The transition to the Circular Economy and why it bodes well for South Africa

The circular economy has of late taken a more prominent and pivotal role in the developed world as well as the global south, with reference to sustainable growth and development. The most widely used definition of the circular economy was drafted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and states that: “The circular economy refers to an industrial system that is restorative and regenerative by intention and design.” Put in simple terms, this means that this industrial system aims to replace the conventional linear process of “taking, making and disgarding” with a circular process that returns materials to the economy as re-usable inputs into new products and uses renewable energy sources. The cornerstone of this thinking is premised on reducing, reusing and recycling products or materials they are made of, but also emphasizing the importance of maintenance and repair in value chains.

The aforementioned process or paradigm shift needs to be collaboratively driven by various stakeholders in society; namely governments, companies, institutions and individuals as a collective if we are serious about achieving the UN endorsed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Hence, the European Union (EU) in partnership with the South African government and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, has put the circular economy on the agenda through organising a parallel seminar on the transition to the circular economy during the World Economic Forum 2017 in Durban, South Africa. The seminar, will not only be a platform for thought leaders, academics, governments and organisations to collectively address the transition to the circular economy, but also presents the opportunity for businesses and MNCs to re-think their role, consider new business models and co-create sustainable commercial solutions to achieve SDGs.

With this in mind, the South African landscape offers a plethora of opportunities for the circular economy and the Netherlands aims to connect with South African partners, to learn and foster a platform to enable a living lab for circular economy thinking and innovation to thrive. In fact, a part of the Circular economy is already taking place in South Africa where other nations can learn from the thinking and creativity utilised here to give renewed value to materials. Although the circular economy cannot be fully integrated into the South African landscape at present, innovative solutions and ideas are exemplified through concepts like AgriProtein and the recycling of PET bottles to increase circularity.
It is imperative that we increase our efforts in enhancing energy conservation and decrease our resource dependency given the pressures on climate change, high population growth and increased migration in South Africa and the Netherlands. Through seminars like this and adopting a Smart Cities Framework approach, South Africa and the Netherlands can exchange knowledge, interrogate feasible business propositions, and share adoptable best practices in our collaborative effort to close the loop.

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