Circularity is a model of designing, producing, consuming, and disposing of products and services in a manner which minimises the generation of waste and maximises the utilisation of resources. The traditional linear economic model, i.e. take-make-dispose, has been changed to a model, which reduces material use, and reuses and recycles materials and products. This process pays attention specially to reducing waste, to minimising environmental impacts in producing and using goods and services, and to finding a way how to decouple economic growth from the use of resources.
Circularity brings a new way of acting for those active in the blue economy, encompassing its sectors widely: fisheries, aquaculture, renewable energy, marine and coastal tourism, marine transportation, and biotechnology. Circularity is a key concept when sustainability in these fields is concerned, and because of that, SMEs and entrepreneurs in coastal communities are in a focal position in increasing the sustainability of marine and coastal areas.
Therefore, the aim of this section of the training material is to illustrate what waste management and circularity are and how a blue economy enterprise could benefit from them. We will give examples of different practices, some of which may even turn out to be economically fruitful. We will explore, for example, reducing food waste, waste management, and monetising your waste.
The main aims of this BIte Size are:
- Learn what circular economy is and what potential opportunities it represents for your (prospective) initiative
- Learn what waste management is and what potential opportunities it represents for your (prospective) initiative
- Discover possible strategies to apply to product/services in the main target sectors of Blue-C
Circular economy and waste management
In this day and age, and for decades, our economic model has been mainly based on the extraction of natural resources. Unfortunately, when referring to tangible products, the produced outputs are only in use for a short period before being thrown away. In this regard, studies estimate that approximately 80% – 99% of products will be discarded within six months after being produced, and due to the ever-growing rise in consumption worldwide, our current economic model is consuming natural resources faster than they are regenerated.
This model also means that we produce enormous amounts of waste and pollution, which affect the wellbeing of our planet and life on it.
On the other hand, the circular economy is a framework that addresses global challenges, such as biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution, and waste. It is driven by three guidelines: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature (source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation).
The continuous flow of materials in a circular economy is illustrated by the Circular economy butterfly diagram (below), created by the Foundation. It presents the technical cycle describing how products and materials are kept in circulation, and the biological cycle describing how the nutrients from biodegradable materials are returned to the Earth.
There is no circular economy without having a circular waste management system.
A waste management system refers to various schemes and services to manage and dispose of the generated wastes. It is a process used to dispose of waste, and reduce, reuse and prevent waste.
A circular waste management system pays attention specially to reducing waste, to minimising environmental impacts in producing and using goods and services, and aiming at decoupling economic growth from the use of resources. It prioritises the use of renewable and sustainably sourced materials and their reuse, for example, by composting or recycling. So, there is a lot even a small business can do in this field.
Can you come up with 4 or 5 ideas on how to manage your waste in a more efficient and environmentally responsible way? Try do do it in 3 minutes, and then reflect on how many ideas you were able to produce on such a short period of time
However, waste management and circularity are not just about the life cycle of tangible products, it is also about services. The service sector can also contribute to and implement circular economy practices. It can offer a number of specialised services, foster innovation, or support different sustainable ways of doing business.
Taking an active role as a member of your community, you can have a significant impact on the environment and contribute to the generation of waste. And it will prove to be worth your while to put some effort in reducing waste in your professional performance!
Key factors for the transformation to take place in your business are, for instance:
- education and awareness raising;
- studying good examples of successful enterprises to get inspiration from; or
- projects benefiting from circularity in their operation.
Tips to improve waste management
We have collected some tips for you to increase your company/workplace’s sustainability regarding waste and generation of waste:
- The key terms are reduce, reuse, and recycle. You can also encourage your clients, guests and other relevant stakeholders in your ecosystem to reduce their waste by offering reusable bags, water bottles, and food containers. Provide your clients recycling bins and educate them on how to separate and dispose of their waste properly.
