From a linear to circular economy

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Author: e0411228

Start of something new!

Hi everyone!

I cannot believe it is my tenth post already! I have definitely learnt a lot these few months, about society and myself, the good and the bad. I have to admit that before I started this blog I had just assumed that circular economy = recycling, which it absolutely is not! Although recycling is definitely a component of circular economy, it is so much more than that.  It includes repurposing, repairing, reusing and ensuring that waste is not imported out and disposed of in another country.

Throughout my research for these posts, I have also been constantly reminded of the need to ensure that I try my best to go deeper into issues and not just skim the issue and take everything on the news at face-value. For example, whatwe commonly know as “recycling in Singapore” is not part of this economy as we only sort our recycled waste in Singapore but do not repurpose and circulate them back into our country. Although there are reports in our national newspapers on this, I truly believe that more attention needs to be given to this issue as many of us assume that Singapore’s blue bins are sufficient in Singapore’s recycling efforts.

However, the nine posts were definitely not enough for me to cover all, and the depth, of the potential of the circular economy, and I will undoubtedly be reading more about this topic. Nevertheless, thank you for all your thought-provoking comments and the new articles recommended to me! Till then!

Cheers

Victoria

 

The Money Matters (Part 2)

Hi everyone!

I am back for part 2 of last week’s post where I covered a few economic conditions that countries, industries or firms must consider when adopting circular economy practices. However, when done with prudence, it has been estimated that a circular economy approach could result in a 3% increase in resource productivity by the year 2030, resulting in €600 billion of cost savings annually and an additional €1.8 trillion from other economic benefits (Source). Thus for today’s post, I shall be elaborating more about the possible ‘savings’ entities could accumulate by switching to a circular economy.

Firstly, reducing reliance on primary resources such as steel drives down the demand for raw materials which often have very high price volatility. For example, from steel alone, the global savings could be up to 100 million tonnes of iron ore in 2025 (Source).

Moreover, the circular economy is expected to create many more jobs, as part of ‘green jobs’. Global employment is expected to grow by 0.1% by 2030 due to this growing sector. This will be especially so in the waste management and services sector(Source). However, this will involve moving away from the primary sector which is resource-heavy to recycling and repairing activities. This could result in structural unemployment and hence the effects on employment will have to be monitored.

Last but not least, circular economy practices drive innovation and provide more opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop more efficient technology (Source). The desire to go against what has been practised for decades — linear production — is a thought-provoking process that encourages producers to develop new systems, especially with the possibility of cost savings. I think this is one of the most exciting aspects of the circular economy as we get to continuously learn about all kinds of innovation being developed.

One example of such technology is the development of the “FLAM” material from a few researchers in our own Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). This material utilises plant-based waste materials and possibly even prawn shells to produce a completely biological-based material replacement for plastic (Source)!

The structure produced through the ‘FLAM’ process (Source: Frank Pinckers/SUTD)

It is innovations such as this make this space a very interesting one to watch and I certainly hope to learn of more up and coming novel technology!

Cheers

Victoria

The Money Matters

Hi everyone!

I thought I would talk about the more practical matters for every economy today — the true cost of adopting a circular economy approach, for both corporations and the nation.

(Source: GIPHY)

Firstly, we will need to consider the impact of unemployment caused by a circular economy. Although the circular economy model might create more “green jobs”, those in primary production will face a lower demand and hence face the possibility of unemployment. It is currently still very difficult to measure the extent of such structural unemployment (Source). However, I believe that we must not neglect such impact as those in primary production are often those with a lower income and will hence bear the brunt of it.

Secondly, as mentioned in my previous post, there is still a stigmatisation over second-hand goods. This need for a shift in mentality from society can cause losses for corporations who have low demand for second-hand goods and hence have to lower their prices. The need for behavioural economics is essential for this analysis, to understand the possible losses companies might incur due to consumers’ want for brand-new products (Source).

Lastly, it is difficult for companies to make the switch from a linear economy which has been highly beneficial since industrialisation. The long and complicated supply chains have been in operation for a long time and it is often difficult to fully map and integrate into the whole supply chain (Source). Hence, it will require coordination from many players to get over the large inertia initially.

Before I conclude, I would like to acknowledge that this post may seem a little more ‘negative. The benefits of a circular economy, both for our planet and the economy is still present. Therefore, in my next blog post, I shall be exploring if and how a circular economy can benefit a country in terms of its economy alone.

Cheers

Victoria

 

The original recyclers of Singapore

POR POR POR!

(Hopefully that alliteration made sense, I tried my best)

Hey everyone!

Today I will be talking about our countries “best” recyclers who play a key part in our country’s journey to being a ‘Zero-Waste-Nation’  — ‘rag-and-bone’ men, or locally known as the karung guni.

