Circular Economy driving international sustainable development research

By Anne Velenturf, Pauline Deutz and Andrea Cecchin

The International Sustainable Development Research Society (ISDRS) held a very successful annual conference last week in Bogotá, Colombia. With over 200 presentations from every corner of the world and 9 key notes plus a welcome by the President of Colombia and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Juan Manuel Santos, the conference reflected the diversity and crucial role of the UN Sustainable Development Goals for environmental health, peace keeping and the circular economy.

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The circular economy continues to be a popular topic for ISDRS. A special track on Circular Economy, Industrial Ecology (resource management and sustainable regional economic development) included 12 presentations on this subject. Additionally, other sessions contained 5 presentations on circular economy while there were a further 15 talks on waste and resource management and/or sustainable production and consumption.

The fact that the circular economy and sustainable waste and resource management resonated throughout the ISDRS conference should not be a surprise. Analysis of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) show that 12 of the 17 goals contain targets to improve waste and resource management directly, excluding targets on for example education, policy and finance which can indirectly enhance sustainable waste and resource management. The global goals on affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitation, and life below water and on land contain the highest proportions of targets aiming to alter waste and resource flows in our economy. Overall the UN SDGs propose far-reaching changes for industry.

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This emphasises the importance of circular economy and industrial ecology for sustainable development. Presentations at the ISDRS conference indicated, however, that circularity cannot be a dogma because it might not be the best strategy for achieving resource efficiency or sustainability at all times. Instead, we need to consider circular economy in the broader perspective of sustainable development.

Circular economy presentations at the ISDRS included both developing and developed country perspectives. In both cases the construction industry is an area of concern, given the scale of waste produced, but especially noting the continuing rate of urbanisation in developing countries such as Colombia. Additionally, in the context of developing countries the informal economy tends to play a significant role (both in waste management and construction).

Other talks indicated that there is a need to develop approaches fostering circular practices, such as industrial symbiosis, which reach beyond large companies. Context needs to be considered in industrial symbiosis evolution, with different pathways illustrated for urban and rural settings. Pathways are also likely to differ in developed and developing countries due to different socioeconomic and political conditions.

Such differences highlight the need for a flexible framework and specific implementation strategies for developed and developing countries. A common framework for circular economy does not exist yet, not least since various current frameworks propose different visions of sustainability. These differences are also reflected in the confusing range of terms used in circular economy discourse, as precise terminology is yet to be established.

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Image source: Denise Reike, Walter Vermeulen and Sjors Witjes (2017) The circular economy: New or Refurbished as CE 3.0? – Exploring Controversies in the Conceptualisation of the Circular Economy through a Focus on History and Resource Retention Options. Presentation at ISRDS 14-16 June Bogotá, Colombia http://programme.exordo.com/isdrs2017/delegates/presentation/320/

Engagement with policy makers is also important to steer both the design and implementation of regulations, as was illustrated by case studies from tyre recycling and mining of legacy waste. A further presentation emphasised policy makers can be receptive to academic engagement, with an on-going two-way process of exchange the ideal way to manage this.

A lively discussion after the talks summarised suggestions for further circular economy and industrial ecology research:

  • Social aspects related to circular economy
  • Circular business models and business model innovation
  • The role of participatory approaches as an essential part of implementing circular economies
  • The socio-political implications and possibilities of shifting current production-consumption-use-waste practices
  • The role of economic cycles in the adoption of a circular economy framework in national economies and industries
  • Further research the role of geographic proximity in the establishment of industrial symbiosis
  • Investigate the influence of geographical context on resource exchange networks
  • Investigate the role and contribution of private brokers and governmental facilitators to foster industrial symbiosis
  • Research to integrate urban symbiosis with industrial symbiosis
  • Investigate the adoption of circular economy models for the construction sector, especially in developing countries with higher population growth in urban areas
  • The role and contribution of the informal economy when designing and implementing a circular economy framework in developing countries
  • The role of formal and informal institutions (for example regulation and the presence of collaborative culture respectively), also in relation to the implementation of law enforcement
  • Adoption of circular practices by SMEs

We look forward to contributions to continue the debate at next year’s conference, which will be hosted by the University of Messina, Italy, 13-15 June 2018.

Anne Velenturf is the coordinator of the Resource Recovery from Waste programme at the University of Leeds and managing director of 4Innovation Research and Consultancy. Pauline Deutz is a Reader at the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Hull and vice president of the International Sustainable Development Research Society. Andrea Cecchin is a Fellow at the Archives of Sustainability at Ca’Foscari University of Venice and Project Researcher at Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador.

