Metro Vancouver’s 2019 Zero Waste Circular Economy Conference

Metro Vancouver’s 2019 Zero Waste Circular Economy Conference

Your questions answered! A synthesis of information from the conference, my own knowledge, and online academic publications.

1) If a business participates in making the switch to a circular economy, what are the figures or initial loss of profits? @nicholas.schippers

In its essence, the circular economy is about how things can be made smarter, cheaper and more resource efficient. This system cut costs and increases profit by improving operational efficiencies and creating new revenue streams.


-The cost of remanufacturing mobile phones could be reduced by 50% per device, if the industry made phones that were easier to take apart, improved the reverse cycle and offered incentives to return phones. 
-A profit of US$ 1.90 per hectolitre of beer produced can be captured by selling brewers’ spent grains.

-In the UK, each tonne of clothing that is collected and sorted can generate revenues of US$ 1,975, or a gross profit of US$ 1,295 from reuse opportunities. These are the aggregate impact of clothes being worn again, reused by cascading down to other industries to make insulation or upholstery stuffing or simply recycled into yarn to make fabrics that save virgin fibre

-Denise Coogan, Subaru, “waste is money. It costs too much to not be environmentally friendly”.

From Ellen Macarthur “Power of the inner circle: In general, the tighter the circles are, the larger the savings should be in the embedded costs in terms of material, labour, energy, capital and of the associated rucksack of externalities, such as GHG emissions, water, or toxic substances (Figure 8). Given the inefficiencies along the linear supply chain, tighter circles will also benefit from a comparatively higher virgin material substitution effect (given the process inefficiencies along the linear chain). This arbitrage opportunity revealed by contrasting the linear to the circular setup is at the core of their relative economic value creation potential. Whenever the costs of collecting, reprocessing, and returning the product, component or material into the economy is lower than the linear alternative (including the avoidance of end-of-life treatment costs), setting up circular systems can make economic sense. With increasing resource prices and higher end-of-life treatment costs, this arbitrage becomes more attractive, especially in the beginning when the economies of scale and scope of the reverse cycle can benefit from higher productivity gains (because of their low starting base given that many reverse processes are still subscale today)”

2) What incentives are being used to convince orgs to switch to CE? @nicholas.schippers

Financial tools to support the switch includes grants, subsidies and public procurement.

However, consumers can also generate enough pressure to ignite the circular economy with their wallets. If companies win or lose market share because of consumer purchases (“votes”) in favour of sustainable products, producers would have an incentive to respond.”

It’s also not just about incentives, but about disincentives:

“Much like changing consumer behavior, regulation and associated costs of non-compliance can pressure producers to reduce waste” - World Economic Forum. This can be in the form of an eco-tax on products and packaging that do not contain recycled material or are not easily recyclable, and putting a cost on pollution.

3) With the technical side, how much actually gets recycled into new product and how much is byproduct and/or waste and what is being done with the waste? 

This is totally dependent on the type of material, business, and/or industry. Ideally, in a true circular economy, all materials will be recycled and all byproducts captured and used. In a CE, all products and packaging are designed to be recycled, reused, or upcycled and not lose value in this process. In this sense, the entire life cycle of products and packaging are considered, so waste is designed out of the system from the beginning.

4) For small biz w/ circular economy practices in place, is there aid to ensure biz big does not shut them out? @nicholas.schippers

-There will always be a level of competitiveness, but smaller businesses are more flexible and can 100% lean into innovation, so bigger biz will actually continue to look in their direction for ideas and trends.

-Subsidies for start-ups and smaller businesses who are leading the way in innovation.

-Evaluations need to happen at the level of local and national governments to ensure transitions to a circular economy are just for all businesses and all sectors.

-Putting a higher cost on pollution and reward businesses working towards a CE.

5) What steps do we need to take to realign the system as it stands to one of CE? @nicholas.schippers

-Managing our way properly and locally, not shipping it around the world to countries with less infrastructure and who also shouldn’t be spending their lives dealing with western’s consumptive mess. This also includes sparking innovation in turning waste streams into resources. 

-Accelerating the scale up of CE across global supply chains.

-Global int’l treaties, binding agreements on resource use and waste management.

-Rethinking business models: 

  • Working toward sharing, learning and rental systems

  • Subscription based access

  • Pay per use

  • Sale of durable, long lasting goods

  • Sale of refillable or exchangeable components

-Retraining workers, from fossil fuels to renewables.

-Implementing strong and consistent policies to support a CE.

-Increase investments in CE based industries and businesses.

-Investing in waste management infrastructure which supports circular systems for materials.

-Harmonizing systems across industry, institutions and commercial businesses, which includes establishing concrete ways for the public and private sector to work together.

-Redirecting subsidies from fossil fuels and inefficient material systems like virgin plastics to renewables, intelligent and circular management of materials.