A karung guni truck filled with newspaper to be sent for recycling. (Image: Mokkie, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

These wonderful men go around housing estates in their truck sounding their very distinctive horns  (hence the alliteration on top) to inform residents that they are around for residents to sell recyclables to them. Residents most commonly sell newspapers, however, they also buy clothes and old electronics such as radio sets, and even the bulkier television sets. After collection, the items will be sent and sold to a central warehouse where they will be recycled or repurposed to be used again. (Source)

My domestic helper told me that the karung guni comes around our estate about once a week, sometimes a little more often than that even. Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to catch him to find out a little more but I am very pleasantly surprised to know how frequently they come around!

My home’s collection of newspapers. This could fetch approximately S$2.50. (Image: VICTORIA LIM)

However, a few issues with relying on the karung guni have been surfaced. Some say that the karung guni never visit their residential area, or do not do so regularly.  Moreover, since they are operating as a business after all, the items they buy from residents depends on demand and supply. Hence, during some periods if there is an oversupply of newspapers, for example, they would not want to buy it from residents. (Source)

Despite all this, the karung guni men collect nearly nine times as much recyclables than our nation’s recycling efforts(Source)! That just goes to show how important they are to help our country close the loop on much of our waste. Another crucial advantage they present will be the presence of a real-life vetter who is able to check the condition of recyclables on the spot. They would know what type of waste can be recycled and how to avoid cross-contamination of the recyclables. (Source) Almost seems like the perfect solution for the “lazy” ones who do not recycle properly.

Despite their importance, like with most jobs in Singapore involving “manual-labour”, this is a sunset industry, with working conditions and unstable income being huge issues. This is definitely a huge pity seeing as they contribute so much to our recycling scene. However, there have been a few modern karung guni businesses run by young entrepreneurs so do check them out here and here!

Cheers

Victoria

Rebound effect in Circular Economy

 

Source: GIPHY

Hi everyone!

If you look like this after reading the title for this week’s post, don’t worry, that was my face too after I read a few articles recommended to me by my professor, Dr Coleman. They provided me with a new perspective regarding the theme of my blog and I shall briefly explain what my title is about.

Let’s take it back a few posts and recap what exactly is a ‘circular economy’. Referring to my first post, it refers to a country or company closing the loop in recycling by ensuring that products are constantly cycled back into the economy and not disposed of after usage.

Despite this rosy picture and ideal situation, researchers have come out to say that the benefits of a circular economy are being offset, terming it as the ‘rebound effect’. There is an overall increase in production, instead of the expected drop in production from recycling. Studies have also shown that approximately 29% of circular economy experiences this rebound effect. (Source)

Some reasons for the rebound effect include (Source):

  1. Lower quality of goods from secondary production due to the degradation of materials while they were utilised
  2. Undesirable to consumers due to said lower quality or stigma around second-hand goods
  3. Lower quality goods from secondary production are sold for cheaper prices. This results in producers who substitute their raw materials with secondary goods to have higher income, enabling them to purchase and produce more.
  4. Secondary production causes an increase in supply, leading to a fall in price based on the principles of economics.

Retailers such as Patagonia provide repair services for their garments to encourage consumers to extend the life of their clothing items. However, stigma around wearing older-fashioned items discourage consumers from repairing broken clothes. (Source: Tim Davis\Patagonia)

A few possible solutions were suggested in the article such as the ensuring of secondary goods having comparable quality to that of primary goods. Education of the general public regarding the stigma of quality of recycled products could also play a role in minimizing the rebound effect.

Although these solutions presented are on a more macro scale, I hope that this encourages you to purchase secondhand goods with a more open mind. If you go on to run a bigger enterprise, all the more I hope for you keep this humble post of mine in mind when considering your production choices.

It is definitely a pity and shocking to see the ‘uglier’ side of things after reading about the circular economy the past few weeks and giving nothing but praise for it.  However, I think this is a poignant reminder of the importance of doing our part to extend the life of our items as much as possible.

Cheers

Victoria

Let’s talk fashion!

Hi everyone!

Since Paris fashion week just concluded a few days ago, I thought I’d talk little about two brands that have heavily involved Circular Economy into their company’s process.

DITTO! (Viktor & Rolf Spring 2019 Couture Collection, Photo: Imaxtree)

First off, I would like to talk about PatagoniaMany of us may have seen an increase in popularity in this brand, especially around teenagers. Well, Patagonia is more than just a ‘trendy’ brand!

