Principles and Promise of Circular Economy

Watch Dr. Yasar Atacik's March 30th presentation to ESRAG’s Projects Webinar for an empowering introduction to the principles of circular economy. He shares research, solutions, and encouraging news on public policy and industrial trends. He also describes a number of projects Rotary clubs can implement to foster circularity.

Circularity goes far beyond diverting waste: it starts with designing products that are durable, easy to maintain and repair, and produced sustainably. Public policy can do a lot to catalyze changes that will make a major contribution in reducing carbon emissions and other pollution. The European Union’s Circular Economy Action Plan will accelerate the transition to sustainable products and construction in Europe. Another breakthrough is the 2021 launch of the Global Alliance on Circular Economy and Resources Efficiency (GACERE) by the EU and 15 other countries.  In March, 2022, 175 nations at the UN Environment Assembly passed a resolution in to negotiate a legally-binding Global Plastic Treaty to end plastic pollution by the end of 2024. Analogous to the Paris Climate Accord, this agreement  is the fruit of years of negotiations by governments, international organizations, and the private sector to address the full lifecycle of plastic.

Rotarians in business can help move products away from single-use and built-in obsolescence. We should foster business models that support the sharing and reuse of products to maximize the useful life of goods and their component materials.  Yasar recommended the research of Circularity Gap, a solutions-based initiative like Project Drawdown. Its annual study documents materials waste and greenhouse gas emissions from extraction to end-of-use.  The “Circularity Gap” is analogous to Global Overshoot Day, and shows that humans currently waste over 90% of the materials we extract.  The report presents 21 solutions and shows relevant ways to use them in three different categories of national economies: “Build” (such as Malawi), “Grow” (such as China or India) and "Shift"(such as Europe or the US). 

Yasar cited several promising business trends, including the worldwide growth of materials matchmaking companies; Loop Industries, which makes PET plastic from 100% recycled feedstock; shared services like Uber and laundromats; and unpackaged retail.  Another innovation is companies’ owning products and repairing them throughout their lifetime. Projects that Rotary Clubs can easily sponsor include Repair Cafés and organizing a Library of Things.

Yasar Atacik is an ESRAG Director with a PhD in operations research, and years of executive management and board experience. He became passionate about sustainability during his career in industry, and joined Rotary to bring sustainability to the attention of this civic group, which he saw as influential in society. Once in Rotary, Ya?ar founded District 2420’s Environmental Sustainability Committee and the Istanbul Ecology Rotary Club. He is the founder and executive director of the Turkish Carbon Footprint and Sustainability Association, which promotes energy efficiency projects for schools. 

As consumers, he urges, we should “buy the sturdiest, most energy-efficient product with the longest warranty. Try not to throw out anything. Minimize single-use products.”