If well harnessed, circular economy will enhance radical change in the economy, argues Timi Olubiyi

Where do all the old stuff and waste we generate go? From the package boxes, used cloths, e-wastes, used water bottles and can, medical waste, worn-out vehicle parts, food waste, and so on, without a doubt, they all end up in one of the dumpsites due to the persistent linear economic model in the country. Unfortunately, the current economic model involves “take, make, use and dispose of” which makes many of these used items end up in landfills and waste sites across the country. For a long time, our economy in Nigeria has been ‘linear’. This means that raw materials are used to make products, and after the life spans, it becomes waste and all thrown away.

In fact the largest open waste site in Africa is situated in Nigeria, in Olusosun, Ojota, Lagos State according to findings. Furthermore, with Nigeria’s growing estimated 206 million population the level and magnitude of waste generated annually are projected to go on the increase. However, considering no proper waste management system in the country, this is a cause for concern. It can be said that over 90% of waste is linearly handled annually in Nigeria. Empirical evidence supports this assertion, that most of the waste is indiscriminately dumped or burnt. Additionally, in the country, waste is considered to have no significant economic value, and this is the reason for the dumping and burning – which eventually pollutes, like the burning of heavy metals and toxic chemicals which affect the quality of air, water, and soil.

Agreeably, raw materials are largely from the earth, businesses, particularly manufacturing companies use these to make products and sell to consumers. However, once these products have reached the end of their useful life span, they are disposed of. This is referred to as a linear economy and that is significantly the current model in the country. Consequently, this pushes waste and waste management to the forefront of environmental challenges in the country. Especially with medical waste, which includes the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) wastes.

COVID-19 has had a serious impact on all parts of our society, and waste management is no exception. The already limited capacity of waste management in the country is further affected by COVID-19 waste which requires additional careful consideration and operation. Therefore, indiscriminate disposal of this form of healthcare waste could be harmful to sanitation, and serious public health consequences. More so the impact of COVID-19 has made thinking about the socio-economic and environmental future more important than ever, especially in the area of sustainability.

From context observation, a waste problem exists in the country and is prevalent, and this could fuel health risk and a further increase in the poor quality of the air and pollution in the country. This is a disturbing trend, and this instigated this piece. Since the linear economy principle is still dominant in the production and consumption model across the country, there is a need for advocacy to effect a change in the orientation. Because, it is only reasonable to imbibe proper management and control of wastes- organic, e-waste, health, industrial, agricultural and food, vehicle parts among others in the country. This should be seen as a priority and an avenue to create wealth, economic development, and an improved environment.

On a positive note, the purpose of the circular economy is to prevent waste and it also encourages the reuse of materials and waste, which can, in turn, create economic value. For example, waste glass can be used to make new glass and waste paper can be used to make new paper. This can ensure enough future raw materials for food, shelter, heating, and other necessities; therefore, our economy must become circular. That means waste will be prevented by making and reusing products and materials more efficiently.

Simply put, a circular economy (CE) is the opposite of a linear economy and a major concept that is relevant to economic sustainability. The circular economic model can help achieve and promote environmental awareness, reduce the indiscriminate dumping of refuse, which usually results in an outbreak of diseases such as malaria and typhoid. Waste management in developing countries is usually not operated in accordance with international standards. Therefore, this gap can create economic benefits, aimed to ensure healthy, safe living, revenue generation, and cause less harm to the environment.

Substantially, many developed countries like Finland had built tremendous capacity and business experience in managing the high-yield circular economy. Consequently, to ensure there are enough raw materials and prosperity as a country, we need to switch from a linear to a circular economy and stimulate economic growth.

A circular economy can present innovative ways to recycle products and materials for the future. This can help to conserve the environment and climate change. A circular economy can offer a waste to wealth path for our economic growth and a sustainable way to tackle health, safety, and environmental landscape.

Many initiatives can be introduced aimed to promote a circular economy in Nigeria. For instance, the switch to Green Programme that can promote the use of biogas technology, E-waste management is another, organic agriculture, and eco-industrial parks can also be explored. The government can have policy implementation and legislations to encourage a circular economy geared towards innovative and regenerative resources and consumptions.

The circular economy offers better prospects for solid waste management, a steady supply of resources, for both present and future generation, reduction of government expenditure on waste management, environmental protection. It will also offer opportunities for economic and industrial development (job creation and GDP growth).

The circular economy is more profitable and harmless to the environment and its main goals include sustainable economic growth, increased competitiveness, and job creation. It is important to note that recycling is an essential means of keeping resources in circulation, it is just one part of the circular economy.

The circular economy model can revolutionize our economy if well harnessed. It can become a guiding force in livelihood, business, and government particularly diversification of the economy. This initiative can transform Nigeria’s current informal and hazardous recycling in some quarters into a formally legislated system that benefits all actors, stakeholders, and investors. A platform for public-private collaboration and bilateral cooperation can be explored which can include knowledge transfer by the government. This will further stimulate economic development, improve private sector participation, and open business opportunities for entrepreneurs because the economic, ecological, and environmental benefits of a circular economy are very clear.

Dr. Olubiyi is an Entrepreneurship and Business Management expert