From the linear economy to the circular economy: a necessary change

Julen Rekondo

Our planet is going from bad to worse. If resource consumption continues to increase as in recent years, by 2050 the world’s population would need three times more materials and 70% more food. Just in the next twenty years, the need for water and energy will be 40% greater. This race will have a full impact on a European industry in which 40% of its total costs are due to raw materials, compared, for example, to 20% of labour costs.

But it is not only oil or gas that are considered critical resources. The supply of others to industry, such as antimony, gallium, germanium, thallium or platinum, presents serious risks.

If we continue to use resources at the current rate, by 2050 we will need, in total, the equivalent of more than two planets to sustain ourselves.

Today’s Linear Economy of “manufacture, use and dispose” is a reflection of a time when resources and energy were thought to be unlimited and easy to obtain and there was no awareness of the serious environmental consequences.

Now the Circular Economy proposes a logical and viable alternative, which aims to ensure that products, components and resources in general maintain their usefulness and value at all times or what is the same change the mentality thinking of waste as resources, taking advantage again and again in a cyclical process.

The circular economy implies a paradigm shift. In the circular economy products are thought, designed and manufactured taking into account their entire useful life: production, transport, distribution, use and end of life. We have to witness a change of production model in which emphasis is placed on products being dismantled, repaired, updated, etc., in order to prolong their maximum useful life.

In short, the circular economy transcends recycling. It is a new approach and this is: rethink, redesign, repair, redistribute, reduce, reuse, recycle and recover energy.

The Basque Country is a region where the circular economy is advancing rapidly. With only two million inhabitants, an industrial GDP of 24%, focused on the sectors of raw material processing and equipment manufacturing and an intermediate position in innovation according to the ‘Regional Innovation Scoreboard’, it adds the right conditions to become a pilot region for circular economy initiatives for the European Union. Currently, the Basque economy is resource-intensive from abroad depending on 75% of imports. Our annual need for materials is 187 tonnes per person. In ten years, productivity has gone from generating 1.5 to 2.9 per kilogram of material used, although waste generation accounts for 7% of the total consumption of tons of raw materials, this is 4.2 MM tons per year.

The Circular Economy must be a priority in today’s society. Promoting it means detecting new solutions and business opportunities that require a public-private partnership to promote the eco-design of products, improving the efficiency of advanced manufacturing processes, recycling and recovery.

JULEN REKONDO is technical director of the environmental consultancy INGURUNE S.L., since 1992. He studied Chemistry at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU). 

He has worked for more than 30 years on environmental issues, sustainability, information and environmental journalism.

He has participated in the drafting of various Waste Management Plans, and in the preparation of Environmental Impact Studies and Environmental Impact Assessment (ECIA), as well as in General Urban Development Plans (PGOU) of several municipalities.

He has coordinated and managed numerous projects for the development and implementation of sustainability processes in numerous municipalities and cities in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country. 

He has been awarded the 1998 National Environment Prize by the Ministry of the Environment on an annual basis.

Gonzalo Nardiz” Prize 2001 awarded by the Department of Agriculture of the Basque Government, now the Vice-Ministry of Agriculture, for its outstanding activity in the dissemination and research of issues related to the conservation of nature and biodiversity.

He is a member of Naturzaintza- Advisory Council for Nature Conservation of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, attached to the Department of Environment and Territorial Policy of the Basque Government, from 1995 to the present.

He is the author of several books, including “Haz algo por la Ecología”, “Cambio Climático”, and “Ayuntamiento y Medio Ambiente”.





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