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Game over for the planet if the linear economy continues
Published on: Sunday, January 17, 2021
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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A goat standing amid terrific plastic pollution waste on Gaya Island.
THE game is over for the planet, unless a second industrial revolution happens which can mimic the living system where one species’ waste is another species’ food.   

Those are words from Europe – birthplace of the first Industrial Revolution.

They see doom, if the flow of pernicious industrial wastes continue to leak out the economic system big time into the living systems.   

Just google the subject, there is no lack of insightful European scientists, professors, industrialists and entrepreneurs who are howling for good riddance to the ruinous waste-bound linear economy and replace it with a waste-free circular economy.   

Until then, lots of well-intentioned eco warriors maybe wasting their time, trapped in endless frustrations of seeing their beloved mother earth going to the dogs but are powerless to make the difference.

Fruitless battles against two pernicious waste in a linear economy 

They fight hard but largely fruitless because they are unable to see the systemic culprit – the Take; Make and Throw linear economy which churns out non-stop a gargantuan amount of pernicious wastes which far outweigh all zealous but weak attempts to rid them or mitigate them.  

So the world is witnessing an unprecedented escalation of destructive wastes in two extreme forms: 

One – 2,000 gigatons of long live exogenous industrial CO2 emissions since 1750 with the attendant climate chaos – extreme heat (2020 rated the hottest year), wildfires, record-setting storms which suggest a frightening future is already here. 

Two – eight billion heading towards 12 billion tonnes of un-compostable plastic waste since the 1960s, which is predicted to outnumber fish in the oceans by 2050, as it is already choking and killing an estimated 1.4 million marine life now each year.

Just three weeks ago, we published pictures of a marine biologist in the Philippines pulling out 40 kilos of plastics from the stomach of a dead juvenile male Curvier beaked whale.

Before that we published a picture of a young albatross in Midway Island which died from a stomach-full of hard plastic fragments it had mistaken for food.

More and more, Daily Express Environmental Desk is acutely aware of these fatal blows to the planet from pernicious wastes.   

‘Ghastly future’

But over and over, we read this scientist, that professor worry about a world not grasping the urgency of a “ghastly future” in the making and not acting immediately on the gravity of the situation. 

For example, this prognosis: “I think if we continue with the linear economy, we are totally screwed,” said Dr John Elkington in a programme entitled “Closing the loop”.   “Unless we go circular, it’s game over for the planet, it’s game over for society,” asserted Prof Dr Wayne Visser, Fellow for the university of Cambridge for Sustainability Leadership.

And read this apocalyptic language: 

“We don’t have a choice but to do this. This is an imperative for our survival,” noted Christopher Davies, CEO of Body Shop International. 

“If we really don’t change our mindset, it will be the end of the world,” Rien Otto, Founder of Dutch Awareness asserted.

An exercise in futility 

Dr Visser used some pretty good metaphoric language to dramatise the futility of cleaning planet earth under a linear economic system of production.   

He said: “If we don’t solve this problem – everything else we do no matter how well-intentioned it is, will be like shifting deck chairs on Titanic. 

“Nobody is going to stop growing, nobody is going to stop striving for growth, whether it’s a country, or business or a consumer and so the only way we can fix that problem is to make it circular.” 

Even his reputation as a top 100 influencer in his field, he said he realised all his lecturing, consulting, pushing sustainability is “just not enough”.      

The only thing – redesign the system

“The only thing that is enough is redesigning the industrial system – literally a new Industrial Revolution – closing the loop.”

Given my connection with German, Italian, Spanish contacts in EU through the Global Covenant of Mayors on Climate & Energy, I know the Europeans are working for a breakthrough – the day this waste-bound linear industrial system is transformed to mimic the living system where one species’ waste is another species’ food, and doing no harm to the environment.

I heard an EU presentation on the circular economy at the UN Asia Pacific Urban Forum in Penang in August 2018.     

But just as I thought it’s just talk, here is Dr Visser’s surprise: 

“This is no longer a dream, this is no longer a fantasy, we are not talking about utopia, we are talking about something that is absolutely happening right now.” 

Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised.

Did Sabahans miss a classic demo of circular economy showpiece?  

People who toil on solving the pernicious plastic solution would remember the 80-tonne Switzerland-hailed Race for Water Foundation boat on a five-year around the world voyage which is entirely powered by solar, hydrogen and wind energy and dropped by Kota Kinabalu Aug 19-30, 2019.

Looking back, maybe we have missed the fact that is a classic living demonstration of a circular waste-free or emissions-free industrial product at work. 

Plastics from linear economy not designed for recycling: Marco   

One of the stunning statements which Marco Simeoni’s Race for Water Foundation founder and President said was plastic recycling in its current form “does not work,” even though his entire campaign is about cleaning up plastic wastes.

But far from belittling ardent recyclers, what he actually meant was plastics produced under the linear economy are not designed for recycling.       

“Remember, we are cleaning the land to prevent plastic infection of the water chain, we are not recycling, we are transforming. Recycling is a big challenge. Why? 

