Circular economy: the bridge between sustainability and the future of waste management industry

Although the EU is doing a good job in terms of waste management’s impact on CO2 emissions, on a global scale waste generation is expected to grow from 2 billion tonnes/ year generated in 2016 to 3.4 billion tonnes in 2050. 

Especially in low-income countries, this increase is linked to the lack of an appropriate waste management system that directly threatens the environment, biodiversity, and human health.  

The rising importance of this sector that includes the collection, transportation, and disposal of solid, liquid, or gas waste is highlighted from its 3,4% CAGR from 2021 to 2030.

Based on the surging need to comply with the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) set by the United Nations as a “blueprint to achieve a better and sustainable future”, it is probable that this growing industry will become a fundamental pillar in the realization of the future circular economic-model, based on the reuse and recycling of energy, chemicals, materials, and goods. 

But what is a circular economy? Contrasting today’s global economic system based on the linear model including the extraction of raw materials and their transformation into products that will be finally discarded as waste, the circular economy is based on the idea of natural biological lifecycle closed loops. In fact, in the biological process, the materials re-enter the ecosystem as a part of a perpetual cycle, where no waste is created. 

As a consequence, it is clear that the waste management industry plays a key role when it comes to retrieving materials from their lifecycles and reusing them in manufacturing processes as well as compostable materials to be exploited as soil fertilizer, source of production for biofuels, and biochemical feedstocks.

A clear example of commitment to the circular economy model comes from Covanta Holdings, which built its business model on the vision of providing sustainable waste and energy solutions to ensure that no waste is ever squandered.

This company is a global leader in providing sustainable energy and waste solutions and it is specialized in  Energy-from-Waste,  Electricity Generation, Solid Waste Management, Energy Recovery, Sustainable Solutions, and Utilities.

They have converted approximately 21 million tons of waste from municipalities and businesses into clean, renewable electricity annually through their facilities, and over 600,000 tons of metal are recycled. 

Nonetheless, it is important to highlight that the waste management industry is highly different globally, especially in developed and developing countries. In poor regions, 90% of waste is usually disposed of in open unregulated dumps or burned because these are the cheapest solutions. In fact, efficient waste management requires 15%-20% of the municipal budget and an efficient, sustainable and integrated system to support this. 

In conclusion, today’s challenge is not only trying to implement a circular economy and the existence of companies such as Covanta holdings but also to invest in R&D to find even more economical solutions to be exported in the developing countries to succeed in a global rather than regional reduction on CO2.

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