Industry Spotlight: Towards the Circular Economy

Industry Spotlight: Towards the Circular Economy

22-Jun-2017 by Natalia Sakmarova

We live in the era of consumerism. The world population buys tons of new products every day and throws them away on average 6 months after the purchase. The line between our needs and our wants is blurred, and corporations around the world work hard to satisfy our desires. Our present economy is based on the principle of “taking, making, wasting”, which means we consume the natural resources of the planet in an excessive and disordered way.

The production of goods and our attempts to get rid of the waste instead of recycling create a big environmental impact, and the numbers are terrifying. We dump 2.12 billion tons of waste globally each year, and this amount carries serious consequences. 6.5 million people die from air pollution, a third of all food is wasted and 8 million tons of plastic is thrown in the ocean yearly. The truth is that we use more than the Earth can replenish, and we are at a great danger of running out.

We dump 2.12 billion tons of waste globally each year

Although human waste is something we don’t always think about, sanitation can be a serious issue too. The human race produces about 290 billion kg of feces per year and about 1.98 billion liters of urine. For the lack of other options, many people in developing countries have to resort to open defecation, which causes public health problems and leaves an ecological print in natural areas. Human waste can easily become a vector for viral and bacterial infections, and the estimated number of deaths caused by contaminated water falls between 2 and 5 million per year.

Sadly, this is just the beginning. We are draining and clogging the planet at an increasing rate. The world population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, and the global economy will continue rising as well at expected growth of 3.6% per year. Many sources predict that by 2050, we will be producing three times more waste than today. Our planet will not be able to physically support this exponential economic growth if we continue to thoughtlessly waste natural resources to satisfy our wants.

The rise of Circular Economy: KAKIS positive sanitation case-study

David Kodarin, CEO of KAKIS positive sanitation from our Smart City & Living 2017 program, says that abandoning the selfish “take, make, waste” approach may be humanity’s only way to survive in the next 1000 years. David and his team are zero-waste advocates. They believe that we need to move towards a future where waste is eliminated.

“The global population produces more and more waste, and it’s time for us to move from a linear economy to a circular economy. We must stop producing new things and focus on the reusability of the products and raw materials. We need to restore the capacity of natural resources by recycling as much as possible.”

The circular economy indeed can be the answer. The industry promises to be worth $4.5 trillion in the next 15 years, and global industry leaders and innovative startups are embracing this opportunity. Millennials are also ready to support the change for the better and pay more for sustainable products and services. Creating better waste management systems and stimulating innovation in recycling are some of the many trends in the industry.

KAKIS positive sanitation was established with the goal of benefiting both the environment and the society. This startup offers outdoor wooden toilets that create a natural recycling process without waste. The materials of the toilet are bio-based, and when wood can’t be used in the production process, KAKIS positive sanitation uses the recyclable plastic.

“The toilet we are building is based on a system that operates similarly to a dry compost toilet which does not use water or chemicals. Total organic matter accumulates in a suitable reservoir and it is optimally decomposed. Biological processes change the organic material into compost fertilizer.”

The production process of the KAKIS positive sanitation toilet

David adds that they not only focus on the environmental aspect but also on the customer experience.

“User experience is very important for us. Our special system prevents bad smell and is easy to replace and empty.”

While KAKIS positive sanitation team is focussing on an outdoor system right now, they are also planning to work on a concept for an indoor toilet.

“We are working on a zero-waste concept for houses. A toilet that will be collecting human waste and using it as an energy resource for heating all year long. We also have a big vision to be the first ones to put a toilet on Mars.”

Still a long way to go

Although many organizations are contributing to the circular economy already, the overall progress towards a sustainable system is still slow. At this moment, it is difficult to determine at what stage we are in the transition to the ideal economy where we would make use of the waste and restore the capacity of natural resources.

There are significant barriers we must overcome to make the transition. Innovative businesses are seen as the primary driver of a shift towards a circular economy, but the public sector and the community need to contribute too. When it comes to creating a sustainable future for the generations to come, it is about uniting our strengths and contributing to the development of green and sustainable products and services.

Natalia Sakmarova

Natalia is the Marketing Lead for our accelerator programs in Amsterdam.