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How a circular economy will help India post COVID-19?

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The COVID-19 situation has reiterated that climate change and associated environmental risks can no longer be ignored. It has forced us to look at different ways to ensure continuity. And we saw new trends emerge in the way technology has been leveraged, manufacturing or distribution is done, how we purchase and consume things or even how we collaborate to source materials or with smaller enterprises. Influenced by new limits, these trends, help promote a circular economy – the only philosophy that can accommodate people’s needs in the long run in an eco-friendly manner.

In a circular economy regeneration, reuse and repurposing is encouraged either during or post production. This allows waste or by-products to be diverted back into trade or natural cycles. Consumption of existing products is optimized through the design of a circular economy thereby even reducing waste generated.

Post COVID-19, businesses and government have an opportunity to build a resilient and low-carbon recovery where circular use of resources are fundamental. As India prepares to rebound post the COVID pandemic this it will be crucial to implement learnings that will allow industries and smaller enterprises shift towards a  more sustainable and resilient future .

Here are some ways a circular economy will help India recover post COVID-19:

Making investments in sustainable infrastructure

This is a great opportunity for India Inc. to invest in infrastructure that promotes better waste management which is one of the major blocks in India’s path to achieving a circular economy. Treating waste water and by-products through such tech will help enhance their usability in alternative industrial or biological cycles. For instance effluent or sewage treatment plants can help purify water that can be reused in various processes as well as for horticulture, thereby reducing the intake of freshwater. Similarly, utilising recycled or reused steel for building construction could generate up to 25% in material cost savings per tonne of steel.[1] The processing of recycled aggregates compared to virgin ones could reduce GHG emissions by 40% or more.[2]

This route also allows industries to guide smaller unorganized waste processors to realign and modernize their operations in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. This is still an unorganized sector, and through such modifications, it becomes a more lucrative livelihood option for India’s masses while protecting the environment.

While the government has regulations to ensure proper waste treatment, further incentives and subsidies to industries pioneering initiatives that go beyond stated regulations would help motivate others to follow.

Changing consumption patterns

The current crisis offers an opportunity for implementing demand-side solutions to drive long-term behavioural changes for more sustainable development. By promoting reuse, recycling and repair models for consumption businesses can contribute to a circular economy and reduce the waste of resources generated by current models. For example, continuing the work from home model could help reduce traffic congestion, energy consumption and air pollution. The government can help by increasing more public transport options and ensuring their regularity.

Reuse business models for packaging

The Indian government must aim at shaping a more competitive and less polluting packaging sector, wherein plastics could be reused and repurposed. Reducing growth in plastic production and consumption can avoid one-third of global projected plastic waste generation by 2040.[3] For this, innovative reuse business models could be devised. Alternatively, plastic collection, sorting, and recycling infrastructure could also be leveraged.

To enable the transition to a circular economy, the government has launched a national waste-to-wealth mission, which is aimed at identifying and deploying waste treatment solutions, generate energy, recycle materials, and extract new resources. The mission presents a significant planning and investment vehicle for scaling up successful circular economy solutions for creating long-term prosperity.

Research shows development through a circular economy approach could benefit India by US$ 624 billion in 2050 compared to the current growth plan, which is equal to 30% of its current GDP2.

There is hence no better time than NOW to execute a quantum shift from the present linear model to a climate-neutral circular economy. Through innovation, awareness, responsible consumption, waste management and policies among other interventions, use of limited natural resources can be optimized and repurposed. And this is only possible through the interlocking of interests between the government, industries and citizens who all need to work in unison to make the circular economy model a success.

[1] ARUP, The Circular Economy in the Built Environment (September 2016)

[2] Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Circular economy in India: Rethinking growth for long-term prosperity (5th December 2016)

[3] Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, Breaking the plastic wave: A Comprehensive Assessment of Pathways Towards Stopping Ocean Plastic Pollution (2020)

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