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A Circular Economy for All: ‘What Goes Around Comes Around!’

My recent visit to a bookshop took me by surprise: I saw it filled with deeply engrossed individuals trying to secure their next ‘best friend’. The surprise element was more attributed to an amalgamation of the pandemic and the hostile takeover by e-books. However, whatever said and done, though technology seems to have taken over most of our lives, there still seems to be ample room for the
‘old school’.

Technology dissemination that happens via devices of all shapes, sizes and forms has made our lives so dependent on it that we no longer remember meeting dates, birthdays, phone numbers, and so on—as we used to do earlier. And, this is just one aspect. We humans do not seem to have enough of our technical gadgets.

As per Invest India, the world’s fastest growing industry, that is, Electronics System Design and Manufacturing (ESDM) continues to transform lives, businesses, and economies across the globe. The global electronics market is estimated to be over $2 tn. India’s share in global electronics manufacturing has grown from 1.3 per cent in 2012 to 3 per cent in 2018. Some other noticeable points are as follows:

India is expected to have a digital economy of $1 tn by 2025

One of the largest electronics markets in the world anticipated reaching $400 bn by 2025

India’s ESDM sector is expected to generate $100–130 bn in economic value by 2025.

The above figures do not come as a surprise, given the fact that more than 60 per cent of India’s population is below 35 years of age; but what does come as whopper is what we do with these gadgets once their life-span, albeit a short one, draws to a close. Of the more than 2 million tonnes of e-waste generated annually by India, a dismal 17 per cent or whereabouts is what is recycled for re-usage! Reasons are aplenty: the know-how pertaining to effective, intelligent, sustainable recycling of this huge mass of e-waste is missing; what is known hardly accounts for what one can term as recycling; the informal nature of the sector; faulty policies, regulations and rules; and most importantly the motivation behind recycling of e-waste as an industry is absent. These are just some of the many hurdles.

The declaration of achieving a $5 trillion economy by 2025 throws the spotlight on the manufacturing sector, across products, which makes the concept of a circular economy imperative. As per a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, circular economy would have the most impact on three focus areas: cities and construction, food and agriculture, and mobility and vehicle manufacturing.

Let us understand what is, actually, meant by a circular economy: in definition it is, basically, right the opposite of a linear economy. As the name suggests, in a circular economy what goes in as input and results in a certain output is re-introduced into the cycle so that any waste generated during that particular journey is re-utilized as much as possible. This way, value and profit are enhanced as the life span of products, in diverse forms, is extended. In other words, these three R’s are integral: reuse, recycle, and remanufacture, if you can’t reduce.

For a rapidly developing country such as India, the adoption of a circular economy is of paramount importance, not only because of the rate of growth the country is undergoing and projecting, but also because of the numerous benefits this concept brings with it: reduction of environmental distress, increase in business savings and profits, efficient production processes and quality outputs. In order to understand the dire need of application of the concept of circular economy to our country, here is a look at some hard-hitting facts that not only serve as food for thought but also underline the need for a faster adoption of this approach.

According to an article in the Business World, between 1970 and 2015, India registered a sixfold increase from 1.18 billion to 7 billion tonnes in annual material consumption. By 2022, India will be the most populous nation in the world, and it is expected that by 2030, its annual material consumption would double to 14.2 billion tonnes due to population growth, urbanization, economic mobility, and the resulting growth in per capita resource consumption. Currently, India’s resource extraction of 1580 tonnes/acre is 251 per cent higher than the world average of 450 tonnes/acre. While Europe recycles 70 per cent of its consumption items, India recycles only 20 per cent. India is also the third-highest emitter of greenhouse gases, and accounts for 9.2 per cent of total world emissions. Given that India aspires to become a global manufacturing hub, we would witness higher levels of consumption of raw materials, than what is required to meet India’s domestic needs. Therefore, India’s traditional take-make-waste linear economic approach will cause severe ecological damage with untoward economic and social ramifications.

So, where lies the solution? It is multipronged. In recent times, the concept of PRO or Producer Responsibility Organization, introduced to provide further impetus to the EPR or Extended Producer Responsibility, has gained momentum; this term attributes the responsibility of collection and return of e-waste generated from a producer’s products back to them to ensure environmentally sound management of such e-waste. E-waste recycling is a science that needs the required infrastructure and know-how, so that the e-waste supplied is actually recycled under stringent conditions, which is why the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India has initiated several programmes that encourage technical know-how that is, in application, both affordable and effective; the latter is not only important for the well-being of the environment and the humans associated with these recycling processes, but also to serve as the genesis for an entire sector that is both lucrative, sustainable, and very much needed.

