The linear take, make, use and dispose model is not working. It is causing ecological havoc, exacerbating biodiversity loss, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and intensifying climate change. Coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic and other emergencies, this approach is also deepening existing socio-economic inequalities.
In response, circularity, which focuses on designing out waste and pollution, keeping materials in use and regenerating natural systems is becoming popular. Businesses and governments have embraced circular economy principles and practices as part of efforts to build back better and prepare for future crises and emergencies.
Businesses for instance have adopted new models that decouple resource use from growth, doing more with less through improvements in multi-factor productivity. They are also unlocking value from resources by using waste as raw materials and inputs. Other approaches include the mapping of resource flows through resource mapping and measurement, closing the loop with suppliers to ensure they honour circular economy principles.
Other businesses have gone further by implementing circular economy principles internally, promoting circular economy behavior among stakeholders, and developing new materials, chemicals and processes. Within the financial sector, banks such as HSBC have pledged to invest in and finance sustainability development.
They have committed to achieve netzero in their operations and supply chain by 2030 and reduce financed emissions in their client portfolio by 2020. They are helping companies find sustainable ways of doing business both by providing sustainable finance solutions and advisory services including green and social bonds.
On their part, governments have made environmental justice, building back better and carbon neutrality, which have been enshrined in law, key policy objectives. Zero waste policies, plastic bans and recycling mandates have been enacted to promote sustainable waste behavior and reduce plastic pollution.
In some cases, Covid-19-related funding has been made conditional on the attainment of key environmental targets and the incorporation of circular economy and just transition principles. The emergence of material exchanges and surplus food rescue and distribution sectors attest to the growing importance of circularity.
In Ghana, organizations such as the Institute for Environment & Social Innovation (IESI), the Africa Circular Economy Network (ACEN) and the UNDP through its Waste Recovery Platform are promoting circular economy practices and principles, building on what have been in use for centuries.
Also, the work of companies such as Zoomlion though not officially termed as such also contributes to find circular economy. At the governmental level, a number of initiatives have been outlined to promote efficient resource use. In the recent budget, government outlined projects that will support circular economy transitioning. Recently, the World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership chose Ghana as its second country of implementation, with a commitment by the government to support implementation.
Successful implementation of these well-intended policies and business models will require vigilance, strong political will and commitment. Social mobilization, advocacy and behavioral change, and clear policy direction to drive the activities of the private sector, who are essential actors in material production and consumption, to imbibe the practices of circularity in industrial, transport and retail processes through design, production and packaging of products using processes that allow for reuse, recycle and repair of materials is needed.
The economic rationale for adopting the circular economy makes taking action imperative as doing so is expected to generate trillions of dollars in economic gains and addition to the protection of biodiversity and ecological services. Rethinking the food we eat, the way we farm, make, use and make things using a circular economy rather than the current approach will bring benefits.
In Ghana, circularity is an age-old practice borne of necessity. Given the complexity of the challenge at hand, collaborative problem-solving, engagement and partnerships across all stakeholders will be needed. Actionable data and information on who is doing what within the economy must also be available to measure and report on progress. The time is now.
The author Dr Opoku-Boateng is the Executive Director, Institute For Environment & Social Innovation (IESI)