Coming full circle

Coming full circle

Simamnkele Ngxesha explores the importance of circular economies and the efforts being made by various industries to manage waste and implement recycling systems.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity committed to creating circular economies, notes that a circular economy replaces the end-of-life concept with a more restorative one of reusing and recycling. In a circular economy, the environment has “assimilative capacity”, meaning that certain waste can be harmlessly reabsorbed into the environment and even become useful by-products.

According to the Financial Times, circular economies provide key mechanisms in the global race towards net zero. This is because while net zero only focuses on cutting greenhouse gas emissions as close to zero as possible and keeping waste out of the environment, circular economies go one step further, by striving to regenerate the environment. If we think of net zero as a goal, a circular economy is a systematic framework that helps us achieve said goal.

The agricultural industry has massive potential to embrace a circular economy. Many agricultural operations generate large amounts of organic waste, such as crop residues, animal manure, and food processing by-products. Rather than disposing of this waste in landfills or burning it, farmers can use it to create compost, a nutrient-rich soil amendment that can be used to improve soil health and fertility.

In South Africa, some farmers are using composting as a way to reduce their reliance on chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which can have a number of negative environmental impacts. By using compost instead, they are able to improve soil structure and water retention, while also reducing erosion and nutrient runoff. Composting also has the potential to create new revenue streams for farmers.

South Africa is developing a keen interest in using biochar (pyrolysed biomass) as a soil amendment and compost from plant and food waste, due to its significant potential. An opportunity exists to increase the use of organic fertilisers in the South African agricultural sector, so that nutrient loops are closed and the need for mineral fertilisers is reduced. There is also a need to rebuild the topsoil and soil-holding capacity of agricultural lands.

The automotive industry is another sector that is fighting the good fight. Some of the measures implemented include the recycling of waste materials such as tyres, batteries, and scrap metal. There are also efforts to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing processes by adopting cleaner technologies.

Ten years ago, Renault began its circular economy journey by developing a remanufacturing facility in Paris. As the company moves rapidly into electric vehicles, the facility has developed into an extensive circular economy ecosystem, integrating new partnerships, product re-use, mobility-as-a-service business models, and renewable energy grid services within a new circular economy factory concept.

In addition to these industries, governments in Africa are taking steps to promote waste management and recycling. Many African countries have implemented waste management policies and regulations to promote sustainable waste management practices. Some governments are also investing in waste management infrastructure, such as recycling plants and waste-to-energy facilities.

In conclusion, waste management and recycling are essential for the development of sustainable and circular economies in Africa. Many industries in Africa are taking steps to reduce their waste and carbon footprint, from using recycled materials to implementing closed-loop systems. By promoting sustainable practices and supporting the recycling industry, Africa can move towards a more sustainable future for all.

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