Yesterday’s themes at COP27 were Science and Youth and Future Generations. Two of the elements discussed during the day were around improving Africa’s resilience to climate change and the role of research, development and innovation in addressing climate change.
Economic development and population growth has seen the global demand for materials grow from 27 billion tonnes in 1970 to 89 billion tonnes in 2017 and this is forecast to double by 2060 to 167 billion tonnes (OECD 2019). According to the Circularity Gap Report 2022 70% of all global greenhouse gas emissions are related to material handling and use. Growing consumption of materials has consequently resulted in increasing waste generation, in 2020 only 8.6% of the materials we consume were circular i.e., recaptured and used again. To meet the internationally agreed targets to limit the rise in global temperature to below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, globally we need to adopt a more circular economy approach. Low- and middle-income countries are global producers of materials and consumption is increasing in these countries. Embedding restorative, regenerative circular principals can help meet the needs of this growing demand. This will require a systemic change replacing primary resources with secondary materials recovered from waste streams building resilience into the economy. Getting there will require collaboration across the value chain from all stakeholders including household, government, informal and formal sector. Proactive engagement is needed, through working together and understanding each other, and knowledge exchange is critical to achieving this. As well as understanding each other, we need fresh thinking and ideas to solve the growing ‘waste’ crisis and succeed in getting materials back into the system. Innovation does not happen in isolation; innovation is the outcome of a lot of smart people rowing in the same direction and will require proactive engagement.
WasteAid agrees knowledge exchange is critical. One area we are experimenting with is bringing experts together from the global north and south to solve common waste issues. In The Gambia, WasteAid, funded by the Chartered Institutions of Wastes Management (CIWM), has set up The Circular Economy Network Project, known locally as ‘Dennakuwo’ to fast-track local solutions to the circular economy. A key part of this project is to bring together members of CIWM in the UK, many of whom come from municipal councils as well as the private sector with their counter parts in The Gambia. In November we held our first virtual engagement meeting bringing together the head of Kanifing Municipal Council and 15 members of CIWM on a virtual platform to exchange information and challenges around the implementation of anti-littering law. It is clear that the challenges faced in the UK are not that dissimilar to those faced in the The Gambia. Our hope is to see these fora to enable knowledge to be shared and innovative solutions to emerge.
Enabling knowledge exchange across the value chain is also critical. In Egypt WasteAid is working with Dow on its REFLEX project, to identify new and emerging ways of valorising flexible plastic. The aim is to support the development of the flexible plastics value chain in Aswan. In September we brought together representatives from the informal sector, the governate, environmental affairs, NGOs and producers in Aswan. The different groups were able to bring their knowledge on the challenges and opportunities on the PE value chain, each bringing a unique perspective. Through these interactions, connections have been formed and a more formal stakeholder group has emerged to help plan and move forward together to ensure increased recovery or secondary materials.
WasteAid has also been grateful to work with donors who bring individual expertise. In Cameroon, WasteAid is working with Douala Municipal Council to develop a Plastics Recovery Facility (PRF) that will be owned and run by the local community. One of our key partners Biffa plc were instrumental in supporting the design of the PRF, working with the team in Cameroon to tailor UK designs to something that would work in the context of Cameroon.
Circular economy provides great economic opportunities to preserve the value of materials and develop critical skills. The examples above demonstrate how we think knowledge exchange is central to solving issues caused by climate emissions that come from materials.
Written by Rebecca Colley-Jones and Michelle Wilson.