- Find out if your municipality or fellow entrepreneurs could use some of the waste as raw material for another product. Very simple material, such as used milk cartons, cooking oil, or plastic containers, can be processed and used as raw material for new purposes. Milk cartons, for instance, can be reused for corrugated cardboard, envelopes or laminated paper. Cooking oil, on the other hand, can be processed into biofuel.
Mobilise your ecosystem to create a positive impact in the community and go for circular approaches with the potential to generate win-win solutions!
In case you are willing to collaborate with others to implement a circular solution for your (prospective) professional activity, consider having a look at the contents available in “Your Ecosystem” area of knowledge to learn how to.
- Promote sustainable practices in your business and adopt sustainable practices, such as minimising water usage and reducing plastic waste. More on green practices to be found in the “Green practices for your initiative” BIte Size unit.
- Become a leader of change and educate your ecosystem. Instruct your clients, staff, stakeholders, etc., to see the importance of reducing waste, and the impact of waste on the environment.
- Implement waste reduction policies in your (prospective) enterprise and communicate them to your staff and clients. They may include practices, such as banning single-use plastics, composting food waste, and reducing packaging.
By adopting these practices – or any other solutions that suit the needs of your work – , you can reduce the amount of waste generated by your business and preserve the environment for future generations to enjoy.
Monetising your waste
Some of the waste management practices can bring revenues to a company. A circular system can create benefits by generating new revenue streams and reducing costs associated with waste management. Therefore, by keeping purchased materials in use, businesses can reduce the need for raw materials, save money on disposal costs, and generate income through the sale of recycled materials.
Overall, monetising waste can help reduce the environmental impact of waste disposal while also creating economic opportunities.
The video Value of waste highlights opportunities in waste management.
In case you are interested, you can visit the internet site Good news from Finland to read about Finnish success stories on circularity. Get inspired!
The saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” may soon be more true than expected. The Plastic Bank company has set itself an end goal to monetize the waste to an extent that it will be a globally recognised and traded currency for the planet. Think about that!
You can read more of this endeavour by clicking the UNEP link in the Additional resources.
Circularity and sustainable services
As explained above, circularity is not just about the life cycle of products, it is also about services. The service sector can contribute to the development and utilisation of circular economy practices.
You are probably already a user or even provider of some of the services supporting sustainability in your business and community. In today’s Europe, most of us are familiar with, for example, waste management and recycling services, i.e., collecting, sorting, and recycling waste.
Circularity can be implemented in various service activities, such as in eco-friendly accommodation, eco-design, life-cycle assessments, research and development in the blue economy sectors, or in the finance and investment sector.
The Danish State of Green has collected examples from different fields of life to show what circularity can be in practice. The list may give entrepreneurs some food for thought in making decisions on your (prospective) small business’s more sustainable future within the blue economy.
It demonstrates, for instance, how you can build a children’s daycare centre sustainably, so that it has been granted the Nordic Swan EcoLabel.
The tourism industry is thought to be very resource consuming but this view is changing. It is a fact that tourism has major environmental impacts and puts a strain on local resources and people. On the other hand, tourism strongly depends on the attractiveness of the destination and its cultural and natural environment. Therefore, it is indeed positive that the currently strengthening approach to tourism sees travel and tourism as enablers of sustainable development.
The circular economy gives a chance to leave a positive footprint.
For instance, many companies within tourism serve food for visitors, which generates different kinds of biodegradable wastes, such as used cooking oil. This oil is possible to be recycled and be processed into biofuel. This, as well as other kinds of recycling, save money regarding waste collection. Very often recycling is free of charge.
Please check the Case study on Reducing food waste to increase sustainability in tourism or the Example on Recycle your cooking oil for some tangible examples that can be realised in your company.
Circularity and efficient waste management help the sector to mitigate their impacts and promote sustainable development.
In these sectors, the circular economy aims at minimising waste generation and maximising resource efficiency. In practice, this involves reducing the consumption of non-renewable resources, optimising logistics, and prolonging product lifecycles.