Sticking Together: microbes and their role in forming sediments

Without life, Planet Earth would look, smell, sound and work in live. For life the human eye can easily see (trees, lions, termites, corals, seaweed) the impact of life is pretty obvious, although it is still often more profound than you might think. For micro-organisms (bacteria, algae, archaea, fungi), this impact sometimes gets overlooked. Making this deficit of recognition much worse is the sheer age of the time when the pre-microbe Earth was first changed to the insistent push of microbial activity. The oldest land vertebrates (~385 million years ago), land plants (~472 million years ago), land arthropods (~490 million years ago), coral (~465 million years ago) and fern-like marine organism (~565 million years ago) are pretty recent innovations compared to the oldest microbes (at least 3,500 million years). Strangely, this makes identifying the range of impacts on Planet Earth quite difficult to establish: we have almost no fossil record of the Earth without them.

This is why a group of us put the 2017 Lyell meeting together. We wanted to lift the lid on the range, significance and complexity of the way micro-organisms impact of planet earth today, and explore the significance of this impact in the past. Only through bringing these impacts to light and understanding them can we understand, and even harness, these communities for the benefit of society. This is potentially as profound a journey as the first human efforts to understand the dog, the horse, cereal plants or apple orchards. If we want microbes to help in stabilising sediment in reservoirs or – very close to the heart of the R3AW project – removing the pollutants we persistently put into their environment, we need to understand how they live their lives.

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The range of impacts is simply breath-taking. Microbes can accumulate metals, make minerals form, stop sediment from being eroded and help sediment get deposited. They can even do this in dryland environment, where you would think conditions are pretty unfavourable to these communities. And they have been doing it for a long, long time.

Even for those of us who already know beyond question that we live, and have always lived, in the Age of the Microbe, Lyell ’17 expanded our horizons. Those who started the day perhaps more innocent of this emerging field of science will never quite look at the world the same way again. All of us came away more convinced than ever that the absence of microbes from the nature documentaries on our television has blinded the world to their huge importance. It is an uncharacteristic oversight that the Planet Earth team have failed to give Sir David Attenborough the opportunity to introduce us to half of the biomass our world possesses.

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Where this exploration will take us, none of us yet know. However, it is already clear that discovery of how microbes on Earth change how the planet operates is every bit as profound as the discovery of microbes beyond the Earth itself. We have made a start on this journey, but we have a very long way to go.

 Written by Dr Mike Rogerson (R3AW) University of Hull.

 

Lyell Meeting 2017

Sticking Together: microbes and their role in forming sediments

7 March 2017, The Geological Society, Burlington House

Sedimentology and geomorphology have traditionally been seen as fields in which physical, and sometimes chemical, processes dominate completely. Even in settings where biological processes have long been recognised, for example in marine carbonates, focus has been almost entirely on metazoans. This is curious, because microbial communities since the Pre-Cambrian, have suffused all sedimentary environments on Earth, and at least half global biomass is prokaryotic. Are all these microbes simply bystanders? Recent research has hinted that they are key agents in controlling an impressive range of processes and products in sedimentology, bringing the fields of microbe palaeontology and bio-sedimentology into intimate alignment. The implications are fundamental, and pose the question“are large-scale sedimentological features actually microbial trace fossils?”.

This meeting will put the majority of life on earth back into its proper place within the sedimentary geosciences. It will shed new light on the important roles that microbial life plays in controlling how sediments erode, transport, precipitate, deposit and cement. We will explore whether microbial processes can leave signatures in sedimentary deposits that prove life was there, despite the fact that the majority of global biomass has nearly zero preservation potential. Ultimately, we will lift the lid on the exciting field of sedimentary geobiology as we collectively work towards a new paradigm of microbial sedimentology.

Call for Abstracts:

There is a call for abstracts and oral and poster contributions are invited. Abstracts should be sent in a Word document to naomi.newbold@geolsoc.org.uk by 12 January 2017. The
abstract should be approximately 500 words and include a title and acknowledgement of authors and their affiliations where possible.

