MindBullets 20 Years

Circular economy in a tailspin

Supply shortages put growth at risk

The circular economy has been a marvelous modern-day invention, overcoming productive society’s two biggest problems in one fell swoop: How to deal with increasing scarcity of raw materials, and how to minimize pollution of the environment. By simply upcycling waste materials into inputs for new products and manufacturing processes, circular economics makes it a closed-loop system.

It started with steel, rubber, and plastic, but now almost every metal and synthetic compound is re-processed when a product reaches the end of its lifecycle. From e-waste to car tires to whole aircraft, junkyards and landfills are a thing of the past, as scrap gets efficiently processed, recycled, and repurposed.

Granted, much of the current situation was thanks to tighter legislation from the Big Three in global trade: China, America, and the EU. With strict requirements on all new products to contain no more than 5% virgin natural resources, the circular economy has spun up into top gear.

But now there’s a problem, and it’s a big one. The demand for quality, and the cultural shift to avoiding excessive consumption, means that products are lasting longer than ever. People are just not throwing things away, and replacing working products with new models is just so socially unacceptable these days. Besides, the circular economy has come at a cost – consumer durables are so much more expensive. Buying refurbished second-hand is often first prize.

And that creates a massive shortage of waste, sorry, input materials for manufacturers. Which in turn pushes up prices even more. The whole circular thing is turning into a bit of a vicious spiral, and economic growth is trending down.

At the World Economic Forum, there’s even talk of relaxing resource regulations, and exploring the idea of a mining renaissance. Unless the nanotech boffins can perfect their methods for molecular manufacturing, it’s back to digging up raw materials to keep the factories working!

Contact us for more

Futureworld has developed exciting value propositions surrounding the Waste-to-X concept, working with some of the world’s largest companies to turn their waste streams and other resources into new co-products and game-changing new businesses. For more information on the circular economy and the promise of molecular manufacturing, feel free to contact the author Doug Vining or our sector specialist Caitlin Krutsinger.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

Despite appearances to the contrary, Futureworld cannot and does not predict the future. Our Mindbullets scenarios are fictitious and designed purely to explore possible futures, challenge and stimulate strategic thinking. Use these at your own risk. Any reference to actual people, entities or events is entirely allegorical. Copyright Futureworld International Limited. Reproduction or distribution permitted only with recognition of Copyright and the inclusion of this disclaimer.