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The COVID-opportunity for Circular Economy

SARS-Co-V-2, the virus causing the COVID-19 disease has provided one of the most disruptive changes with global consequences that we have observed since the Second World War. Governments all over the world have adopted strict measures to counter the spread of the virus, and even as life is now slowly turning back to normal, things will probably never be fully the same again. While we are slowly waking up, still immersed in a slower rhythm, we can use this situation as an opportunity to reflect on the sustainability of our current economic system.

lower air pollution above Chine due to COVID-19NO2 amounts in China in January and February 2020. Source: NASA

During the strict quarantine, the positive effects that our economic slowdown brought to the environment were particularly evident. We saw reduced greenhouse gas emissions and improvements in air quality. Also on social media the examples were manyfold, causing people to reflect on them. This demonstrates us how our current linear system has been failing our planet. Specifically, the covid-19 pandemic has made the interlinkages between these challenges and the scale of the climate crisis more apparent than ever. So we are left to wonder: could COVID-19 become an umatched opportunity to move away from our current economy of fossil fuels and unlimited growth in order to create a sustainable balance between people, prosperity and our planetary boundaries?  

One of the examples of our current systematic unsustainability is the waste crisis that is going on in Europe and around the world. The consequences of the COVID-19 crises with regard to this are also substantial, this time in a quite negative way. In this interview Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle and the driving force behind Loop, gave his idea about what the world would look like once we wake up in the post-COVID world. According to him, we would wake up in a better climate but in a worse environment from a waste perspective. And he was right: pictures of disposable gloves and face masks floating in the ocean are now massively spreading across diverse media channels. For these reasons, too, the circular economy topic seems more important than ever. 

facemask on the ocean surfacephoto: Naomi Brannan / OceansAsia

At the same time, the coronavirus intensified the discussion on food safety and hygiene, with disposable plastic packaging often highlighted as the safest option. In particular, the plastics industry often claims that disposable plastics are the only secure protection from germs. Scientists, however, are not drawing such clear conclusions (read more here).

Moreover, the systems behind the way in which our food is produced, packed and transported seems to matter the most. In the above interview, Tom Szaky mentioned an example of a disposable coffee cup that has been exposed to dust in a cafe shelf for weeks. This cup can be a bigger hygienic risk for the customer than a well-sterilized reusable container that had been rotating in secure closed loops.

Circular Economy and reuse systems have great potential to be developed to counter hygiene problems in the wake of the current crisis, while also holding the solution to our waste crisis that has become even more pressing today. This is why, even and especially since a fall-back to single-use plastics is currently taking place, we should not give up on the Circular Economy and its promising vision. For circular solutions, the Covid-19 crisis can serve as a push to innovate further and to work intensively on the developments towards protection and hygiene. 

MIWA wants to be a pioneer in the safety and hygiene of packaging solutions. In addition to the hygienic benefits that our technology already brings in the producer-retailer phase, our goal is to redefine the purchasing process and reduce physical interaction between the customer and the sales module to the minimum. At the same time, we do not intend to resign on waste prevention and reducing the environmental footprint of the food. We are ready to furtherly contribute to reuse and support circular economy, which brings hope to the world by its ability to build better economic systems, stable and resilient to a possible future crisis.

by: Eva Visser, Lucie Jandová

title photo by Eddie Tsy on Unsplash

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