Convenors:

Daniel Parsons (University of Hull)

Mike Rogerson (University of Hull)

Concha Arenas Abad (University of Zaragoza, Spain)

Gernot Arp (University of Göttingen, Germany)

Jaco Baas (University of Bangor, UK)

Confirmed Keynote Speaker: Christophe Dupraz (University of Stockholm, Sweden) – Biofilms and Sediment: a ‘Geobiological Tango’

Further information: For further information about the conference please contact: Naomi Newbold, Conference Office, The Geological Society, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BG T: 0207 434 9944 E: naomi.newbold@geolsoc.org.uk

Follow this event on Twitter: @geolsoc #lyell17

 

 

Come join us in Boston, at the American Association of Geographers’ Annual Conference

Although the development of a circular economy has the potential to alter existing economic trajectories in ways that are more favourable to the environment, the concept has been increasingly subject to critical evaluation. Some commentators see the circular economy as yet another manifestation of ecological modernisation, whereby technological change and appropriate environmental management techniques are deemed sufficient to address global environmental concerns. Thus “little has been said about the socio-political implications and possibilities for shifting current production-consumption-use-waste practices” (Hobson, 2016: 89), nor about the realities of the “messy world” of the circular economy beyond the ‘perfect circles’ of materials and waste envisaged by policy makers (Gregson et al., 2015). As with its predecessor concepts of industrial ecology and industrial symbiosis, the reality of implementation may be a long way from the neat conceptualisations envisaged in the world of policy documents and websites. Moreover, individual product and material cycles cannot be understood in isolation, but need to be viewed as part of a wider system influenced by both the individual elements at work and the context in which they operate. Life cycle thinking and systems thinking can provide a useful entry point into understanding these contexts in order to comprehend the way in which individual elements can impact upon evolution and promotion of a circular economy. The aim of this session is to bring together researchers approaching the concept of a circular economy from a wide range of perspectives in order to further understanding of the barriers to and implications of implementation. We invite a wide range of contributions from those concerned with, and researching into, the circular economy, the green economy, systems analysis, life cycle analysis, degrowth and alternative economy scenarios. We would welcome contributions addressing related issues including, but not limited to, following questions:

  • What are the barriers to developing a circular economy beyond the dominant focus on the technological aspects of resource and material flow management? In particular, what are the institutional and regulatory barriers to change?
  • What are the alternatives to a circular economy policy that focuses on improving technical efficiency without questioning current business and economic growth models?  Are there alternative circular economy practices that align with other conceptualisations of production and growth, such as degrowth?
  • What shifts in routines and practices are required to develop a circular economy and how can these be conceptualised? For example, how do various business and policy actors change their routines? Can we see the development of ‘communities of practice’ around circular economy initiatives?
  • What are the broader socio-political implications of a circular economy agenda? Which forms of governance can encourage or facilitate the circular economy? What is the role of individuals and regulatory structures?
  • The circular economy envisages the world as a set of interwoven systems, but how does a systems approach alter our perspective view of the economy and how do changes in one part of the system impact upon other areas?
  • How can methodologies such as life cycle sustainability assessment be used most effectively to communicate the benefits and impacts of the circular economy to all sectors of society including decision and policy makers?

Please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words for consideration for inclusion in the session by October 7th via email to Helen Baxter (helen.baxter@hull.ac.uk), David Gibbs (d.c.gibbs@hull.ac.uk) or Pauline Deutz (p.deutz@hull.ac.uk). Participants will be notified by October 17th if their paper has been accepted and will then need to register for the conference and provide their PIN to the organisers by October 24th in order to be included in the panel.

Details about the AAG 2017 Conference and how to register/submit an abstract are available here.

 

Written by Prof. David Gibbs, Dr Pauline Deutz and Dr Helen Baxter, University of Hull.

Renewable chemicals from waste – securing the molecular value from waste streams

We presented a poster at the Symposium “Renewable chemicals from waste – securing the molecular value from waste streams” in the Royal Society of Chemistry, London, the 20th November. We displayed some preliminary results from the experiments on vanadium recovery from steel slag leachate with a commercial ion exchange resin.

Challenging pollutants such as vanadium  are released during leaching of alkaline wastes . While it is contaminant of concern, vanadium (V) is also highlighted in recent strategic reviews of mineral security as being of critical importance to green technologies (with other elements such as La, Li, Co, V, Te, Ga, Se).

Our results demonstrate for the first time the extended alkaline pH range over which anion exchange resins can be used for metal removal and recovery from waste leachates. These results are promising for both the treatment of hazardous alkaline leachates and the recovery of metals of critical importance. Ongoing experiments are scaling-up the resin columns for pilot scale.

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