How Technology Can Accelerate the Transition to a Circular Economy
We know technology has the power to improve lives. Here at Girls Into Coding, we engage girls in tech projects of all kinds, helping them find confidence and opening up opportunities for them. But could technology help transform our entire economy?
Of course, we see changes in the way we work every day, thanks to various forms of tech. Remote working became more common due to advanced digital communication. Even the way we pay for things and get paid is constantly changing. But imagine if technology could change the very foundation of our economy and move us towards a “zero waste” model where we reuse and recycle nearly everything: a circular economy.
What is a Circular Economy?
The best way to explain circular economy is by comparing it to linear economy. That’s the current economy we have. Linear economy follows the take>make>consume>waste path. We take resources from the Earth, such as oil for plastics, wood, plants for fibres and food, and so forth. We make products we need or want — everything from cars to medicine. We use these products, then whatever’s left gets thrown away and we start again.
It’s clear to see that this type of economy has nothing left over at the end of the process. We’re constantly taking from the planet without putting anything back. It won’t come as a surprise to learn that this is completely unsustainable. The human population has reached nearly 8 billion, and we consume at a far greater pace than the Earth can produce. Coal, oil, and gas, for example, won’t last beyond the next 170 years and may deplete much faster. What’s the alternative?
Enter the Circular Economy. In this model, we still take and make, but then we reuse the waste. We remake things, we fix things, and when we can no longer use them, we recycle whatever is left over or use spare parts to remanufacture products. This model constantly puts resources back in at the start of the cycle, so we don’t have to take as much from the planet.
Benefits of a Circular Economy
Of course, transitioning to a circular economy is better for the environment. But it’s also better for business. Mining for oil and minerals is expensive, and the more that can be re-used or recycled, the more profitable companies can be. Investing in a sustainable economic model is about more than hitting corporate social responsibility targets. It’s about building a firm foundation that a business can grow on for a long-term future. That means divesting from fossil fuels and other resources that are, quite simply, not here forever. Organizations should be aiming for zero waste in landfills, which means getting innovative about re-using materials.
We could even see waste becoming a part of our infrastructure. There are already ideas to build roads out of waste plastic. Some organizations utilize low-carbon concrete for a variety of construction projects. There’s even a way to repurpose waste glass into building materials. But could technology hold the answer to moving us into a circular economy faster?
How Can Technology Support a Circular Economy?
The Internet of Things (IoT) allows more devices than ever to connect to each other and share information. This has led to innovations such as sensors inside rubbish bins so that they’re only collected when they’re full, saving fuel and reducing emissions. In the Dutch city of Zaanstad, machine learning and complex algorithms help identify which buildings are at risk of subsidence, saving money and natural resources by only carrying out necessary repairs.
From a business perspective, digital financial innovations like blockchain can tokenize transactions such as swapping or gifting items. This could send financial incentives to manufacturers every time one of their goods is reused. Essentially, those manufacturers become motivated to produce less.
How Young People are Leading the Way
As amazing as these changes are, they are nowhere near as inspiring as the many young people across the world working hard to change our economic model. We know that, statistically, young people are far more invested in sustainability than previous generations. By getting kids involved in coding and computing from a young age, we’re empowering them to create solutions that can really fix how we interact with our planet. In 2021, the EU Circular Talks convened in Brussels with the aim of highlighting young people’s involvement with the rise of a circular economy. Young people from all over Europe discussed how to improve textile manufacturing, food production, digitalisation, and the energy industry. With this level of engagement, it certainly feels like we are placing the future of our world into safe hands.
A truly circular economy with zero waste might seem radical but it’s the best and most sustainable model to ensure the best planet for our children. Look out for our next article where we’ll be going into more depth about how young people, especially some outstanding girls in STEM, are innovating and creating solutions for a more sustainable future.
Girls Into Coding offers peer-to-peer tech education groups engaging girls in tech projects from robotics to computing. Click here to find out more about how we encourage the girls in STEM of today to become the women in tech of tomorrow!