For generations, as a society, we’ve lived by the model of linear manufacturing — production and consumption where goods are created from raw materials, then sold, used and considered waste at the end of their useful life. As our access to those raw resources continues to shrink, and our need to find space for and manage waste grows both locally and globally, the case couldn’t be stronger for a better model that contemplates alternatives to what is quickly becoming an antiquated way of thinking.
Enter the concept of the circular economy, an approach where we strive to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. About more than just recycling, circular economy principles focus on other means to increase value, including repairing, reusing, remanufacturing, designing for better end of life recovery and decreasing energy use in the process of creating products. A holistic approach that the Recycling Council of B.C. is embracing and encouraging its membership to adopt as a driving force in future strategic growth.
The good news is that B.C. already has a leg up on this concept. In fact, the approach has been understood and effectively used right here in Vancouver by mainstay companies like West Coast Reduction for more than 50 years through the less than glamorous, yet necessary process of recycling inedible parts of animals used in food production — called “rendering”. While it’s a subject that many don’t want to think about, it is an important consideration for those who are striving for a more sustainable, local approach to consumption and regeneration.
Rendering is the circular economy in action: creating new and valued products from what we as a society would normally consider waste. Take for instance that rack of ribs you may be barbequing this weekend. Whatever doesn’t make its way to our supermarkets goes to the rendering facility on Vancouver’s port, where the synergy of West Coast Reduction’s processing site and access to export markets creates a streamlined opportunity to develop new products like feed meals and high-value fats. These precious commodities are sought after by countries that include China, India and others where populations are growing and diversifying. Here in B.C., the instant value-add instead of landfill-bound approach creates local jobs and revenue, and reduces the cost of locally produced agri-food products.
The economic case for applying this model is compelling. It’s not only sustainably-minded individuals who are changing the way they think about the origins and end of life of products, but businesses as well. Companies are adapting to meet more stringent emissions laws ramping up due to climate change, and facing increasing costs and decreasing access to resources in ever competitive global markets. It’s also a basic dollars and cents argument that couldn’t be clearer. According to analysis by both McKinsey and Accenture, a focus on the circular economy could add anywhere between $1 trillion to $4.5 trillion to the global economy, dependent on how and where it is embraced, as well as create hundreds of thousands of jobs and introduce new and innovative products into the marketplace that can meet the demands of a more discerning consumer.
Similar approaches to understanding that maximum value can be derived from the existing manufacturing, use, and ownership of goods are also being proactively and successfully executed in B.C. — driven either by consumer demand or legislation, matched with pure economic benefit. Shining examples of access over ownership models where added value is the name of the game include innovative access to vehicles through ride sharing business ventures. As well, our province leads in developing feedback loops of materials for industry through extended producer responsibility regulations — the latest covering printed paper and packaging.
With B.C.’s innovative and technology-focused culture — matched with mainstay companies already thinking about and applying the circular economy model — our province is in an excellent position to continue capitalizing on momentum that’s driving this concept forward in global markets. So while you’re enjoying that rack of ribs this weekend, keep in mind that as a society, we need to ensure political will and consumer choice keeps pace with this idea — which in turn will build a more sustainable local economy, for the long term.
Barry Glotman is CEO of West Coast Reduction, a family-owned company providing animal byproduct rendering and used cooking oil recycling services to Western Canada. Brock Macdonald is CEO of the Recycling Council of British Columbia.