A Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy
A Zero Waste Economy is one in which reusing, repairing, and recycling (all the Rs, but different Rs than the traditional triad!) are the norm. It’s a circular economy, and one that Ireland and the EU are striving to move towards.
A circular, or zero waste, economy is the green way to go. It will help tackle climate change, help preserve dwindling resources, but it will also save money. It is a win from all sides.
The concept has been around for more than a decade now, but got off to a slow start. In 2010 nearly 500 million tonnes of waste that could have been recycled or reused were buried in landfill or incinerated in Europe. Every year that figure drops.
How does zero waste affect the economy?
The good news is that zero waste will be worth the work to achieve it. It will have several positive effects on the economy.
The first and most obvious is that the economy will have a lower environmental impact. This is huge. Since the industrial revolution we have been pouring noxious gasses into the atmosphere, sloshing dangerous chemicals into our rivers and seas, and burying poisons under our fields. We followed the adage that the solution to pollution was dilution. Just bang everything into the sea or the air, or put it in a hole out of sight, and all was good.
All was not good. It began with smog killing people, and water quality plummeting. It escalated to a rip in the ozone layer that led to massive increases in skin cancer. The lesson not learned, we continued to vent greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, raising world temperatures alarmingly.
The knock-on effect is weather patterns that are unpredictable, agricultural failures, and rising sea levels. In zoological terms we are in the midst of a mass extinction, only the sixth in the 4.6 billion history of the planet.
A zero waste economy won’t be enough to reverse all that, but it will be a good start. Of particular importance will be the reduction in CO2 emissions.
Another effect is equally obvious. It will ease the pressure on costly and scarce resources. Many resources can be replaced – coal could be replaced by wood grown from managed forests, for example. But it takes time to grow a tree. Other resources cannot be replaced so easily. Take helium as an example. Everyone thinks it’s chief use is for party balloons, but that is not so. It’s chief use is in cryogenics, the science of super-cooling. It is used for cooling the magnets that make a hospital MRI work. Without helium we don’t have scanners.
There are other resources that are also dwindling. A zero waste, circular economy would keep those resources in circulation. A traditional linear economy will see them run out with disastrous consequences.
A nice consequence of a move towards a more circular economy will be a big jobs boost in the waste management industry. It doesn’t take much personnel to run a landfill site – someone to use the digger, and someone to man the gate. But a recycling plant employs people in sorting the waste, in processing what is recovered, even in managing where it all goes after recovery. A zero waste economy is a jobs economy.
What is an Irish Circular Economy?
An Irish Circular Economy would represent a profound change in economic thinking in this country. We have been evolving over the decades, from an insular agricultural nation where we burned everything British except their coal, to a good European neighbour with strong manufacturing, particularly in electronics and pharmaceuticals. But now we are ready for the next phase, leading the way to a greener future.
We are perfectly poised to exploit renewable natural resources. Using offshore wind and wave energy we could easily produce enough electricity to power the nation. Wind is one of our big advantages. But it must go further than this.
That is why it is so exciting to see that the Government has allocated E858 in the 2022 budget for the transition towards a climate neutral, circular and connected economy. This is a fifth more than was allocated in 2021, a big increase considering the strain the economy is under.
E368 million has been set aside for energy transformation, which includes retrofit schemes, solar PV, and renewable energy schemes for business and the public sector.
A further E152 million will go towards research to support our efforts on climate change, and E98 million will support the transition to a circular economy, and will protect natural resources.
Environment Minister Eamonn Ryan said: “Budget 2022 is about supporting our citizens as we begin the transition to a climate neutral, circular and connected economy and society. The increased funding for retrofitting and energy efficiency will build a multi-billion euro industry that will create jobs, cut emissions, and make our homes warmer and healthier.”
A Waste Action plan for a Circular Economy
The Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy was published by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications in September 2020. The new national waste policy will direct future waste infrastructure and management in Ireland. The plan emphasises the value of keeping resources in the loop, and outlines a large number of measures across various areas, including circular economy, municipal waste, consumer protection, plastics and packaging, construction and demolition, textiles, green public procurement, and waste enforcement.
At CEC we are excited by this important commitment. And we are ready to do our bit by helping our clients achieve zero waste. The more companies and businesses that commit to zero waste and circularity, the quicker we achieve our national aims. We are delighted our expertise will be moving us towards a better future for everyone.