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Op-ed: Moving to a zero-waste circular economy will put cash back into people’s pockets

An op-ed by Malcolm Brodie and Heather Schoemaker  was published in the Vancouver Sun on the economic benefits of Canada adopting a circular economy.



Next time you see a loaded garbage truck headed for the landfill, imagine that it’s packed full of your hard-earned cash. In effect, it is. Every year, local governments in Canada spend approximately $3.2 billion managing 34 million tonnes of waste. You pay for it in municipal taxes that could be used for better purposes.

It’s a global problem, but Canada leads the pack among developed nations in creating waste. According to the Conference Board of Canada, we produce more garbage per capita than 16 other OECD nations. It’s time to do something about it.

The solution is not better waste management, it’s waste prevention. We need to design waste out of our economy, but that’s not going to happen if we remain focused on our current linear economic system of “take, make, dispose.” We must start seeing “waste” as a resource with value that can be reused as part of what is known as a circular economy.

It’s not a new concept. European countries such as Finland are far advanced in adopting circularity, and in July, China and the European Union, current world leaders in circular economy policy, signed a memorandum of understanding on CE cooperation.

Canada lags behind many of our global competitors and we risk being shut out of benefits such as improved business competitiveness, innovation, job creation and economic development.

In Europe, circular economy benefits quantified by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and other research partners show that by 2030, the adoption of CE principles could increase Europe’s GDP by 900 billion Euros more than the projected growth based on a linear economic model.

A circular economy in Canada would also help eliminate plastic from the waste stream. According to the foundation, only 14 per cent of plastic packaging used globally is recycled, while 40 per cent ends up in landfill and a third in fragile ecosystems like oceans.

So how do we start seeing “waste” as a valuable resource and integrating it back into the economy? First, we need to recognize that it’s not simply a case of recycling or cleaning up pollution. We are running out of the natural resources we are currently using.

The global management consulting firm Accenture Strategy has warned that resource supply disruptions and rising and volatile prices will translate into trillion-dollar losses within 20 years for companies and countries whose growth remains tied to the use of scarce, virgin natural resources.

By contrast, a circular economy represents an opportunity to unlock $4.5 trillion US in global GDP by 2030.

The National Zero Waste Council recognizes the challenges and opportunities. Since our establishment by Metro Vancouver in 2013 in collaboration with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, we have united six of Canada’s largest metropolitan regions — Metro Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Calgary and Edmonton — with key business and government leaders, academia and non-profit organizations to campaign for national action to address waste generation. We also provide resources to help businesses incorporate circular economy practices into their operations.

Along with Ikea and Unilever, we have recently become a founding partner of the Circular Economy Leadership Coalition. The coalition will be launched Sept. 20 to coincide with a meeting of the G7 environment, energy and oceans ministers in Halifax.

The coalition is a collaboration of experienced business leaders, academics and non-governmental organizations working to accelerate Canada’s transition to a circular economy. We will work with decision makers in government and business to re-engineer policies, products, services and related infrastructure to help lead the way toward a waste-free Canada based on policies that protect our natural wealth and make it more valuable for businesses, cities and others to invest in an innovative circular economy.

Malcolm Brodie is chairman of the National Zero Waste Council; Heather Schoemaker is director of the council’s secretariat. More information can be found at the Circular Economy Leadership Coalition website.


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