"Value chains can only last if they will be based on reuse and circularity. Chains based on mining waste will lose their value and eventually become obsolete, so investors understand this. I think this is hopefully just the start of moving the circular economy forward." Tony Fadell, Principal of Future Shape and the founder and former CEO of Nest Labs. (August 2022)
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) states that only 7.2% of used materials are cycled back into our economies after they are used. (UNDP) Additionally, within the past two decades material consumption has risen over 65% around the world, reaching 95.1 billion metric tons in 2019. Consequently, the environment suffers, contributing negatively to climate change, adding pollution and decreasing the biodiversity. “By the same year, an estimated 13 percent of the food destined for human consumption was lost after harvesting and another 17 percent was wasted at the household, food service and retail levels. The amount of electronic waste reached 7.3 kilograms per capita in 2019, and the majority is not managed in a sound way, harming the environment and our health.” (Climate Promise, UNDP) For this reason, the United Nations believes that expanding a Circular Economy would help create more sustainable communities and societies. Circular activities, which support a circular economy, are things like maintaining materials and products through sustainable processes such as reusing, refurbishment, recycling, composting, and remanufacturing. (Ellen MacArthur Foundation) The International Labour Organization (ILO) states that “if the world implemented more circular activities such as recycling, repair, rent, and remanufacture, it would create 6 million jobs globally by 2030.” (International Labour Organization)
Across the united States, some cities have adopted Circular Economy measures with the goal of creating a resilient community. San Francisco passed a legislation in 2018 dictating that all carpets installed within city departments “would be at least Cradle to Cradle Certified Silver and must not contain antimicrobials, fluorinated compounds, flame retardant chemicals, or other chemicals of concern.” The purpose of this action was to reduce discarded carpet amounts that get sent to landfills, which is over 80% within the United States, and ensure the wellbeing of everyone in the San Francisco City departments. (Ellen MacArthur Foundation) In a White House communique, the United States government says that “circular economy innovations can contribute not only to decarbonization and net-zero goals, but also to economic growth and jobs, environmental justice, ending pollution, supply chain security, and other important priorities for America.” (The White House) The current Biden-Harris Administration wants to accelerate innovative ideas to achieve a net-zero goal, as part of their Net-Zero Game Changers Initiative. In November of 2021, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the National Recycling Strategy, which outlines details a framework for building a circular economy within the United States context. Recently this year, in April of 2023, the EPA released the Draft National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution with the intention of helping the government develop action plans to help reduce food waste in various communities across the country.
Adopting Circular Economy measures and activities comes with its fair share of trials and challenges. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) lays out five main categories of gaps in moving forward with this model, namely: financial, regulatory, policy, awareness, and capacity. (OECD) In the context of the United States, the government has stated that it wants to achieve a goal of cutting total food waste in half by 2030. Circular Economy experts from New York, Erinn G. Ryen and Callie W. Babbitt explain that “the U.S. lacks federal regulations that directly align with this goal, relying instead on voluntary standards and initiatives led by firms, communities, and non-profits.” (E. Ryen & C. Babbitt) One of the main gaps claimed here is the lack of federal policies being released to promote these sustainable activities. How can U.S. policy support local communities to initiate Circular Economy regulations that will help boost livelihood and sustainability measures?
This symposium will provide local government officials, policymakers, and other key stakeholders with an opportunity to discuss the state of current sustainability measures and how Circular Economy measures can adequately address issues of waste and protect societies from the negative effects of climate change.
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