Paul Hawken ( funder of Project Drawdown, a non-profit dedicated to global warming reversing suggested that “The first rule of sustainability is to align with natural forces or, at least, not try to defy them”. That quote got me thinking, as probably got you, about how hard humankind has been defying natural forces since our ancestors started searching for ways to avoid exposure to extreme climatic conditions millennia ago. I am not suggesting we should go back to live in caves or quit the comfort of contemporaneous lifestyle, but you may agree with me that there are some ways that probably need to be revised if we really want to secure our sustainable presence on Earth.

In that regard, I thought of bringing this topic to conversation today. Do you know what Circular Economy is?

As per definition, circular economy (CE), is an economic system based on the reuse and regeneration of materials or products, to continue production in a sustainable or environmentally friendly way. In fewer words, the CE concept is an elegant way to say “one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure” as cleverly suggested by Hector Urquart in the Tales of the West Highlands over a century ago (1860). Apparently, there is no clear agreement on how the CE concept was coined or who came up with the original idea but, for some authors, all started with the three R (e.g., reduce, reuse, and recycle) principle during the early 1970s. In time, the number of R increased from the original three to around ten to include also refuse, renew, redesign, repair, refurbish, re-manufacture, repurpose, and recover. Since then, the CE market in the United States has been valuated at $556 billion in 2023 and it is expected to reach $1,323 billion by 2030.1 Despite these impressing numbers, the Circle Economy Foundation2 has recently estimated that the global economy is only 7.2% circular, meaning that, out of 100 billion tons of materials annually expended by the global economy, only 7.2 billion are secondary raw materials. This means that the conventional business model, where products are purchased, used, and ultimately thrown away, remains as the major approach, putting pressure on scarce resources with little or no concern for social or environmental impact.

Now considering our lifestyle, is CE really a plausible way or are we just talking about another wishful thinking that will end up hitting a wall if ever intended to be adopted?

I know it may be hard to imagine picking up things from someone else’s trash and using it in our household or ourselves, but let us try it. Please allow me to use this example: In agreement with a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation3, globally customers miss out $460 billion a year of value by throwing away clothes they could continue to wear. They found that, in the United States, clothes are only worn one fourth of the global average and some garments are estimated to be discarded after seven to ten wears. If continuing down this pathway, the report suggests that the fashion industry could use more than one fourth of the carbon budget associated with a 2℃ global warming limit by 2050. To avoid this scenario becoming reality, the report also proposes looking for systems, clothes, textiles, and fibres that are kept at their highest value during use and re-enter the economy after use, never ending up as waste. They estimated that changing the paradigm will unlock a $560 billion economic opportunity, but new business models and collaboration across the value chain is required to keep materials in use. What am trying to say with this example is, maybe there are ways for us to contribute to sustainability that may not require that much sacrifice like, for example, thoroughly checking our clothes before throwing it to trash or, even better, donating it to non-profit organizations that may pass it to other users willing to give it another use. Not that complex, don’t you think?

We, at DASCO, are committed to the CE concept and working hard in figuring out ways to find further uses for “waste” materials that may lead to environmental benefits or reduce carbon footprint. For example, we are working on the conversion of biomass from transport-related wastes into carbon-based materials that can have further environmental benefits. These carbon-based materials are created by a thermal process that avoids gas emissions and captures carbon, preventing further CO2 release to the atmosphere. We have found that the produced carbon-based material can remove, for example, heavy metals from water, which makes it highly interesting for environmental applications such as treating wastewater effluents from mine operations or recovering valuable components in semiconductor industry wastewater. Several other biomass feedstocks have been tested—after all almost everything in this world is made up from carbon— and we have found that, interestingly, the source of biomass possesses a significant impact on the characteristics of the final product. This suggests that, despite that carbon will still be produced using the same operation conditions, slight differences in the structure of the feedstock will generate changes in the crystallinity, morphology, and surface chemistry of the resulting carbon-based materials, generating unique properties that represent different opportunities for further applications.

If you are interested in learning more, sharing your thoughts, or chatting about your CE-related projects, please get in touch with us. We will be happy to hear from you and highly interested in starting collaborative efforts.