by IISD's SDG Knowledge Hub,

A group of researchers and practitioners published an article outlining new strategies, innovative technologies, management methods, and practical cases that can support the development of a circular economy, enable the sustainable use of natural resources, and help achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its SDGs.

The article summarizes discussions from an event on international partnerships for waste management services towards the SDGs, held during the 16th International Conference on Waste Management and Technology. The session focused on innovative circular economy solutions, and highlighted 3R (reduce, reuse, and recycle) policies and practices in fast-developing countries.

The authors draw a comparison between the “take-make-consume-dispose” approach of the traditional linear economy model and the “made-to-be-made-again” philosophy of the circular economy model. They highlight that by creating “closed-loop systems,” the circular economy presents “tremendous opportunities” to drastically reduce the need for virgin resources, re-think the handling of both resources and waste, and re-design products to become cost-efficient, create jobs, and foster innovation.

Among circular economy solutions to tackle waste, the article notes:

  • Innovative methods of waste management that help reduce the environmental impacts of products and services, including “sharing economy” mechanisms such as bicycle sharing, the Eco-LooBox bio-toilet system that reuses and recycles cargo containers, and the ‘Sustainable Infrastructure for the Belt and Road Initiative’ project to accelerate the SDGs in regions with poor water and electricity access;
  • Circular economy solutions to marine plastic waste in China, such as the mulch film collection mechanism in Inner Mongolia, reuse of plastic packaging for online express delivery in Haikou, and a fishing-for-litter scheme in Hainan Province;
  • Circular economy solutions to food loss, which, despite financial benefits, are limited due to a lack of economic assessments of food waste prevention and reduction policies;
  • Integration of “final sinks” into a sustainable circular economy; and
  • The contribution of nature-based solutions towards the circular economy.

Case studies featured in the article cover: bio-degradable waste management systems in the Philippines; municipal solid waste management activities in Bangladesh; sustainable waste management in Guyana, based on a strategy aimed at achieving SDGs 8 (decent work and economic growth) and 11 (sustainable cities and communities), among other goals; circular economy strategies in Thailand; and urban mining of anthropogenic minerals in China.

The authors conclude that transition to a circular economy can keep the value of resources and products at a high level and minimize waste production. It can also help achieve a zero-waste society by optimizing resource efficiency, minimizing environmental pollution, and reducing emissions.

At the same time, the authors highlight waste containing persistent organic pollutants (POPs) as an issue of special concern. They call for “the green chemistry principle” to help design chemical products to be less hazardous and for a clean material cycle to eliminate unacceptable risks for environmental health. They underscore that by focusing on the 3Rs, government policies and plans, supported by public-private partnerships (PPPs), can help improve the use of natural resources and achieve the SDGs.

The article appeared in the Circular Economy in June 2022. The 16th International Conference on Waste Management convened from 25-28 June 2021 in Beijing, China. The 17th International Conference on Waste Management convened from 11-14 June 2022, also in Beijing. [Publication: Accelerating Circular Economy Solutions to Achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals]

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