N° 56 | Circularity and decarbonization, two sides of the same coin

September 13, 2023

N° 56 | Circularity and decarbonization, two sides of the same coin

Decarbonization and circularity are often considered separate topics. However, if we analyse them carefully and deeply, we can see that they both target the reduction of the negative consequences of our economic system.
The main principles of circularity are reducing waste and pollution, circulating products and materials at their highest value, and regenerating nature. We can see a strong connection to decarbonization, when thought as reducing emissions through actions like removing greenhouse gases (GHG) from the atmosphere and recarbonize soil and vegetation.

On GreenBiz.com we can read an interesting interview with Ke Wang, program director at Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), in which she discusses about the report "Completing the picture: How the circular economy tackles climate change" from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This report highlights the fact that all our efforts to improve energy efficiency and transition to renewable energy can only address 55% of global emissions. The other 45% come from sourcing and manufacturing of consumer goods, development of the built environment, food production and transportation, and land management. Ke Wang describes these two aspects of global emissions as the operational energy use of all fuels used to power transport and buildings, as opposed to emissions from the extraction, processing, and production of what we use and consume every day.

Ke Wang points out that circularity has a big role to play in supporting the clean energy transition regarding the 55% of global GHG emissions that we call operational energy use. Solar PV, wind turbines, and EV batteries all reduce fossil fuel-based emissions but these technologies are very material and mineral heavy. The International Energy Agency has predicted that if we were to scale up these clean energy technologies at the rate needed to stay within 1.5 degrees Celsius, the total demand for minerals would far exceed our current supply capacity. This problem is a major bottleneck as far as the energy transition goes, and this is where circularity can come into play: we can reduce the demand for critical minerals and alleviate some of the supply pressure needed for the energy transition.

Instead, for the remaining 45% that regards extracting, processing, and above all manufacturing, we must remember that circularity targets the reduce, reuse, and recycle principle, involving all the strategies aimed at reducing demand for virgin raw materials and new products, and consequently reducing greenhouse gas emissions from production. Eco-design also plays an important role in giving life to projects in this direction. Regenesi has been collaborating with companies and technological partners for 15 years to creatively reuse industrial and civil waste. On one hand, we work to provide a sustainable alternative to the fashion industry thanks to the pioneering use of recycled or regenerated material. On the other hand, we help companies in every sector in encouraging the recovery of their waste or in facilitating the adoption of sustainable practices following the principle that "beautiful is sustainable".

In conclusion, examining the reports of the International Resource Panel by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Circle Economy, we see that they all qualitatively agree on which circularity measures have the highest potential to reduce greenhouse gases, i.e. decarbonisation. And these are not recycling strategies, but measures that specifically focus on consumption patterns, reduction of overconsumption, and more efficient design.