"Dust thou art to dust returnest" is how HW Longfellow describes our existence in one of his poems. The lines capture the sheer circularity of life, of how things seemingly coalesce into a pattern, even though they may seem disparate.
Circularity is at the core of life, in our eco-system, in our universe. Inspired by this ideal, companies and governments are talking about adopting a similar circular approach to businesses and processes. The concept is dubbed as a circular economy.
The idea of circularity is pretty simple and straightforward. Rather than a linear model that starts with raw material and ends with waste, a circular one makes use of the waste through means like recycling, thereby fashioning new products.
At the heart of this model is the principle of eliminating waste completely, through re-utilisation of resources. For instance, bottling companies reuse plastic sourced from discarded bottles in the form of pellets as a raw material to create new ones.
In this model, the role played by companies extends beyond the purview of peddling goods. They look after the lifecycle rather than just be a part of it.
While it may seem like a loss-making proposition, in the end, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
Not surprisingly, companies are actively looking at circular business models as part of their efforts to mitigate the negative environmental effects caused by waste. The impact could be critical, depending on the industry.
For instance, the plastic manufacturers in Maharashtra had to take on the responsibility of disposal because of a governmental mandate.
And it is not only companies that stand to benefit by the adoption of circularity.
A study conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in December 2016 showed that a "circular economy development path in India could create an annual value of Rs 14 lakh crore ($218 billion) in 2030 and Rs 40 lakh crore ($624 billion) in 2050 compared with the current development scenario."
This figure has been arrived at by taking into account the three focus areas of mobility and vehicle manufacturing, food and agriculture and cities and construction.
According to the report, even at the same level of utilisation, the costs would be significantly lower in a circular scenario. The accumulated cost savings accrue to 11 percent of current Indian GDP in 2030 and 30 percent in 2050.
This is the reason the Indian government is also looking at a circular development scenario, with the NITI Aayog taking a lead on the front.
The chief executive officer of NITI Aayog, Amitabh Kant, has been pushing for adoption of resource optimisation and resource efficiency policies.
He has publicly expressed his worries on the mismatch between the requirement and availability of resources. "India needs to grow at about 10 percent annually for the next three decades to be able to meet the ever-rising demands of its growing population," he said.
As of now, a high-level European Union delegation under the aegis of the Circular Economy Mission (CEM) is currently visiting India to explore collaboration in green businesses and promote a circular economy that aims to limit wastage of natural resources.
With representatives from countries like Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK, the delegation is here to explore the expansion of cooperation in a range of areas such as climate change, water resources, housing and urban development.
According to the CEM, the Indian economy is expected to grow at close to 7.5 percent in the coming years, whereas India's material requirements are projected to reach nearly 15 billion tonnes by 2030.
"The current linear economy model of 'take, make, dispose' will exacerbate the twin problems of increasing resource constraints and increased generation of waste as the economy grows," stated the release.
Yet, circularity is something that is not unbeknown to us. Many centuries ago, the sages that wrote down the Vedas or the Upanishads, emphasised on the need for harmonious co-existence between humans and nature.
The Shanti Mantra from the Isha Upanishad elucidates the union of our spiritual being with that of the greater divinity.
From the fullness, if we were to take out fullness, what will remain is fullness. (
Om Poornamadah Poornamidam Poornnaat-Poornam-udachyate. Poornnasya Poornamadaya Poornam-eva-avashissyate). Does that not sound like a philosophic definition of a geometric circle?
The best example of practical application of circularity can be seen in the architectural treatise Vastu Shashtra that enumerates the ways and means in which resource utilisation can be optimised or minimised.
Take the instance of the Indira Paryavaran Bhawan office building, which houses the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in seven floors in New Delhi.
The building, reportedly the first net-zero building in India, has achieved net zero energy consumption through a two-pronged approach – minimising energy demand and meeting the demand with renewable energy.
The building’s design features minimise energy and water consumption for total energy savings of 40% and water savings of 55 percent.
In fact, until just a few decades back, a bulk of Indians were pretty conscientious when it came to using resources.
People were conscious not to reuse waste, recycle things and reduce usage. The
kabadiallah or the raddiwallah was as much a part of our lives as the milkman.
Thanks to the rationing, we were always wary of wastage. I still remember the first time the Reynolds single-use ball-pen was launched in the ‘80s; people were not inclined to buy it. "One has to throw away the pen, as the refill can't be changed," went the popular refrain.
But our nation has come a long way from then. From a country where getting a phone connection meant waiting for years, to a scenario where we can order mobiles with just a few clicks on our apps.
The cheap goods, the EMIs, and the sheer bouquet of choices have unleashed a wave of consumerist use-and-throw culture, which is so endemic in the western countries.
Today, great offers or discounts are the drivers of our purchasing instincts. Buying a new mobile or a new laptop is not based on our needs or requirements, but rather how fanciful the product seems. It is such mindless consumerism that helps build mountain-heaps of waste.
In the end, circularity as a principle needs to be adopted not just by governments or companies, but also individuals.
We need to be conscious of our footprint, we need to be conscientious about waste. We just need to understand that life is a circle and we are a part of it. Let's try not to be squares.
Shashwat DC is Features Editor at CNBC-TV18. He is closet-activist for sustainability and CSR, when not pondering over the future of humanity or contemplating the launch of the new Android phone.