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Sustainable future

Beyond mountains of waste, a sustainable economy is seen

Written by: Mital Hall

The linear economy has persisted domesticly and worldwide. Until recently, democracies, monarchies, and totalian regimes have all followed the same economic model.

Drawing the line

Linear Economic Model

This model has served many generations, yet it endangers future generations. Some of the consequences are piled in front of us today. Others drift in the oceans, pollute our air, and bring about drought, wildfires, and storms. Looking ahead, the linear takemakewaste of natural resources will be unsustainable.

Resource extraction

Organizations and individuals TAKE raw materials from the planet. Depending on what is to be produced, minerals, water, trees, and anything else needed are acquired.

Manufacturing

The acquired materials are refined, combined, and shaped as needed to MAKE a product.

Distribution

Products are transported, warehoused, and shipped. The route to the consumer is seldom a direct line and may involve several stops.

Consumption

With use, the product’s value diminishes until the linear model reaches its end.

Disposal

Natural resources are partially consumed in a linear model. The remains become WASTE. That waste is seen piled on landfills, floating in the ocean, and polluting the air.

Both ends of the linear economy are unsustainable. At the beginning, resource extraction, natural resources dwindle. At disposal, the planet cannot regenerate useful material from the waste. The takemakewaste process is a catalyst for environmental bankruptcy.

Creating the circle

Circular economic model

In our linear economy, waste is the end of the line. Further use of materials can bring that line around to form a circular economy model.

Sourcing

In both economic models, organizations and individuals must extract raw materials from the planet. The difference is in the amount of those materials needed. The circular model reduces the amounts by reclaiming the output of previous cycles.

Manufacturing

Extracted and reclaimed materials are processed and shaped into products.

Distribution

The circular economy is localized, reducing the need for packaging, transportation, and warehousing.

First use

Individual and organizational consumers have critical roles in a circular economy. They collect products after first use. This enables further use, while limiting any loss of residual value.

Further use

Onsite maintenance and upgradeable design keeps products in service as assets, not waste. Some assets may be downcycled and redistributed. Others may be fully or partially remanufactured.

Biological goods have important roles in a circular economy. Instead of piling waste into methane-producing mountains, biowaste is transformed to biogas, compost, and fertilizers.

Disposal

All of the preceding phases, from resource extraction through further use, limit waste. Recycling — returning used materials to manufacturers — is no longer the only way to divert waste from landfills.

Right-sizing circularity

In 2018, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) found that the current recycling rate was 34%. In announcing that, the USCCF proposed its Beyond 34 initiative. The goal was to put the circular economy within reach of all organizations and communities.

Beyond 34 will right-size circularity. The initiative promotes and supports the challenging transition to a circular economy. That transition can be accomplished through partnerships, greater public awareness, and through clear communication in communities across the United States. Circularity, enabled through the powerful Beyond 34 model, will divert valuable resources away from landfills. Residual value can be claimed through continuous, sustainable loops.

A pilot program conducted in Orlando, Florida assessed current conditions and future challenges. Based on those, several recommendations were documented in a case study report:

  • Organize a recycling champions’ network.
  • Develop a regional plan for recycling.
  • Leverage technology to recover more commodity recyclables.
  • Expand a backyard composting and food waste drop-off network.
  • Develop supportive waste policies and incentives.
  • Engage public and private stakeholders through a collaborative communications campaign.

Planning meeting

Resham Shirsat (Sustainability Project Manager, City of Orlando), who leads Orlando’s continued Beyond 34 initiative, met with Alexa Stone (President, ecoPreserve) and Janaina C. Pasqual Lofhagen (Senior Sustainability Consultant, Jacobs) to discuss stakeholder engagement and further steps forward.

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