The Challenge of the Circular Economy in the Developing World
The Challenge of the Circular Economy in the Developing World

The Challenge of the Circular Economy in the Developing World

By Jeffrey R. Seay, PhD, PE

When it comes to managing plastic waste, a term we often hear is “Circular Economy”. This term refers to incorporating end of life thinking into product manufacture. The circular economy is designed to break the Take –> Make –> Waste paradigm of traditional manufacturing. A product designed with the circular economy in mind is meant to be recovered post-use and recycled or remanufactured into new products, thus avoiding disposal in the landfill. However, to implement the principles of the circular economy, sophisticated supply chains are needed. Even products designed to be easily disassembled and recycled or remanufactured must still be recovered and returned either to the original manufacturer or another facility. This process requires separation and transportation. Unfortunately, the supply chains needed to achieve this may not be sufficiently robust in developing countries.

To achieve the principles of the circular economy in an infrastructure limited environment, a different approach is needed – one that emphasizes local implementation, management and control. This approach is referred to as Locally Managed Decentralized Circular Economy, or LMDCE. This approach is based on applying the principles of the circular economy on a local level. An LMDCE is based on local recovery of post-consumer use raw materials and local conversion of those raw materials into products with a local market. In many cases, the principles of Appropriate Technology can be use in the manufacturing process. When fully implemented, LMDCE ensures that all the social, environmental and economic benefits remain in the local community.

An excellent example of an organization that is achieving success with this kind of approach is Takataka Plastics in Gulu, Uganda (www.takatakaplastics.com). Upcycle Africa in Mpigi, Uganda is another organization who is successfully implementing this approach (www.upcycleafrica.org). As these organizations show, LMDCE can be applied to give a value to material previously considered trash. The central concept of this decentralized approach is that everything is local and waste management is designed around and operated by the community.

For more in-depth discussion, please refer to the following:

Joshi, C. and J. Seay (2019): “Building Momentum for Sustainable Behaviors in Developing Regions Using Locally Managed Decentralized Circular Economy Principles” Chinese Journal of Chemical Engineering, Vol. 27, No. 7. DOI: 10.1016/j.cjche.2019.01.032.

Joshi, C., J. Seay and N. Banadda (2018): “A Perspective on a Locally Managed Decentralized Circular Economy for Waste Plastic in Developing Countries”, Environmental Progress and Sustainable Energy, Vol. 38, No. 1. DOI:10.1002/ep.13086.

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