Policy & Business in action towards closing the loop

Natural resources are critical for existence of life on the planet. The growing human aspirations and the consequent requirement of natural resources have made current consumption and production patterns unsustainable. This is increasingly posing threat to the planet’s ability to provide services for the humanity in the future and leading to inequities. ‘Resources need to be managed more efficiently throughout their life cycle, from extraction, transport, transformation and consumption, to the disposal of waste’ (EU 2011).

There is however substantial gains that the society and economy can enjoy through adoption of resource efficient practices and integrating circular economy principles by reusing waste back into the production cycle to produce new products and uses instead of wasting such materials with embedded resources. In practice, through a life-cycle approach, it leads to minimizing impact on environment & the associated societal burdens, transforming ‘waste’ into ‘resources’ fostering circular economy, and strengthening resource security.

Government of India is well positioned to work towards it global commitment to make consumption and production patterns more sustainable by integrating resource efficiency and circular economy in its various policies and  programmes like Make in India, Zero Effect-Zero Defect Scheme, Smart Cities, Swach Bharat, and Ganga Rejuvenation Mission. The mainstreaming of RE and CE not only provides environmental and social benefits but also creates an economic incentive for businesses by saving resources. This transformation pathway leads to implementation of not only SDG 12 but also ten other SDGS which makes it imperative to collaborate and create innovative partnerships. 

NITI Aayog in collaboration with the European Union delegation to India have recently released the Strategy on Resource Efficiency clearly enunciating the importance of Resource efficiency (RE)  and Circular Economy as important goals and central principles for achieving sustainable development. The Strategy includes the core-action plan for the period 2017-2018 and medium term action plan for 2017 – 2020 addressing major elements of  for the transformation  including institutional development , capacity development at various levels for strengthening of capacities and sharing of best practices, development of an indicator monitoring framework for baseline analysis , launch of Short term course on RE under the MHRD GIAN Programme, and promotional and regulatory tools in selected sectors (automotive and construction) such as Ecolabeling for Secondary Raw Material (SRM) products, recycling standards, R&D and Technology Development, Sustainable Public Procurement, development of Industrial clusters and waste-exchange platform, information sharing & awareness generation along with development of sectoral action plans.

It is expected that the strategy will pave the way forward towards resource security and minimizing environment impact by setting up a framework. The strategy implementation would also identify need for setting up a Bureau for Resource Efficiency (BRE) which creates a prominence and enabling platform for this topic like the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) in India. Further, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) indicated its intention to launch a Resource Efficiency (RE) Cell at MoEFCC to further the cause of RE.  

However, operationalizing the RE strategy and shift towards circular economy requires an increased emphasis on aligning sectoral policies in diverse areas like innovation, investment, trade, education and skills development with resource efficiency objectives.

The policy framework will also need to facilitate the integration of resource efficiency considerations in the management of supply chain of businesses. Businesses often find that they lack the critical mass and financial support needed to start large-scale efforts to substitute scarce resources or hazardous materials with cleaner, restorative or more regenerative ones. Sourcing of secondary raw materials through recovery and recycling from end of life products also remains a challenge due to technological reasons.  Lack of adequate finance in particular also makes it difficult for businesses to explore product and service innovations integrating circular economy principles of prevention at source (minimizing waste generation), and converting waste into value added products, such that output of one stage becomes the input for other across their value chain.

There are also information gaps related to material flows and resource efficiency that currently exists. These gaps include harmonised data on indirect material flows associated with international trade, information on flows of secondary raw materials, disaggregated information on resource use by industry, and information on the quality and deterioration of natural resource stocks. Coordinated efforts are required to improve economic analysis of resource efficiency- an area that has currently received very little attention in research.

Lastly and crucially it is also important to make sure that the traditional lifestyle practices and behaviours that include practises towards enhancing repair and reuse of products, efficient recycling processes by integrating the informal sector are further strengthened through enhanced, efficient and safer methods. The rise in consumerism has changed the material use patterns, volumes and kinds of wastes produced leading to significant pressures waste management infrastructure. What is needed is rethinking of approaches towards managing waste and focusing on all stages of the life-cycle of products, identifying ways to close the loop from production to consumption via putting resources back into the economy (secondary resource management).

The Plenary session at the World Sustainable Development Summit (WSDS) 2018 seeks to provide a platform to discuss the essential elements to operationalize resource efficiency and circular economy in India, keeping in mind the due recognition that the Government of India has recently released the Resource Efficiency Strategy. Furthermore, it will discuss the need for institutionalising resource management and efficiency by also exploring the links with energy efficiency and the prevailing best example of Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) in India.

The specific questions for discussion include

  • How can the government, civil society and the businesses come together to push forward resource efficiency and circular economy in India to encourage coherent and convergent material use and reuse in the economy? What kind of institutional arrangement will be needed for operationalising and mainstreaming resource efficiency measures as suggested by the RE Strategy?
  • Can the operationalisation be done on similar lines of Energy Efficiency like BEE? How can a link be created between Energy Efficiency and Resource Efficiency to create direct linkages and co-benefits?  
  • How can a systems thinking be incorporated into planning and implementation process to promote resource efficiency and circular economy? What kind of knowledge creation and training is required for planners and implementers?
  • How to bring in the relevant learnings from international, national and local best practices into practices and operations of different stakeholders including businesses in India?  What kind of regulatory and economic instruments are needed to create an enabling ecosystem for fostering RE and Circular Economy in businesses?