Opportunities and challenges for circular economy

Circular economy offers an alternative to the current linear “take, make, use, dispose” economy model, and aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible, to extract maximum value from them whilst in use, and to recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of their service life.

While circular economy will help in ‘closing the material loop’, i.e. to minimize waste and to keep materials in the economy and out of landfills and incinerators, the development, implementation and scaling up of the solutions remain challenging because the whole world is on this fast track of linear production, consumption and disposal model. An all-encompassing solution should seek to ‘slow the material loop’, that is to reduce demand and produce only essential products, while discouraging non-essential production and use of such products, and promoting the use of renewable and recyclable alternatives.

Where waste management is not developed and implemented, it is often the poorest people that bear the greatest cost of pollution and environmental degradation.

Local innovations can play an essential role in circular economy, which could prove critical for long-term sustainable development. City and community innovations stemming from traditional local knowledge as well as from the application of modern science and technology, awareness raising, and advocacy are having tremendous, positive impacts. Many UNDP projects focus on working with various stakeholders, including local authorities, private sector, non-profits, women, youth, and people with disabilities. For example, in Burundi a women’s association undertook forest reforestation by using ecological alternatives to plastics in packaging seedlings. The central innovation of this project was to replace plastic bags with bags made of banana bark. This practice was replicated in many other communities, resulting in the avoidance of the use of three million plastic bags throughout Burundi.


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