-We need metrics and measurements to produce circular indicators to measure circularity in business and industry in a consistent way.

-Realizing the potential of CE also requires radical whole value-chain collaboration.
-“Ownership” of packaging needs to shift from consumer to the corporation.

-In regards to our political and economic ideologies, the idea of “growth” needs to be decoupled from resource extraction.

-From the World Economic Forum, Vision of 2030: “By then, we are living in a global circular economy that has become ‘intentionally transparent’. This open mindset has released a surge in trust throughout the world’s supply chains that encourages higher visibility and greater control over responsible sourcing. We now have ethical and sustainable circular supply chains in which the rewards are shared equitably, right from local communities through to the primary consumer and beyond.”

6) Can circular economy become the law/mainstream practice or are there too many barriers? @ _thegrubgarden

There are barriers, including lack of political will, corporate lobbying, lack of leadership and public knowledge, as well as market conditions. However, CE can absolutely inform a wide array of policies. It does not look like one law, it looks like many interconnecting regulations that govern all aspects of our relations with materials and the natural world. To create a greater impact, we also need to harmonize regulations across nations, and ideally, across the globe. Some examples of CE in policy include:

-Recycled content standards for materials, which creates a market for recycled materials.

-Banning waste streams from landfills, including organics and construction waste.

-Banning unnecessary single-use plastics.

-Establishing “bring your own” container policies.

-Establishing energy efficiency standards for all new buildings.

-Requiring new buildings to use renewable energy and/or have a green roof.

-Increasing the deposit rates for all consumer bottles.

-Expanding extended producer responsibility to ALL corporations who produce plastic products and packaging.

-Establishing policies for low carbon plastic standards (LCPS).

To learn more about CE policies, read more at Ellen Macarthur Foundation

7) What’s an impactful and feasible policy shift to push our municipal governments on for more CE? @elena.jean

-Establishing zero waste policies: composting, recycling and upcycling, free stores, implementing wastewater treatment.

-Implementing strong waste and climate targets.

-Implementing public transport policies to lower GHG’s.

-Municipalities can have CE inform procurement policies.

-CE policy frameworks for land planning and urban structures.

-Municipalities can support economic instruments to harness market dynamics to influence behaviour and decisions by changing prices, imposing or exempting taxes or mandating carbon accounting. Examples of economic instruments are: subsidies, grants or public procurement.

-Educating the public, for example, the City of Barcelona, “promotes green and circular behaviour amongst citizens and businesses by means of a multitude of measures, such as environmental education and information at Green Points in the city, distributing maps with sustainable shops and restaurants in the city, and seminars for more sustainable offices”

-Next to that, municipalities can provide loans for residents investing in energy efficient housing, and has set up an investment fund for projects in the areas of climate, sustainability and air quality (Amsterdam Climate & Energy Fund and the Sustainability Fund). 

-Municipalities and cities are key in working towards a CE, but need massive change to also happen on provincial, national and global scale, which we need municipalities and cities actively advocating for.

8) In what way is the Canadian government doing to adopt to CE? @forestandfeather

It’s not, the Canadian government very much supports a linear way of operating. To move to a CE, the Canadian government needs to cut subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and redirect subsidies to green energy, mass transit and electric transit, electric vehicles, regenerative agriculture, waste management infrastructure as well as supporting businesses and industries that are adopting circular models of operation. We NEED to put pressure on the federal government to meet climate targets, implement the national plastics plan, and stay on track for protecting more land and ocean.

9) How do we get involved? @ _mpena_

This looks different for every person depending on their situation and circumstances, but there is a great array of options on the spectrum of the personal to the systematic, including:

-Learning more about how a circular economy works, visit the resources below!

-Eat foods from companies practicing and/or supporting regenerative agriculture.

-Work to avoid plastic packaging, bring your own containers, bags, bottles, mugs, buy bulk and join the refill revolution!

-Influence your workplace to eliminate unnecessary waste like plastics, to compost, to implement renewable energy, to divest from fossil fuels and other extractive industries.

-Halt the buying! Moving towards a circular economy means a shift in selling products to selling services. This includes transitioning away from “owning” a gregarious amount of objects, to renting or sharing: bikes, books, tools, carpets, furniture, event equipment, even clothing!

-When you do buy for necessities, support businesses that are implementing circular models, support start-ups, support innovation, support local and boycott big multinationals.

-Banish food waste, in your own life, from your workplace, and disrupt food waste in the municipality you’re in and ensure any food leftovers are being composted.

-Talk to your local elected officials and member of parliament and let them know you support a circular economy: of rapidly transitioning to renewable energy, of eliminating plastic waste, of turning waste to resource, and all other details mentioned in this report!

-Get involved in local environmental restoration projects.