When economy meets sustainability

In my last blog post, I wrote about the current debate regarding the EC Circular Economic Package and some of the opportunities that it offers to improve sustainability along all stages of the life cycle of products.1 The Package, which was launched in July 2014, demonstrates many possibilities of reusing/recycling products and materials so that products such as mobile phones and jeans (and their by-products) could be broken down at the end of their life-cycle and re-enter the production cycle as secondary raw materials like gold or cotton.

There is a strong economic and entrepreneurial motivation in favor of moving towards a circular economy and increased resource efficiency, and this vision can, and should, be adopted in other sectors such as healthcare.

Shifting from the traditional model of "take, make, (consume) and dispose" to a more sustainable one is a major prerequisite if we want stay within the Planetary Boundaries,2 particularly in terms of tackling climate change and easing the pressure on natural resources such as land, water, and energy.

According to a Swedish case study published in 2015, "in moving to a more circular economy, the number of additional jobs would likely exceed 100,000 and the improvement in the trade balance would be above 3% of GDP in Sweden".3 If this is the potential impact on a relatively small country like Sweden, can you imagine the major benefits to the rest of the world? And I’m not just talking about the environmental and economic advantages. There are also many additional advantages in terms of equity and social justice. For example, most of our current electronic waste (commonly known as e-waste) goes to the landfill or is exported to other countries, such as China, Ghana or Nigeria, causing major environmental and social problems in these countries.

In fact, one of the key elements of this proposal is a focus on waste and the promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling and incentivise compliance with the waste hierarchy, where preventive measures and zero-waste strategies are the ultimate targets. 

The healthcare sector is one of the public sectors in which there are major opportunities in terms of waste and the saving of resources. In December 2015, in parallel with the COP21 negotiations in Paris, Health Care Without Harm hosted a Conference on Climate Change and Health Care in which some of these issues were discussed.

With regards to waste, we have highlighted some case studies from Poland and Germany, which deal with the topics of infectious waste and single-use products. In terms of single-use products, of particular interest is the project "Les Petits Doudous" which is being developed for two years by the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Rennes (France). It consists of the recycling of the copper contained in electronic scalpers (produced by the company Delaire) and in the blades of laryngoscopes. This eco-responsible approach helps to finance part of the purchase of toys for the pediatric area. However, in other areas, like furniture, hazardous chemicals or pharmaceutical products remain a challenge, as discussed in a recent live chart with some healthcare companies, executives or consultants.4

I am glad that we are reaching the point where economy and sustainability have found each other. But don’t forget that if we want the circular economy begin today, the responsibility must be shared and some obstacles have to be removed.

Finally, you can take this quiz to test your knowledge of the EC Economic Circular Package. Don’t you want to know which fast food chain in Sweden launched a campaign that accepted cans for currency?

 - Paola Hernandez, Sustainable & Healthy Food Programme Intern

Preview Image: Kevin Dooley via Creative Commons licence

 (1)  Circular Economy Strategy. (2016): http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/index_en.htm

(2)  Rockström et al. 2009. Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and Society 14(2): 32: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss2/art32/

(3)  Wijkman, A., & Skånberg, K. (2015). The Circular Economy and Benefits for Society: Swedish Case Study Shows Jobs and Climate as Clear Winners: http://www.clubofrome.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Final-version-Swedish-Study-13-04-15-till-tryck-ny.pdf

(4)  7 things we learned about healthcare and the circular economy (2016): http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/feb/24/opportunities-challenges-circular-economy-healthcare-live-chat-highlights