Patagonia’s circular business model seeks to extend the life of clothing items, especially after a user is unable to continue wearing their product. Patagonia has recycling bins globally, where they collect used Patagonia garments. Thereafter, they have different strategies surrounding the repair and reuse of their garments. This includes repairing of jackets which dogs have bitten into (Source), donations to organisations such as disaster relief groups and upcycling into new products! (Source)

Some jackets returned for repairs are even up to 50 years old! (Tim Davis/Patagonia)

Another brand that may not be as well-known but is definitely worth a mention is Rapanui. Rapanui is a clothing company from the Isle of Wight, England. First off, the designs on the t-shirts are made-to-order. No, this is not like some freshly made burgers or fancy haute couture. Rather, the clever people at Rapanui developed a platform which will only print t-shirt designs once an order has been placed from a customer. (Source)

An employee feeding blank t-shirts into the machine fixed with the platform (Source)

More importantly, similar to Patagonia, if you decide not to wear your clothing item anymore, you can return it to the store and you will get some store credit back while they will manufacture new products with the returned material. Through this model, the cycle repeats over and over again!

Pssst… if you are a budding fashion designer or want to start your own clothing company, Rapanui’s ‘made-to-print’ is accessible to everyone and the system is free. Sharing is really caring! (Source)

I am really glad that more and more companies are exploring the circular business model, especially since it does not seem that people will be cutting down their fashion consumption anytime soon (sadly, I have to admit that‘people’ also includes me).  Before I conclude today’s post, if you are interested in fashion, I would like to encourage you to head on over to my friend, Evelyn’s, blog, where she explores sustainable fashion in greater detail.

Cheers

Victoria

Visit to Pulau Semakau landfill

Hi everyone!

This week, I thought I would take a break from all the “drier information” from the various academic journals and articles, and write about my experience at the Pulau Semakau landfill instead.

Two Saturdays ago, I was fortunate enough to visit the landfill on an organised visit (visitors are not allowed to just walk in) and it really proved to me the meaning of ‘seeing is believing’. A quick search on the Internet regarding ‘Pulau Semakau landfill’ immediately brings up various articles, videos, images and media postings about the landfill, so I already had some expectations about what it would look like. However, when we were brought on the tour to see the ‘cells’, (where incinerated trash is thrown into) I was definitely in awe. It did not feel like we were in Singapore, much less a “garbage island”!

The impressive flora and fauna! We saw monitor lizards (bottom right), egrets, and even a cat! IMAGES: VICTORIA LIM

A (very) short explanation on how the landfill works:

Waste in Singapore is sent to various incineration plants around the island, where they undergo incineration and gets reduced to ashes. The ashes then get collected at Tuas Marine Transfer Station, an intermediate collection point before being sent to Pulau Semakau. (Source)

The ashes then get dumped into ‘cells’ in Pulau Semakau, which are areas of the sea that are enclosed by a sand bund.  In order to ensure that no water pollution occurs in the sea outside of the bund, the leachate in the ‘cells’ will get treated by a water treatment plant connected to the ‘cell’ before being released into the sea. (Source)

 

The largest and newest ‘cell’ in the landfill; the rocks form a bund to prevent leakage of water out to the sea.IMAGE: VICTORIA LIM

Sadly, “beauty is pain”, and this beautiful resort-esque island could soon be gone. As highlighted in last week’s post, Singapore has to work towards being a ‘Zero-waste nation’, for the very reason that if we continue with our rate of waste production, the landfill is estimated to be filled by 2035, which is scarily close to 2019!

Our friendly guide was explaining to us that she has to ‘argue’ with her mother almost daily about their household’s reliance on single-use plastics, and she believes that it is more difficult to convince the older generation as it is asking them to make changes in their daily lifestyle. Personally, I do not blame them as I completely understand that old habits are hard to kick.  We cannot expect people to change overnight, and whether or not they have forgotten or were just unbothered, I believe that if we keep persisting in spreading the message to those around us (just like our guide consistently does for her mother), more change can be seen. All is not lost if we do not give up!

Cheers

Victoria

Singapores Recycling Scene (Pt 2)

Hi everyone!

As promised, I will be revealing the ‘truth’ about recycling “in” Singapore in my post today.

Well… to be accurate, nothing gets recycled IN Singapore. If you noticed in the video from last week’s post, our recycled items get sent to a sorting facility in Singapore then shipped overseas to countries like Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. (SOURCE) Once they are out of shores, it is difficult to track what happens to our recycled items. Even the government statutory board, NEA, “recognises that there may be uncertainties involved in exporting plastic waste overseas”. (SOURCE)

For example, in 2017, Singapore sent approximately 19,000 tonnes (19million kg!) of plastic waste to Malaysia alone. With such a large amount of waste to process, it is no surprise that not all of this waste will get properly recycled, with many cases of the ‘recycled’ plastic waste just being burnt at illegal dumpsites. (SOURCE)

Look at that mountain of plastic waste (in an illegal recycling factory in Malaysia)! Source: Lai Seng Sin/Reuters

Truth to be told, I only learnt of these statistics recently and I am definitely shocked and exasperated that most of Singapore’s recyclables are pretty much treated just like normal trash. Of course, I have to admit, when I first watched the video I just accepted the information as it is, without thinking further of the problems highlighted in the video. Nevertheless, as I continue exploring environmental issues like these in my blog, I will certainly keep this in my mind and seek to find out more beyond what mass media informs us.

