What nature can teach us about recycling and the circular economy

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When it comes to circular systems that make use of waste to create new things, the Earth is a near-perfect example. Our planet has managed to sustain life and reuse its own resources for millennia. The rain cycle and the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide are two great examples of circular systems that create equilibrium for all life forms.Nature has a lot to teach us about recycling and circular economies, where waste is used as a resource to retain value. Almost all plants and animals become nutrients for other life forms once their life cycle comes to an end. The building blocks of life are recycled in an endless circle in nature.Very little of our own waste can actually become nutrients to sustain other life. Large portions of waste end up in landfills, some of it is recycled, a small amount is composted and the rest is burned. The circular economy of waste is an important step to reducing waste volumes and retaining value. Luckily, this idea is starting to gain traction in many countries around the world.

The current linear economy is unsustainable

Society currently operates on a linear resource flow where raw materials are used to produce goods, which are then discarded. In most cases, this waste is not fed back into the raw material stream; new goods are not produced from old materials. Besides the recycling industry, the linear resource flow is the dominant process for most other industries.These finite nature of raw materials means that the linear economy is unsustainable. This model is highly wasteful and has negative consequences for the planet and its delicate equilibrium. The planet is already running out of fossil fuels, minerals, metals and wood. This is why many countries, including South Africa, are starting to boost recycling rates and experiment with waste as a resource.

Keeping resources in circulation

Nature has given us the perfect template of a circular economy. Things need to coexist in equilibrium in order to maintain the balance between demand and supply. Natural habitats use only the resources that they need to sustain life. Humans can take heed of this and reduce their consumption to use only what they need.Our economy should be the same - only using what it can recover or regenerate. This will help to keep valuable resources in circulation while reducing waste and unsustainable consumption of finite resources. Humans are finding clever new ways of using waste to build homes, generate electricity and create new products.Products are being designed with circularity in mind. Manufacturers are sourcing uses for their products once they are discarded and are creating their products from sustainable materials. Production, consumption and recovery need to become co-dependent systems that rely on one another for success. This is the way of nature and it can work for society too. A circular economy can only work it generates money. Luckily, clever new business models and genius products are starting to make this a reality.___Averda is a leading waste management provider with over 50 years of experience across three continents. Through growth, transformation and engagement, we strive to find new ways of managing waste while protecting the community and environment. ___By pairing international expertise with local insights, we have secured our position as one of South Africa’s most respected providers of waste management and industrial cleaning services. We also operate in the recycling, pipe inspection, CCTV, infrastructure inspection, hydro-demolition, high-pressure water jetting and catalyst handling industries. ___Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for the best tips on recycling and the latest industry news. See our Instagram and YouTube channels for more insights into environmental affairs and our work with local communities.