17 Dec 2018 - The best research available estimates there are over 150 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean today. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean will contain more plastics than fish, by weight, by 2050.
Our waste problem is, put simply, enormous. And while initiatives such as forbidding plastic straws, encouraging alternatives to plastic coffee cups, and hosting ocean cleanups are very important contributions, they are not addressing the root of the issues, and are not moving the needle nearly enough. Recycling is not a panacea for our waste woes.
To get a grasp on the problem, we need new thinking and we need to scale-up. Now. But where lie the solutions? How are we to move the proverbial needle to where it needs to be?
First, we must more deeply realise that a thriving planet — with healthy ecosystems and biodiversity — are crucial to development and a sustainable future. From reducing poverty to achieving zero hunger to securing economic growth and sustainable cities, we need a healthy environment.
Second, we need to recognise the world’s capacity for economic growth is not unlimited. In fact, just as my two kids, six and eight years old will stop growing in 10 years, in the same way, a linear economy is probably limited in its growth as well. This is outlined by economist Kate Raworth (who has previously co-authored UNDP’s Human Development Report) in her book Doughnut Economics. Raworth argues that that we have reached our planetary boundaries and that unlimited growth might not be sustainable.
Third, we need to step-up action at-scale. It is through sound government policy and business leadership, that we will make a difference.
Indeed, the private sector — multinational corporations down to small- and medium-sized enterprises — are key partners.
What is the circular economy? In contrast to the linear, extractive model I mentioned earlier, the circular economy is “an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design”. It describes a system in which re-using and recycling is maximised and waste and negative impacts are minimized — a closed loop system in which as little as possible is thrown away.
The concept is not new and has been gaining interest over the past years. However, we remain far from realizing our goals.
“We have an opportunity with the circular economy to rethink how we use resources like plastic and become a more responsible custodian of the planet. By using resources more efficiently and creating policies and economic infrastructure that encourage recycling and reuse, we can advance both Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement.” — Achim Steiner, Administrator of the UN Development Programme