Regional differences in the paths towards a circular economy

Next months, these posts deal with the challenges of Earthlings of bringing humane cities closer. These posts represent the most important findings of my e-book Humane cities. Always humane. Smart if helpful, updates and supplements included. The English version of this book can be downloaded for free here and the Dutch version here

Countries with a lower income are more “circular” than richer counterparts. Many residents simply cannot afford to throw away valuable material. In the informal sector, a great deal of economic activity revolves around sorting and reusing waste, including imported waste from rich countries. About 0.5% of the urban population in developing countries – 1.5 million in India alone – tries to make a living by collecting items from landfills, with all the health risks this entails. An estimated 270,000 people die each year from the incineration of waste. It is estimated that in 2025 landfills will cause 8 – 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Every year Circle-Economy is publishing its Circularity Report. In the 2020 version, circular growth paths for three groups of countries are differentiated[1].

Build countries (for instance: India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan and the Philippines)

These countries lack sufficient means to satisfy their basic needs, and it is not surprising that their economic activities mostly fall within the regenerative capacity of the earth. Most of these countries show progress in reducing poverty and their emerging middle class want to enjoy greater consumption. The building industry already is the second sector after agriculture.  70% of the buildings India needs in 2030 are yet to be built. 

Paths towards circularity:

  • Application of circular principles in construction (design for the future and energy-neutrality)
  • Education and developing entrepreneurial skills in the informal economy
  • Using residues from agriculture to develop a sizable bio economy

Growth countries (for instance: China, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Vietnam and Egypt)

The second pathway relates to emerging economies characterized by fast economic growth and associated material consumption and services, rapid build-up of capital goods and an expanding industrial sector. They will continue to grow, but have to channel this growth by the application of circular principles.  

Paths towards circularity:

  • Channeling fast growing consumption through new service-based business and shared-use models and healthier principles. For instance, the reemergence in China of the use of bicycles.  
  • Transforming the informal economy, creating better living conditions and improving food security.
  • Decoupling economic growth from extraction of resources and use of carbon-based energy. 

Shift countries (for instance: The United States of America, Japan, Argentina and member countries of the European Union)

Because of their ecological footprint, these countries must shift away from over-consuming the planet’s resources, and reinvent their affluent and comfortable lifestyles, also taking account of large internal differences. 

Paths towards circularity:

  • Consuming smarter through (1) product lifetime extension; (2) increase material efficiency through new technology and design and (3) promotion and adoption of sharing business models.
  • Taking control of the impact of their imports and exports, for instance by radically reducing the international trade of secondary materials and products (waste).
  • Ramp up the infrastructural transformation required to secure abundant capacity for renewable energy generation.

[1] https://assets.website-files.com/5e185aa4d27bcf348400ed82/5e26ead616b6d1d157ff4293_20200120%20-%20CGR%20Global%20-%20Report%20web%20single%20page%20-%20210x297mm%20-%20compressed.pdf

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