If human development is to continue in a sustainable manner,
it is becoming increasingly clear that the economy of the future is going to be
circular: an economic model where products, at the end of their lives, are fed
back into the system in order to continue their use and extend their value. In
order for this kind of economic model to work, waste needs to be minimised.
This is the central tenet of the UK government’s recently published Resource
& Waste Strategy. Given that the concept of circular economy is one that
frequently goes hand-in-hand with the bioeconomy, what opportunities does this
Strategy hold for the UK’s bioeconomy?
The Impact of Waste
In any economy, waste is something to avoid: it represents
inefficient use of resources, and thus the benefits of those resources being
lost. Natural resources are not infinite, and although the bioeconomy promotes
the use of biomass as a resource because it is renewable, inefficient
exploitation of even renewable resources can have disastrous consequences (look
to deforestation and associated loss of biodiversity as an example of how this
applies to biomass).
That is not to mention the waste itself: an argument based
solely on resource efficiency assumes that the waste itself does not have a
negative impact. However, it is well-known that in many cases, waste can cause
huge damage to the environment. Waste that biodegrades in landfill will result
in emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as the waste is broken down
anaerobically by microbes. Waste that finds its way into the environment can
provide a serious hazard to wildlife, as no shortage of horror stories of
animals that have mistaken waste for food will testify, and it is only recently
that we have become aware of the scale of the damage. It is now estimated that
almost every water course on the planet has been contaminated with plastic,
particularly microplastics, which result from the fragmentation (but not
degradation) of waste plastic.
Thus, the case is clear for better waste management: the twofold
benefits of increased resource efficiency and reduced environmental damage
should be reason enough, but coupled with the economic benefits of implementing
a circular economy, it is no surprise that waste has become an area of interest
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