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The circular economy in focus

RCBC turns to holistic approach rather than linear end-of-the-pipe solutions

Brock Macdonald - CEO of the Recycling Council of British Columbia.
Brock Macdonald - CEO of the Recycling Council of British Columbia.

From its roots in 1974, The Recycling Council of British Columbia (RCBC) has always been about the elimination of waste. It still is. But rather than focus on end-of-the-pipe solutions, the RCBC has adopted a more holistic systems-thinking approach, focusing on a circular economy as its overarching strategy.

Rather than the “take, make, dispose” approach of our current linear system, the circular economy focuses on efficiencies that start at the beginning of the industrial process. As the saying goes, “waste is the product of bad design”. By designing products and business models for circularity, the opportunity exists to conserve resources and energy and recover valuable materials which feed back into the industrial process to develop a robust sustainable economy and environment.

The principles of a circular economy are restorative. There is a focus on the use of renewable energies, the minimization of toxic methods and materials. It incorporates feedback loops into the industrial process ensuring finite resources are recovered. This is of particular interest to the recycling industry as an engine to drive sustainable economic opportunities.

That opportunity centres on the development of new business models emphasizing access over ownership. In a linear system, consumers purchase a washing machine, and pay for its maintenance until it no longer functions, and is disposed or recycled at best. In a circular economy, a user leases the washer for a contracted number of washes, including maintenance. When the number of contracted washes is complete, the company removes the machine, rebuilds it, then supplies it to another user, and the circularity continues. After all, we don’t want the machine, we want clean clothes.

This access-over-ownership model is currently used in the commercial sector with copiers, for example, and provides an option for transportation needs through car share services such as Car2Go and Zipcar. Extrapolate that model to other businesses and imagine the potential growth in employment. Accenture, the global consulting firm, has done just that. In fact, after extensive research, Accenture estimated that the shift to a circular economy, as is currently happening in Europe and Asia, provides a potential $4.5 trillion USD in new economic activity.

To that end, RCBC has joined other organizations, such as the National Zero Waste Council and West Coast Reduction, as well as Simon Fraser University, to transition Canada towards a circular economy, and the more sustainable economic future it promises to provide.

For the last several years RCBC has focused its annual conference programming on developing the business models, resource recovery management and innovations required for Canada to transition towards a circular economy. This year, from May 18 to 20 in Whistler, will be no exception. With sessions dedicated to managing organic waste, improving B.C.’s extended producer responsibility system, and a spotlight on emerging app-based technologies designed to enhance product lifecycles through reuse, we hope to spark imaginations into actions that translate to increased circularity. RCBC’s own Recyclepedia app, soon to be available for use across Canada, is our contribution to that goal.

The Recycling Council of British Columbia's 42nd Annaul Zero Waste Conference takes place from May 18-20th in Whistler, B.C.
To learn more about the circular economy, RCBC, and its upcoming conference, visit www.rcbc.ca
(This article was published in full, in the April 2016 edition of Recycling Product News, Volume 24, Number 3.)