Because there are seven families of plastics that cannot be mixed. Separation costs a lot. Second, you have to clean plastic with still water.”

In a nutshell, recycling that un-compostable waste that takes 450 years to breakdown makes neither economic nor environmental sense. 

Showcasing a ‘revolutionary piece of technology’ for recycling unsorted plastic at molecular level   

Under his ACT programme, a central purpose of Marco dropping by KK was to tell all an emissions-free Biogreen pyrolysis technology already exist which can do a leading edge molecular recycling by heating these nasty unsorted plastics at 800 degrees Celsius in an anaerobic condition without any burning to disintegrate them at molecular level. 

This is to convert a lot of kilocalories inside plastic waste into synthesised gas to produce electricity.  

This close loop system then uses 15pc of its own electricity to provide the high heat energy needed to keep the molecular recycling going.

So, by design, a French company had already produced a technology that can be deployed locally to transform all these nasty plastic wastes into high value electricity in a circular manner that renders a pernicious waste into all round benefits. 

But Marco stressed that this “revolutionary piece of technology” is not intended to perpetuate the pernicious plastic wastes for commercial gain.

Deep future: Anticipating a circular plastic economy  

“It is rather a certain hope that while you look deeper into the future in anticipation of a circular plastic economy that is sustainable and environmentally friendly, this is a realistic solution from the Race for Water team, that deployed on a large scale, it can prevent plastics from entering our oceans, gives value to ‘wild’ plastic wastes as a viable energy source, provides jobs and a viable income to local communities,” Marco tried and make everybody understand what he is actually out to do at this juncture of history.

“For us the best option today is to transform plastic wastes into energy because plastic is made from petrol, so it has a lot of kilocalories inside – it is very energetic. 

“So transforming the plastic waste into energy is for us the most efficient way yet. But I hope that in the near future we will be able to recycle in the true sense and put plastic in the circular economy.”

With that, we have captured the mind of Marco – rooting for the arrival of a full-fledged circular economy replacing the current linear economy, when the deadly current gargantuan plastic pollution will then be history. 

To recap, the core idea of a circular economy are: elimination of waste by design; respect social, economic and the natural environment; resource-conscious and conservation conduct that replaces the operational mode of the linear economy that relies of wasteful Take; Make and Dispose flow which destroys the environment, finishing off finite resources and end up unable to supply the growing populations of pour planet with essential services, raising the cost of everything and erode profitability.                  

 

Explaining the ‘circular economy’

LIVING systems have been around for a few billion years and will be around for many more.

In the living world, there’s no landfill. Instead, materials flow. One species’ wastes is another’s food. Energy is provided by the sun.

Things grow then die, nutrients return to the soil safely and it works. Yet as humans, we have adopted a linear approach. 

We take, we make and dispose. A new phone comes out so we ditch or get rid of the old one.   

Our washing machine packs up so we buy another. Each time we do this, we are eating into a finite supply of resources and often producing toxic waste. 

It simply can’t work long-term. So what can? If we accept the living world’s cyclical model works, can we change our way of thinking so that we too can operate a circular economy? 

Let’s start with the biological cycle. How can our waste build capital rather than reduce it? By rethinking and redesigning products and components and packaging.

They come in, we can create safe and compostable materials that can help grow more stuff as they say in the movies.    

No resources have been lost in the making of this material. So, what about the washing machine, mobile phone, fridges? We know they don’t biodegrade. 

Here, we are talking about another sort of rethink – a way to recycle valuable metal, polymers and alloys so they maintain their quality and continue to be useful beyond the shelf life of individual products. 

What if the goods of today become the resources of tomorrow? 

It makes commercial sense.

Instead of the throwaways and replace culture that we become used to, we adopt a new one, where products and components are designed to be disassembled and regenerate.         

One solution maybe to rethink the way we view ownership. What if we never actually own our technologies, we simply license them from the manufacturers.

Now let’s put the two cycles together. Imagine if we could design products to come back to their makers.

Their technical materials being re-used and their biological parts increasing agricultural value and imagine these products are made and transported using renewable energy.

Here we have a model that builds prosperity long-term.

And the good news is there are already companies out there who are beginning to adopt this way of working.

But the circular economy isn’t about one manufacturer changing one product.

It’s about all interconnecting companies that form our infrastructure and economy coming together. It’s about rethinking of the operating system itself. 

We have a fantastic opportunity to open new perspectives and new horizons instead of remaining trapped in the frustrations of the present. With creativity and innovation we really can rethink and redesign our future.             

- From the Ellen Macarthur 

Foundation: Rethink the Future


 

Dr John Elkington: ‘Continue with the linear economy, we are screwed’.

Dr Wayne Visser: ‘Game over for the planet.’ 

Rien Otto: ‘End of the world, if we don’t change our mindset.’ 

Christopher Davies: ‘It is an imperative. We have no choice.’ 

Marco Simeoni, founder and President of Race for Water Foundation looking at the horrific plastic pollution in Gaya Island August 2019: Pyrolysis technology exists to do molecular recycling of unsorted plastic waste. 





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