- By having a circular economy and using the resources that are already in our system, we will not need to rely on others to function as a society.
- The circular economy requires people to think about where they buy things, what materials they are made of, and what they can be turned into.
- Government plays a key role in educating people from a young age, teaching us to find our resources and use them responsibly.
‘If we have some resources and materials already in the system, why not reuse them?’, says Jai Patel, waste recycling and circular economy adviser at the UK Department of Business and Trade's Sustainability and Infrastructure Directorate. He believes that the circular economy, which is based on more efficient and sustainable use of resources through recovery, reuse, regeneration, or recycling, is key to protecting the environment and says that it is very important to aim for something sustainable and reusable, that is, to buy things made from recycled materials or second-hand things. In an interview with Res Publica, Patel shares why the circular economy is important and how it can be established.
In which manner the circular economy is supporting environmental protection?
The circular economy is key when it comes to environmental protection because I think that environmental protection relies a lot on resources and the use of renewable and nonrenewable sources. The circular economy is really important within that because it tries to be efficient and say ‘If we have some resources and materials that are already within the system, why don’t we reuse them?’ rather than, going to, let’s say a good example with the tree, if you already got wood or a bench somewhere, you can make something with that bench, why cut down another tree to make something new.
How the implementation of the circular economy affects or is connected with the state of the national economies of the countries?
Once again, back to the original point, resources are the main thing, because at the moment, or at least for a while, I believe that we almost took for granted how many resources we had, we didn’t think too much about what happens once we got to a point where we can grow the resources back with that kind of things.
So, I think it’s linked with the economy because countries are used to exporting and importing quite a lot of stuff. Being able to manage your resources, means being able to manage your economy, which means you are less reliant on imports from other places. We saw that with the Russian-Ukrainian war where supply exchange was very, very hard because of that. I think by having a circular economy and using the resource that is already within your economy, you are less reliant on everyone else to function as a society.
Which are the first steps toward building a circular economy system?
I think good government policy is the key, but I also think that consumer awareness is key. I'm speaking from the perspective of someone from England who has something like Amazon Prime where you can order anything, at any time, and it can be delivered to you the next day. I think we have gotten used to this consumer economy in which you can always buy stuff and you don’t necessarily think about where it is coming from or where it’s going to go once you are done with that.
A circular economy requires people to think about where it is they are buying things from, what materials they are made of, and what that could be turned into. But I also can say that good government policy is crucial in making sure that people can be focused on a circular economy and ensure that they know that resources are used and can be repurposed later on, as well.
What is the role of the government in the circular economy?
Good government policies are key, especially early on, to establish these kinds of principles. But I think, if you leave it to the people to just naturally fall into it, it takes a long time sometimes because everyone has different opinions. I think if you have Central government being able to say we should do certain things across the entire country, that makes it a lot easier for businesses and individuals to be like, ‘Okay, this is happening everywhere, we all need to get used to it’, rather than just being like ‘Oh, I feel like being a bit more environmental responsible today compared to tomorrow’.
It is very important to establish an early framework for people to build off and it’s also important to educate people. The government plays a key role in educating people from a young age that we should use resources responsibly.
Can you notice the difference between how the developed, Western world is managing the circular economy and how the other parts of the world are?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that it’s sort of clear to see that the more funding, the more money a country has, the more money it can put into things like waste management and circular economy. When you have countries that are relatively poor in terms of GDP, they don’t have government funding, it’s a lot harder for them to implement these practices. Because for people circular economy may not be the top priority, rather than surviving, getting food on the table, and having clean water.
All of these things are priorities, but actually having enough money to live and get by is the key thing for them. So I think the wealth of the country matters when it comes to how much they give in terms of resources toward promoting circular economy or just generally promoting environmental soundness because it’s great if a government has sort of an idea of where they want people to go, that’s great, but if the people struggle themselves and there are people in poverty, then, you know, it’s a lot more difficult than just say we are going to recycle because, in a lot of these economies, they don’t have really good waste management industries. So, if you can’t collect the waste properly, you can’t collect these things properly. That makes it difficult to try and enforce anything.
What are the top three steps for Macedonia to establish a circular economy system?
Number one – getting the waste management policy framework, number two – implementing that framework, making sure that you collect all the waste that has been created, and number three consciousness – which is something that is naturally embedded with humans. It’s almost hard to say to people you should care about the circular economy when some people might be suffering.
At least being open about where your things are coming from, and understanding yourself as a person and what it is that you consume on a daily or yearly basis.
How can each of us as regular citizens contribute to the circular economy?
I think being conscious of what it is we are buying, where we’re buying it from, what is going to happen after we are done with it, and do we need it. Being conscious of whether you need something and then being conscious of what impact that has, trying to find where it comes from, and aiming for more sustainability and reusability. For example, try to buy things made from recycled materials and second-hand things. That is a noble way of going forward.
This interview was prepared by the Institute of Communication Studies.