From waste to resource: the economy of the future
In this day and age waste management has become one of the main challenges facing humans due to its environmental, economic, social and health implications. On today’s post we will examine the current situation together with the decisions and initiatives that are turning this problem into an unprecedented socio-economic opportunity, thanks to the innovative transformation of waste to resources.
In a historical context, socio-economic development has always been governed by the policy of ‘take, use, waste’, which has contributed to the progressive deterioration of our natural environment; the pollution of land, sea and air; the generation of waste and increasingly scarce resources.
Such a pace in which materials are consumed has led to problems which go beyond the environment, affecting our health and the global economy. Nowadays we live in a society that produces over 7 billion tonnes of waste each year. Furthermore, the world’s population continues to grow and today more than three billion people lack access to controlled waste disposal facilities.
There is an unquestionable need for a transition towards sustainable consumption and production patterns that combat these effects and ensure long-term prosperity on a healthy planet.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, Achim Steiner, finding a solution is not only a public health and environmental necessity, but also a sound economic investment. A global agreement could transform the problem of waste into a new source of resources.
The Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/CE) represents the first step in setting policies which link concepts that have traditionally remained separate, such as waste and resources. This directive is not confined solely to environmental protection, but it also promotes efficiency and optimization policies in the exploitation of resources which are becoming increasingly scarce.
This is the point where European policies and the concept of a circular economy begin to converge and the latter has become the working axis for achieving the 2030 Agenda as well as the Sustainable Development Goals.
As a result, at the end of 2015, the European Commission established a circular economy package with a view to providing support to the private sector and the consumer in the transition towards a more intelligent use of resources. In addition, the goal was to act on climate change and in the interest of the environment and, and in turn, boost economic growth and the creation of jobs.
“The waste to resource concept is reflected in the circular economy concept: a much more restorative one which is expected to be the economy of the future.
The package includes action plans that consider all the stages of the product life-cycle: production, use, waste disposal and both the raw and the secondary raw material market, and it takes into account the diversity of the differing situations of state members, existing markets and critical material flows. It offers solutions to the possible obstacles that may arise.
This initiative by the Commission receives funding from the Horizon 2020 programme, Structural Funds for waste disposal and investments in circular economy at national level.
Over the past two years significant progress has been made and in particular we can highlight:
- The Ecodesign Working Plan 2016-2019 report, published by the EC and which focuses on the efficiency in the use of resources, including criteria such as durability, reparability and recycling.
- The setting up of two food platforms: the ‘EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste’ which is dedicated to establishing and sharing preventive measures on food waste among member states, and the FReSH platform, which is geared towards transforming the food system throughout its entire value chain.
- The publication of the Strategy on Plastics In a Circular Economy roadmap which aims to decouple the plastic that is produced from virgin fossil feedstock, improve its recycling and reuse and minimize the deposition of the source.
“Abengoa is addressing the challenge with a newly awarded contract to build the first plant that will produce biofuels from solid waste in USA.
There is certainly a long road ahead of us. It is essential to continue working in the search for solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda, and to this end, the role of the private sector is paramount. In this respect, Abengoa -under the premise of developing technological solutions for sustainable development and social welfare – is addressing this challenge with the engineering and construction of the first plant to produce biofuels from municipal solid waste in USA. The plant, which will be located in the State of Nevada, will have the capacity to produce 10 million gallons of biofuels each year, thereby providing a sustainable alternative for thelarge amounts of waste produced in the area.
Iniciatives such as this one will allow the circular economy to become the driving force for the social and economic change that the world needs.