If we are told daily to recycle our waste, why are our efforts still going to waste?

I am afraid I do not have the answer to that yet(I would probably have to ask the government). However, ignoring politics, with this year being designated as the ‘Year Towards Zero Waste’, I think this is a good time to think about reducing consumption, instead of utilising resources thereafter trying to think about how to recycle, or just simply leaving the recycling up to other entities and/or countries. (SOURCE)

I hope this post cleared up some misconceptions about the recycling scene in Singapore!

Cheers

Victoria

Singapores Recycling Scene (Pt 1)

Hi everyone!

Did you know that it was all the way back in April 2001 when Singapore introduced recycling bins in our housing estates? (SOURCE) I think it is safe to say our blue bins have been around for such a long time that many of us do not think twice about it.

(Source: ST File)

However, do you know what happens after we dispose our recyclables in these blue bins? If like me, you thought they get sent to a factory and magically get recycled, do check out this video below which illustrates the journey of our recyclables.

 

(Source)

So, how can we recycle ‘better´?

1.  Although recycling bins may seem like just another dustbin for non-compostable items, (or anything to some) they are not! There is a strict list of things that can be recycled. Here are some commonly recycled items that should not be recycled.

(Source: Screenshot from source)

The list of what can and cannot be recycled goes on, so do check out the complete list if you have the time!

2. We need to rinse our recyclables before putting them into the recycling bin. Now, although I definitely do not recommend this, realistically if we do not have a water source to wash our recyclables or are just simply too lazy to do so, I do think it is better to just dispose of them in the regular trash bin. If we put dirty items in the recycling bin, it contaminates the entire bin, wasting all efforts!

3. Proper disposal of electronic waste (e-waste). Any old electronic item is considered e-waste. This includes every battery, charging cable and old handphone. E-waste is made of heavy metals and other hazardous components, that, when sent to a normal recycling facility, could release toxic gases, harming the environment and our health. (SOURCE) Lucky for us, there have been more e-waste bins being set up around Singapore, making it easier for us to dispose of e-waste properly.

(Source: ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG)

Although recycling of e-waste may seem troublesome, e-waste is one of the fastest growing waste issues in Singapore. Singapore generates an estimated 60,000 tonnes of e-waste in a year, which is the second largest figure in our region! (SOURCE)

Circular economy…or not?

Great! Singapore has perfected a ‘circular economy’! Well… sadly, no. Where does all of our recycled waste end up eventually? Does it get circulated back into Singapore’s economy? I shall dive into ‘the truth’ of Singapore’s recycling situation in my next post!

Cheers!

Victoria

Nice to meet you!

Hi there!

Welcome to my environmental blog! I am really excited to start this blog as I begin to share and find out more about my topic of ‘From a linear to circular economy’.

But before we go on to the theme of my blog, I shall introduce myself. My name is Victoria and I am currently a Year 1 student pursuing a Bachelor of Environmental Studies at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

That’s me on the extreme right with my classmates at ‘Sky Greens’! SOURCE: Audrey Lim

Why Circular Economy?

A few months ago, I came across the term ‘circular economy’, which was completely new to me. However, upon further research, I realised that this term has been around for some time, more so in industries and less for laypersons like me. A circular economy encompasses a lot of what sustainability encourages – reducing waste and maximising the usage of resources already produced, (aka recycling). It emphasises on closed-loop production, where an entity does not import any new resources from outside its borders or outsource the disposal of its waste, pers comm, Coleman. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the three basic principles of a circular economy are: (Source)

  1. Design out waste and pollution
  2. Keep products and materials in use
  3. Regenerate natural systems 

Sustainability and Singapore

On 18 August 2019, at the annual Singapore National Day Rally, our Prime Minister, Mr Lee, brought up the topic of climate change and how Singapore is likely to undergo major unheard-of environmental changes in the next few decades. (Source)

On 4 September 2019, major supermarket chain NTUC and fast-food giant McDonald’s announced that they are going to implement a few changes to reduce plastic wastage. NTUC announced that they are going to start charging customers for plastic bags at seven outlets island-wide and ten McDonald’s outlets have begun to replace some single-use plastic items with sustainable alternatives. These outlets have also stopped carrying plastic straws! (Source)

Personally, I am really heartened to see that more companies in Singapore have started to take these steps towards a society that wastes and consumes less. However, I believe that a lot more has to be done if we truly want to do our part for the planet. 

With all that said, I hope that my blog will give you and me the opportunity to dive deeper into what Singapore has done well to build a circular economy and how we can improve going forward!

Cheers!

Victoria

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