In the last couple of years, I’ve become a participant in the circular economy. Let me explain.
One day a few summers ago, I was searching online for a way to refill dish soap and laundry detergent containers. I was sick of throwing empty plastic bottles into the recycling bin, knowing that those containers would likely end up in landfill.
My search wasn’t in vain. I found a small business in the west end of Toronto called Saponetti that refills everything from laundry soap to face cream to stain remover. Saponetti offers a BYOB option, or, for a $1.25 deposit, shoppers can use the store’s glass jars, which, once returned, are cleaned and then refilled for the next customer. And so, the cycle continues.
Obviously, my efforts at “circularity” make little difference on their own. But the philosophy is pushing into the business mainstream. In Europe, French automaker Renault Group launched what it calls a “rehub” plant, describing it as “the first European circular economy site dedicated to mobility.” The mandate of the plant is to rebuild old cars for resale and remanufacture vehicle parts with the goal of generating 200 million euros in turnover in recycled material by 2025.
The circular economy is also on Goldman Sachs’ radar. “Transitioning towards a circular economy will be pivotal to decouple economic growth from resource consumption and is needed to solve for both net zero emissions and limiting biodiversity loss — a dual benefit that is often overlooked, in our view,” Goldman analysts wrote in a report, which also identified a raft of businesses the investment bank believes will thrive as the concept gains traction.
Closer to home, the government of Alberta said on Feb. 13 that it plans to spend $58 million through Emissions Reduction Alberta for circular economy projects.
Environment and Climate Change Canada describes the economic model we operate under as linear, meaning “it moves in a straight line from resource extraction to waste disposal.” A circular economy, on the other hand, “retains and recovers as much value as possible from resources by reusing, repairing, refurbishing, remanufacturing, repurposing, or recycling products and materials.” Along the way, a circular economy also conserves resources, uses less energy and water while still managing to meet the needs of a growing global population, wrote the authors of Turning Point, an expert panel report commissioned by Ottawa.
Alberta is touting its circular economy funding as an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The province said in a press release that “the projects approved for funding could cut cumulative greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions of up to four million tonnes by 2050 — equal to offsetting the GHG footprint of one million homes.”
For example, Northstar CleanTechnologies Inc. will receive $7.1 million to offset the $20.7-million cost of setting up a facility to recycle asphalt roof shingles. In the agriculture sector, Sparks Eggs has been approved for $500,000, half the cost of a $1-million project to dehydrate inedible eggs into a powder for pet food and animal feed. Oilsands giant Suncor Energy Inc. will receive $7 million for a $36-million project intended to recover vanadium, a critical metal used to build facilities that store energy.
The projects approved for the funding are estimated to represent public and private funding of $528 million. Some might see Alberta’s spending as a sop to companies that don’t need help from taxpayers, but there is a business case for the circular economy.
In a 2021 report, the World Economic Forum cited research from consulting company Accenture PLC that described the circular economy as a “US$4.5 trillion economic opportunity through reducing waste, stimulating innovation and creating employment.”
Of the billions of tonnes of resources that flood the economy every year, just 8.6 per cent gets recycled and used again, said a 2020 report from the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy. Canada repurposes and reuses only 6.1 per cent of the economy’s material needs, said Ottawa’s expert panel.
If Alberta is any indication, maybe Canadians are coming around to the circular economy.
— Gigi Suhanic