Resource extraction across the world is getting more and more intensive. Material flows (both of virgin and used materials) are getting skewed.
Some of the important factors responsible for the shift are market globalization, presence of perverse subsidies (i.e. unrealistic resource pricing) and unevenness in
These changes have a major significance for the economy and more so for the very resource security of this planet. There is no doubt that we need to think of waste and
resources at the same time as it is followed in a circular economy.
One of the most effective UPSTREAM strategies to address this increasing threat to resources is to REDUCE consumption and redesign the products we make and the services we offer.
The first strategy requires change in the behavioural patterns or the way we live. Given the rising rate of urbanization, the increasingly prosperous middle class (especially in Asia) and the promotion of consumerism through media, it is
extremely difficult to expect this change will ever happen! If you say no to a product because you feel there is no need, someone will simply dump the product on you (as a free trial or as a friendly gift) to trap you or enslave you!!
The second UPSTREAM strategy of REDESIGN requires innovation, risk appetite and top management commitment – and this cannot be achieved overnight.
Here, companies need to exhibit outof-the-box thinking to find ways to reduce material and energy intensity and increase recycled content in their products. Products need to be redesigned to reduce/eliminate hazardous substances, increase
recyclability (and improve safety during recycling) and make remanufacturing possible with most of the components getting reused.
Here, we are essentially talking about smart manufacturing in the true sense. All this should lead to reduction in the wastes we produce and reduce consumption of our
Due to increasing consumption and years of inefficiencies in manufacturing practices, however, waste volumes across the world have been on a steep rise. This has led to a
sunrise in the global waste management industry. This industry is thriving on the DOWNSTREAM strategies of waste RECYCLING & REUSE – extracting metals, biosolids, Refuse or Solid Derived Fuels, bio-gas, syngas, heat, electricity, engineered materials etc. from and reversing material flows and thereby reducing the consumption of virgin resources. The waste industry today supports significant employment – both in formal and informal sectors. Millions of poor people in the world’s largest cities earn their livelihood because waste is around.
Therefore the waste industry wants more waste to be produced– so that it can grow and survive. REDUCE at UPSTREAM can affect the DOWNSTREAM opportunities of
REUSE and RECYCING.
I remember the CEO of a waste-toenergy plant who used to hate bans on plastics as they would reduce the calorific value of waste. A Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) company I know, discouraged members of the CETP to reduce the effluent volumes by specifying in the contract a guarantee for effluent supply. So has been the case in many Public Private Partnership contracts (PPP) for managing Municipal Solid
Waste wherein waste supply guarantee is an essential precondition. ‘Don’t you ever REDUCE waste’, the PPP partner warns.
There are many such examples of conflicting interests between UPSTREAM and DOWNSTREAM resource and waste management. There is no doubt, it defeats
I like the picture below that shows priority among REDUCE, REUSE and RECYCLE.
Source – www.ecoglobalbcn.blogspot.com
So REDUCE should always be the first priority, followed by REUSE and RECYCLING.
Note that the players in the REDUCE and REUSE & RECYCLE space are generally different. In REDUCE, top management, product designers and consumers play a dominant role whereas in REUSE & RECYCLE, waste pickers, community and waste
processing specialists have a greater interest.
What we need is an integrated approach. Bringing these stakeholders together to ensure an integrated waste & resource thinking is very important. We don’t see that
happening. Very rarely do product designers and waste processors talk. Products when redesigned cleverly can not only REDUCE material and energy intensity or eliminate
hazardous substances but also increase potential REUSE and provide more opportunities for RECYCLING. A systems thinking is necessary. And we need examples that show possibilities and benefits of such integration.
I would love to conduct workshops to bring these stakeholders together and explore how to resolve the apparent conflicts between UPSTREAM and DOWNSTREAM. These workshops will perhaps help in better communication between the stakeholders and lead to more partnerships and motivational examples to share. Let UPSTREAM meet DOWNSTREAM.
(cover image sourced from connectedhome2go.files.wordpress.com)