Circular economy can save environment, jobsWritten by Shahino Mah
One can find discarded face masks and gloves in cities, streets, drains, rivers and sea due to people taking environmental cleanliness for granted.
We should not rely solely on the government and non-governmental organisations to reduce waste.
Manufacturers have to "rethink" before producing products that eventually put the environment as the receiving end. Similar to consumers' 3R (reduce, reuse and recycle) practices, manufacturers should have environment friendly practices in their production process.
Expanding the 3R to 7R (rethink, refuse, reduce, repurpose, reuse, recycle and rot) will further support ecological sustainability. Another form of 7R (rethink, reduce, reuse, repair, refurbish, recover and recycle) adopts the circular economy model.
The conventional economic system practises "take-make-waste" that drains natural resources due to the manufacturing of unsustainable products, which increase the burden of landfills. A circular economy avoids the non-sustainable use of resources and allows the regeneration of the natural system.
In the 7R principle, the "rethink" is for manufacturers to be mindful of the use of resources, including waste production, since the business model should address the issue of depleting resources and waste reduction.
An alternative is adopting a shared economy, which operates with fewer resources compared with the conventional business model with singular ownership.
The "reduce" of resources encourages manufacturers to apply lean design principles and extend product life spans, which curb wastage. The "reduce" in this case can also mean making a product that can last longer.
It will allow manufacturers to keep existing equipment much longer or transfer it to other users. It is also applicable for consumers who own the product and maintain it for their use. These measures not only save money but also the environment in the long run.
"Reuse" means transferring used products that are in good condition to other users, for example, through a second-hand marketplace. It can benefit manufacturers that maintain the quality of their equipment and products, allowing consumers to get affordable, well-maintained used items.
"Refurbish" will allow the transformation of used products into new ones with new designs or performances. It can mean upcycling old products by giving them new life.
"Refurbish" is applicable when the product is beyond repair and refurbish. The product has to be dissembled before being recycled. Electrical components may contain precious materials such as gold.
By adopting the "circular economy" 7R principles, nothing ends as wastage. There will be no more build-up of waste in landfills. The existing waste in landfills can be discarded through the above principle via energy conversion.
A circular economy can be the right strategy for manufacturers to save the environment and money, as well as return jobs lost during the pandemic.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia
Published in: The New Straits Times, Monday 23 Aug 2021