Europe expects to make trillions of dollars over the next few decades by transferring to a circular economy. Yet, in North America governments and people are widely unaware of what a circular economy implies. So could P.E.I. benefit by implementing a circular economy before it becomes mainstream? The P.E.I. Government, Progressive Conservative Party, and Green Party weigh-in.
If you have never heard of a circular economy than let’s start with the figures first. In Europe, by 2030, the circular economy is expected to add $2.6 trillion dollars to the economy and raise the GDP by about 3.9 percent. That’s a lot of dough. In doing so, European economies will send less waste to landfills, helping curve negative effects to the environment.
In fact, in 2014 the European Union saw such potential in implementing a circular economy that it created the Circular Economy Action Plan to help quicken the transition.
On this side of the Atlantic when you ask people about a circular economy, the response is basically “huh?” But it raises the question, can P.E.I. tap into this wildly profitable and environmentally friendly initiative?
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which spearheaded the Circular Economy concept says the goal of the initiative is to “design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems.” It might sound a bit vague and hard to pin down, but in many ways it means returning to a sort of lifestyle that existed before the baby-boom years of the 1960s and on.
Today our economy is linear. We largely “take, make and dispose.” But it’s proving to be fatal to our planet. It’s estimated that only 10 percent of items in our homes are used or kept for longer than 6 months after they're purchased, and each Canadian is creating an average one tonne of waste per year.
I contacted the P.E.I. Government’s Department of Economic Development to see if the topic of a circular economy is even on radar. After a couple days of asking around and looking into the topic--because it was a possibility that the Island was implementing circular policies but by a different name, I was told that,
"...While circular economics is not part of any official assessment of a company's application for financing or other supports, the circular economic nature of a business plan would be seen as a positive from government's perspective.”
Essentially, no it’s not being researched or talked about, but they’re not opposed to the idea.
Part of a circular economy, is the concept of shared economics. It’s the idea that “I don’t need an electric drill, I only need a couple holes in the wall”. Value Village, Airbnb, CarShare, and Couch Surfing are prime examples of businesses that implement shared economic principles.
For P.E.I., there have been a few glimmers of a circular economy making an entrance. In 2009, H.I. Construction in Elmsdale bought a chipper that could cut-up rubber tires given to them by Island Waste Management that could then be used as the base for new roads. And on social media sites like Facebook, several communities have buy and sell sites where second-hand items are sold at a low cost or just given away.
Ontario is so far the only province in the country to take steps to implement a circular economy. In 2015 the government there introduced a discussion paper on the topic. But outside government, several businesses are using basic yet ingenious new ways to make money using circular economy principles.
In Vancouver a company named Enterra is taking old bread, expired produce and other pre-consumed food and feeding it to flies. Those flies create protein and fat rich-larvae that can then be sent to livestock farms as feed or fertilizer. It’s a simple solution, yet Enterra has secured $20 million dollars from investors and has a 30-person staff.
Speaking to the Globe and Mail on the topic, Sebastien Sauve an environmental chemist and circular economy expert from the Polytechnique Montreal says “the early adopters are going to be winners.”
Scanning the political party platforms on P.E.I., there is no mention of a circular economy. I reached out to the individual parties to see if it was being discussed or researched.
While there was no comment from the Liberal Party, James Alyward, Leader of the the Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I., told Mayzil that he would table information about a circular economy for discussion at their next caucus meeting.
Peter Bevan-Baker, Leader of the Green Party of P.E.I., says that he has only heard of the term “circular economy” infrequently.
“Yes, we have discussed and researched the topic,” Bevan-Baker tells Mayzil. “We do not have an official stance on a circular economy, but believe that a shift towards a more regional and local economy, with emphasis on sustainable models of production and consumption in all sectors is critical to our long-term well-being and prosperity.”
In his January 17th blog “Waste time”, Bevan-Baker talks about issues surrounding the amount of waste in our economy today. “When I think back to my childhood, we didn’t recycle, but we didn’t make a lot of garbage either. Life was simpler, things were designed differently, and the relentless encouragement through advertising to consume more stuff was largely absent," he writes.
“With growing mountains of recyclables accumulating all over the world, including here on PEI, with nowhere to put them other than a local landfill, it is time to look at whether this is a sensible way for a mature global society to manage our affairs.”
Closer to home, DivertNS, a non-profit group in Nova Scotia, held the Circular Economy Summit in 2016 at Dalhousie University. Several speakers, including government officials, professors, and non-profit groups discussed the advantages that a circular economy would bring to Nova Scotia.
Economically-speaking the payoffs of a circular economy means more jobs and lower-priced goods. But at the end of the day it’s the environmental factors that really stand out. It means less pressure on resources from mines and water. Although it’s a fundamental shift, a circular economy means returning to having sustainable lifestyles and more wholesome living.