Session 9

Future Visions for the Circular Economy

Session 9 was dedicated to sharing on what it means to operate in a circular economy with a few examples of how this is actually working well today. Linda Battalora, professor at the Colorado School of Mines, explained that the “Citizen Engineer” is environmentally, socially, economically, and technically responsible. They live in the city where a hydrocarbon development project is located. They operate with a leadership commitment and transparency and ethics to effectively manage the needs of various stakeholders on a project: the corporation, regulators, vendors, co-workers, equipment/process, and the general public. They define, implement, assess, and iterate. Lucy Alexander of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) presented for Past President, Dale Keairns, on the food-energy-water nexus. She explained that these sectors are interconnected whether in a linear or a circular economy. The problem is that they are sectoral with policy and disciplinary silos. Nexus thinking is around availability and accessibility (sustainability, affordability, and reliability), the footprints, life cycles, and supply chains. What drives the nexus challenge is population growth, people moving to cities, economic development leading to increased consumption and pressure on resources, and climate. There is a need for holistic policy-making and to consider energy, materials, and waste that cross boundaries. Engineers should design out waste throughout the system. There is also a need for society, industry, community, NGO, and agency collaboration and multidisciplinary and multinational studies on this. Andrew Mangan of the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development talked about their cloud-based materials marketplace which has expanded industrial reuse. Traditional and non-traditional industrial waste streams are matched with new product and revenue opportunities, ultimately enabling the culture shift to a circular, closed-loop economy. In addition to diverting waste from landfills, these recovery activities generate significant cost savings, energy savings, and create new jobs and business opportunities. Finally, Robert Dowling told us about his award-winning organization, rePurpose, which improves the lives of marginalized trash pickers globally by providing them crucial equipment to help them deliver in bulk to the formal recycling sector. In wrap-up, key themes lifted up were to show everyone how they fit in, identify a use for all outputs, carefully consider language in and complexity of messaging, and always think outside of the box.