Round and round

COMMENT: The circular economy is firmly on the agenda of the European Commission right now - it was in the final throes of agreeing seemingly contentious new waste and recycling laws at the time of writing, writes Carly Fields.

As a result of their deliberations, the phrase circular economy is being excessively kicked around in Europe and its potential for ports has come to the fore once more.

At its simplest, it’s the antithesis of the traditional linear economy that we are used to – and ports thrive on – of make, use, dispose. Instead, the aim of a circular economy is to extract as much value as possible from a resource and then at the end of its life, recover and regenerate products and materials from that resource for re-use.

Discussions about the circular economy and a port’s evolving role in such a closed loop process have been taking place for a number of years, but few ports have really grasped the implications and the possibilities of circular economy thinking.

A port authority’s role in this can be multi-faceted: supporting facilities for recycling of plastics; converting waste to fuel or chemicals; bio-diesel production; waste management; and re/upcycling, among others.

A focus on the circular economy is nothing new for the Dutch: both Rotterdam and Amsterdam have been beating the circular economy drum for at least the past three years. Of course, their stance is made easier with a government that has set a target of shifting to a circular system by 2050. Rotterdam sees the port as an ideal location for developing the circular economy, “since all facilities required for the industry of a circular economy are present”.

Antwerp is also a keen advocate and has in the past targeted tenants that will bolster its circular economy goals.

Much can be learnt from these circular economy pioneers, and they are open to knowledge sharing. The World Economic Forum in its seminal ‘Towards the circular economy’ report says that success in a circular economy will ultimately rest of collaboration across different stakeholders, industries and geographies.

Those ports that have already embraced the skills needed for playing host to the circular economy see the bigger picture: if circular economies are being encouraged at a governmental and inter-governmental level then a reduction in imports of raw materials is inevitable, as less and less virgin resources are needed to make new products. For ports, this policy shift should ring warning bells, especially if much of your business models is based on raw material imports. Getting intimately involved in the alternative, circular economy simply makes business sense.

Outside the port world, Japan is, I understand, committed to making the 2020 Olympics the circular economy games, with medals produced from recycled electronic devices donated by the public. Connecting the public to these aims is genius; could ports get the public involved in their circular economy aims and in doing so raise the profile of the port? Donate old tablets to make a quay crane; get rid of rubble to infill the next berth expansion – if you get the marketing right, you could bolster your circular economy aims and bring the general public along for the ride. What’s not to (re) love?

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