Thursday, March 30, 2023
In recent times, a concept that is on everyone's lips has appeared; the circular economy. However, do we really know what it’s about? This economic and production model means curtailing the use of raw materials, water and energy in the production of goods and services while minimizing waste. Unlike the linear model —based on take, make, dispose—, this system aims to maintain the value of resources in the economy, extending their useful life and using them as raw material to produce new products, thus reducing the amount of waste going to landfill and the use of natural resources, as well as saving money, promoting job creation and fostering innovation.
From the consumer's point of view, the so-called seven R's rule has become popular, an evolution of the three traditional rules of the circular economy —reduce, reuse and recycle— to which four new actions have been added: redesign products through eco-design; repair, to extend the useful life of damaged products; renew products so that they have a second use; and recover waste so that it can be reused in the production process.
The circular economy can be implemented at all stages of the production process. Thus, in contrast to linear models, the use of raw materials is based on other raw materials of residual origin, which are used to produce biofuels. In this way, we can obtain renewable diesel or sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) from cooking oils and agricultural waste. These are production models that companies have already implemented to promote the decarbonization of transportation. In addition, the circular economy advocates the use of renewable energies and minimizing the consumption of natural resources. One example is the use of wastewater to produce molecules such as green hydrogen, a clean energy that will play a key role in the energy transition. Circular production processes also have a special incidence on recycling, the optimization of each phase, the approach to an efficient distribution and collection system, and the development of responsible consumption habits.
Waste hierarchy: from reducing consumption to energy production
If, in spite of everything, waste is generated, the key is to apply hierarchical criteria for its correct management. This classification establishes an order of priority for the different alternatives that can be applied in waste management, in order to minimize the impact on the planet.
First and foremost, and as the basis of the circular economy model, is the principle of reducing the amount of waste we generate or, if it is produced, avoiding the use of harmful substances during the manufacturing process. On the other hand, if these products can have a second life, they can be reused or repaired to fulfill the same purpose for which they were originally made.
If we are faced with waste that cannot be used as manufactured, recycling comes into play. In this way, they are transformed into raw materials that will be used to create other products. Finally, before waste ends up in the landfill, we can opt for energy recovery, a process that converts waste that cannot be recycled into sustainable sources of energy for domestic or industrial use, either electrical or in the form of biofuels.
At the governmental level, in the case of Spain, in order to deal with the large volume of waste still produced in our country (according to the National Statistics Institute (INE), in 2021 we will generate four kilograms of waste per inhabitant), the Council of Ministers approved the Law on Waste and Contaminated Soil for a Circular Economy, with the aim of "minimizing the negative effects of waste generation and management" and "making efficient use of resources". This standard, and all the initiatives put in place to address the situation, are intended to drive the transition to a circular economy model that will reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption.
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