating on climate action

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

From the short-term to the long-term thinking

It is more than obvious that the above five topics are interrelated and that the circular economy can bring us more benefits at once. Of course, these benefits are not always financial and they might not come right away. But we must realize that the circular economy is long-term oriented. The low prices of today’s products, for example, often do not reflect their overall environmental impact. Someday, the pollution caused by their production and consequences as waste must be solved and paid for by someone. 

A switch to the circular economy is our chance for a wiser, more conscious production and consumption, and for leaving a better world for our kids. But let’s not just wait until the “big ones” make the change! Let your bike be repaired, buy food from your local farmer, shop packaging-free, or bring your own water bottle. Every little step in the right direction counts. And when millions make their little steps, the healthier, circular future becomes a reality.

By: Eva Visser, Lucie Jandová

Title Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

Read also: The COVID-opportunity for Circular Economy



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