It’s time to include developing nations more holistically in circular economy discussions

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We’ve all heard of the “circular economy,” but too often the narrative has been dominated by talk of high-tech innovations and redesigning business models to prevent excessive consumption.

Those are the priorities in industrialized nations, but how should developing countries go about implementing a circular economy?

That’s the question posed by a new research paper released last week by Chatham House, which warns that without more consideration of how the “circular economy” can be applied to developing nations, countries around the world risk missing out on a critical pathway for sustainable growth.

Investment in recycling, reusing and repairing used raw materials and products will create more jobs, save billions of dollars’ worth of imports and help to mitigate climate change, the paper argues, echoing points Chatham House made in a research paper in 2017.

That makes it a win-win for developing countries looking to develop their economies and pull more people out of poverty. The trouble is, however, little work is being done to work out how a circular economy could work for developing countries, said report co-author Laura Wellesley, a research fellow in the Energy, Environment and Resources Department at Chatham House.

“The global conversation and interest in the circular economy has really been driven by the [European Union], China and also multinational companies,” she tells BusinessGreen. “And with those governments and companies based in developed countries leading on the development of this new narrative, the focus has been on high-tech innovations and on strategies for steering away from current patterns of excessive consumption of resources that we see in developed countries. And so much of the excitement is around solutions that have grown out of this context, and the applicability of those solutions in developing countries hasn’t been well explored, nor has the wealth of activity that’s already ongoing in developing countries.”

She also points out that many challenges to scaling circular economy projects in developing countries also have not been fully assessed, such as the problems with handling large informal sectors that engage in circular economy activities such as resource collection and processing — but without the kind of regulatory oversight one might expect in developed nations. (…)

Madeleine Cuff

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