It is also important to practise energy efficiency and cut down emissions.
Circularity in the energy sector means creating a closed-loop system where waste is minimised, resource utilisation optimised, and the use of marine and coastal resources for energy production is on a sustainable level.
The blue economy includes renewable energy sectors like offshore wind farms, tidal energy, and wave energy. These enterprises can adopt circular principles by considering the life cycle of energy infrastructure, implementing recycling programmes for decommissioned equipment, and exploring innovative ways to repurpose or reuse components.
A good example of circularity and how one can monetise waste comes from a fishery plant. The operation of fishery plants produces residual heat, which can be used, for example, for heating in different tourism resorts.
Another great example of an innovative enterprise creating economic value from sustainable marine activities is the AgriSea project. It uses seaweed to manufacture macro-algae concentrates and bioactive extractions that are recognised to add high value nutrition for plant, soil, animal and human health. Please watch the video to see how this success story came about: Agrisea blue economy video v2
The circular economy offers opportunities also for different support services. For example, the financial sector is in a good position to further climate commitments and other ESG targets (E derives from environmental responsibility, S from social responsibility and G from corporate governance). Studies show that circular economy strategies when applied in a company can, for instance, reduce investment risk and increase resilience.
In case you are interested in enhancing the blue economy and circularity in your coastal or island region, funding tools exist! The World Bank, for example, runs a Blue Economy Program and PROBLUE to support sustainable development in healthy oceans. Please see the short video about the programme: https://youtu.be/E5iIRDjjI-E
- Sustainable Travel Finland
- Reducing food waste to increase sustainability in tourism
- Reducing food waste to increase sustainability in tourism
- A certified sustainable tourism resort Kasnäs
- Recycle your cooking oil
- CNA Insider. The value of waste: Opportunities in waste management |Money mind | Sustainable business. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcS37HfErY4
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 2022. How do BlackRock and other leading financial services see the circular economy opportunity? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7GvAptjV2I&t=8s
- Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge. 2019. AgriSea – a blue economy success story. https://youtu.be/ecGZ2e1dBAo
- The World Bank. 2023. PROBLUE: Supporting the development of integrated, sustainable and healthy marine and coastal resource. https://youtu.be/E5iIRDjjI-E
- Study.com. 2023. Waste management chapter exam. https://study.com/academy/exam/topic/waste-management.html
- Eco Resources. Benefits of Waste Management. https://ecoresources.net.au/benefits-of-waste-management/
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Financing the circular economy. https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/topics/finance/overview
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The butterfly diagram: visualising the circular economy. Accessed 17 May 2023. https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy-diagram
- Koiviola, Sanna. 2023. Five from Finland. Circular economy solutions. Good News from Finland. https://www.goodnewsfinland.com/en/articles/five-from-finland/2023/circular-economy-solutions/
- Plastic Ethics.2020. What tourists need to do to reduce plastic waste. https://www.plasticethics.com/home/2020/10/1/what-tourists-need-to-do-to-reduce-plastic-waste
- Rinki. Turning carton packaging into raw material. https://rinkiin.fi/en/for-households/packaging-recycling/carton-packaging/
- SITRA. 2019. Municipalities enable the important moves in the circular economy. https://www.sitra.fi/en/articles/municipalities-enable-important-moves-circular-economy/
- State of Green. 10 examples of circular economy solutions. https://stateofgreen.com/en/news/10-examples-of-circular-economy-solutions/
- Ton to Ton. 2020. Why circularity is important in waste management. https://tontoton.com/why-circularity-is-important-in-waste-management/
- UNEP. 2018. Is monetizing waste the secret to ending plastic pollution? https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/monetizing-waste-secret-ending-plastic-pollution
- UNWTO. 2019. Handbook “Destination: A circular tourism economy”. https://www.oneplanetnetwork.org/knowledge-centre/resources/handbook-destination-circular-tourism-economy (can be downloaded)