As per an article by Samar Lahiry in Down To Earth, The MeitY has developed affordable technologies to recycle valuable materials and plastics in an environmentally sound manner, including two exclusive PCB recycling technologies, namely, 1000 kg/day capacity (~35 MT e-waste) and 100 kg/batch (~3.5MT e-waste) processes, with acceptable environmental norms. The 1000 kg PCB/day continuous process plant would be suitable for creating an eco-park in the country, whereas, the 100 kg PCB/batch process plant would be suitable for the informal sector. This could be done by upgrading and transforming the present state of affairs of informal sectors.

As per a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation on the Circular Economy, dated 2016, some of umbrella measures, in the domain of agriculture, that support the concept of a circular economy are (summarized): regenerative agricultural production, more resource-efficient agricultural practices enabled by technology, digitally-enabled asset- and knowledge-sharing solutions, digitized food supply chains, and peri-urban and urban farming, among others.

The importance of the concept is very valid in the construction/housing sector too, which is seeing a steady growth despite the setback brought by the pandemic. Concepts such as sharing spaces effectively and safely are re-emerging, slowly and steadily. This encourages resource sharing and reduces pressure on spaces and connected infrastructure. Besides, rethinking the design element including the type of material used, the spread of spaces and the possibility of easy deconstruction, reassembly and replicability are being considered. Data plays a crucial role even here, especially pertaining to the life cycle of construction material, and sustainable construction using disruptive innovations. This is also where the modular concept plays a significant role.  

 In an interesting article by Prasanna Karthik, for ORF, he notes: ‘In order to successfully transition to a circular economic model, there are many forms of digital, engineering and process technologies that need to be built and developed. While market forces will incentivize the development of digital technologies, the government must play a key role in promoting the development of engineering and process technologies required to build a circular economy. Across the 10 polluting sectors, key engineering and process technologies that are central to developing a robust circular model of production must be identified and investments into their development must be funded and facilitated either directly by the government or through innovative models that attract private
sector investments.’

The move towards a circular economy should not be a knee-jerk reaction, but obviously it has to be a well strategized, planned and implemented move, with the latter involving a multi-pronged approach involving different stakeholders—right from the citizens (awareness generation, understanding, accepting, facilitating, skilling/reskilling) to governments at diverse levels (central to local; with sectoral guidelines and implementation of these on a strong foundation); from simple, standardized, cost-effective innovations that enable easy implementation and adherence for long-term sustainability to foolproof policy making and enforcement; and from funding solutions to long-term, sustainable partnerships, it is an approach that requires thoughtful strategizing, careful planning, and effective implementation, not to forget Big Data which if collected efficiently real-time, collated in a timely fashion, and extrapolated serves as the base on which the entire concept of a circular economy can stand strong whilst bracing winds
of change.

Waste is not waste until we waste it. This is the essence of a circular economy—a necessity for survival of Mother Earth and the human species. #

Sarah Berry is the Head of Communications at the Centre for the Digital Future (CDF). The contents of this article have been compiled and authored by the author herself, and do not reflect the opinions of the organization (CDF) in any way.

   
© TERI 2020
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Nominations open for CSP Today India awards 2013


The inaugural CSP Today India awards ceremony takes place on March 12, and CSP developers, EPCs, suppliers and technology providers can now be nominated.

CSP has made tremendous progress since the announcement of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission in 2010. With Phase I projects now drawing closer to completion, the first milestone in India's CSP learning curve is drawing closer. CSP Today has chosen the next CSP Today India conference (12-13 March, New Delhi) as the time for the industry to reflect upon its progress and celebrate its first achievements.

At the awards ceremony, industry leaders will be recognized for their achievements in one of 4 categories: CSP India Developer Award, CSP India Engineering Performance Award, CSP India Technology and Supplier Award, and the prestigious CSP India Personality of the Year.

Matt Carr, Global Events Director at CSP Today, said at the opening of nominations that CSP Today are excited to launch these esteemed awards, which will enhance the reputation of their recipients. I am particularly excited to launch the CSP India Personality of the Year award, a distinguished honor for the industry figure deemed worthy by their peers.

All eyes will be on the CSP Today India 2013 Awards when nomination entry closes on February 4 and the finalists are announced on February 11. The awards are open to all industry stakeholders to nominate until February 4 at
http://www.csptoday.com/india/awards-index.php or by e-mail to awards@csptoday.com

Contact:
Matt Carr
+44 (0) 20 7375 7248
matt@csptoday.com