Climate Change and the Circular Economy: Analysis of Policy and Individual Behavior in the Indian Ecosystem

Climate Change and the Circular Economy: Analysis of Policy and Individual Behavior in the Indian Ecosystem

Aakriti Mathur, Kanwal Deepinder Pal Singh
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4990-2.ch003
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The world is presently facing a climate catastrophe of its own making through the unabated increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Global consumption patterns are to blame, as presently, the global annual demand for resources outpaces the annual rate of the earth's ability to regenerate those resources. Thus, there is an urgent need to reduce the global demand for resources to a sustainable level, through the adoption of a circular economy. Individual consumption behavior habits form the basis of global consumption patterns, and therefore, adoption of sustainable consumption habits and lifestyles are necessary for addressing the climate crisis. In this chapter, the authors assess the potential for addressing the climate crisis through the adoption of a circular economy and sustainable consumption behavior. The authors also evaluate the extent of adoption of sustainable consumption behavior in India and make recommendations for adopting a circular economy in India.
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The impacts of climate change ranging from increasing extreme weather events to increased droughts and wildfires to massive flooding serve as a stark forewarning of the times to come in case the world does not act now. It is estimated that even if countries comply with their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC’s) under the Paris Agreement, the world is unlikely to be able to reduce emissions consistent with a 1.5 degree rise in temperature. Linear economy with its make-take-waste approach leads to an ever increasing and unsustainable demand for resources. Calls for degrowth and adoption of circular economy have become particularly relevant in the circumstances.

Any efforts to address climate change must necessarily include efforts to reduce production and consumption to sustainable levels, for the simple reason that individual consumption is responsible for a large share of green-house gas emissions. This is true across industries but more the impact is much more significant in areas such as transportation, food production and consumption and plastic production and consumption. The rise of consumerism and corresponding increase in expected level of convenience and comfort translate directly into increased per capita consumption of materials and energy. In a linear economy this creates problems of not only unsustainable extraction of resources and excessive waste generation, but also contribute to climate change due to the green-house gas emissions associated with these processes.

Degrowth which can be defined as “the equitable downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions at the local and global level” and the adoption of circular economy which aims at the de-linking of “value creation from waste generation and resource use by radically transforming production and consumption systems” are concepts that are gaining international recognition as a new sustainability paradigm. Circular economy focuses on restoration and regeneration and looks at value creation from waste. The United Nations in 2015 adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Two of these goals that is SDG 12 of responsible production and consumption and SDG 13 of taking urgent action to combat Climate Change and its impacts can be directly addressed by adopting a circular economy.

The plastic packaging industry is expected to become one of the largest contributors to green-house gas emissions if current trends of production continue. Clearly the largest driver of single use plastic production is the consumer demand. Owing to the paucity of time and increase in the buying capacity of people, plastic packaging has become convenient. Also, buying packaged version and readymade goods is far easier than preparing it for hours. The plastic packaging does not add much to the manufacturing cost which makes it a favorable choice for the companies too. The companies using the plastic are also flouting rules like Extended Producer Responsibility for plastic. In fact, businesses have repeatedly blamed consumers for unsustainable demands on resources and the problems of mismanagement of waste. Coca Cola company was recognized as the largest plastic polluter in an audit of plastic waste in 2019 and despite having this dubious distinction, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2020, Coca Cola’s head of sustainability Bea Perez cited continued consumer demand as the reason for not ending its production of single use plastic bottles. Sustainable consumption behavior on part of consumers and conscious rejection of unstainable business models then contributes to adoption of business models which foster sustainable consumption and promote a circular economy.

There has, however, been some change in the attitude of companies wherein they are partnering with entities which get their plastic wastes collected. These collected plastics are then supplied to the cement kilns where they are utilized. The management of plastic waste is much different from the wet waste management. There are some companies for example Saahas and Tetrapak which are helping in the management of plastic waste through different methods like collecting the plastic waste from companies and waste-pickers and then using them in either making new products or providing it to the companies which can use it in their manufacturing process (Saahas, n.d.).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sustainable Consumption Behavior: Human behavior in which an individual use the goods resources and services in a reasonable amount so as to meet the basic requirement of quality life. Such behavior stands for reducing the use of natural resources, and products which are not environment friendly so as to ensure better quality for future generations.

Climate Change: Rising of Earth’s average temperature due to human activities, especially burning of fossil-fuels which in turn results in changing climate pattern.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): A set of 17 goals which United Nations General Assembly has outlined in 2015 in order to achieve end of poverty, protection of planet and promotion of peace by 2030.

Sustainable Development: Economic development which does not take place at the expense of environment. It is a development which meets the requirement of present generation without reducing the opportunities for future generation to come thus balancing economic growth and that satisfies the needs of the present without compromising the capacity of future generations, guaranteeing the balance between economic growth, and environment protection

Degrowth: An unconventional, environment-friendly concept that does not adhere to the general notion of development, which is synonymous with abundant production, consumption and high-greenhouse-gas-emitting living. It suggests reasonable reduction in production and consumption that does not mean stagnation, but sustainable growth with respect to natural resources so as to meet the requirement and cut down the surplus.

Green Consumerism: Consumer behavior under which the consumer purchases a product which is more environment friendly than the alternatives and is least harmful to the environment.

Circular Economy: A system in which emphasis is supplied to the exhaustive use of the product which means that a product is not simply thrown away after its use rather the same should be repaired and put to reuse and one’s it becomes completely nonfunctional the parts of same should be sent for recycle thereby generating minimum waste, and making the product more cost effective.

Linear Economy: A system which extracts a resource, make a product and then sell it. In the process whatever non-required is produced and also the final product at the end of its shell life is disposed of as waste, disregarding the concept of reuse or recycle.

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