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CSIR's initial circular economy study shows potential to create economy-wide value

26th November 2021

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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The initial findings from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research's (CSIR's) Science, Technology and Innovation for a Circular Economy (STI4CE) study shows that transitioning to a more circular economy has the potential to create value across all sectors of the economy.

There are also opportunities to decouple development from resource consumption.

"This will improve the local and global competitiveness of the South African manufacturing sector, improve food security through regenerative agriculture, create more sustainable, liveable cities, improve economic development through efficient mobility systems and decouple economic development from the demands placed on our energy and water systems, which are already under considerable strain in South Africa," the CSIR reports.

The CSIR released an introductory note and seven short think pieces to inform the public and private sectors on where immediate circular economy opportunities are achievable within the mining, agriculture and manufacturing sectors for human settlements, mobility and energy and water, which are cross-cutting issues.

"South Africa has a very linear, resource-extractive-based economy, with large throughputs of resources, predominantly inland extraction and manufacturing of goods; export of resources for further international beneficiation, little resource investment in local stocks; and even smaller resource returns into the economy."

This places the country at risk in terms of resource depletion or overexploitation, with the potential to directly disrupt the South African economy. Simultaneously, there is growing demand from industrialised countries for access to finite resources.

"The South African government recognises the benefits that a transition to a more circular economy could provide the country. A circular economy would create economic opportunities as new services and business models emerge, transforming the relationship between producer and consumer, and products and their users," says Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) environmental services and technologies director Dr Henry Roman.

“As outlined in the Science, Technology and Innovation White Paper, the circular economy is recognised as a new source of growth for South Africa, together with other game-changing developments such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” he says.

The circular economy has largely been misinterpreted as a waste issue, often used interchangeably with waste recycling. However, the circular economy is about so much more than waste management, says CSIR principal scientist and STI4CE project manager Professor Linda Godfrey.

“The circular economy is about sustainable resource management. It is about managing South Africa’s future development risks by understanding the availability of resources and keeping these resources circulating productively within the economy,” she said.

The circular economy has gathered international support, with countries recognising the importance of understanding national resource availability, scarcity and consumption. “Access to resources is the foundation of every economy,” she says.

“It is also clear from our initial studies that the circular economy is not new to South Africa. There are a lot of activities already underway aligned with the principles of the circular economy. However, we have not yet achieved the scale required for meaningful impact,” Godfrey said.

“We must find ways to encourage and incentivise circular interventions to create a space for the demonstration and piloting of ideas, in order to fast-track their uptake in South Africa,” emphasised Roman.

“It is important for us to understand what the circular economy means for South Africa, and where our unique opportunities lie,” Godfrey emphasises.

The study findings can be accessed through the DSI's website.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online



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