Circular Economy: Why Sustainable Manufacturing is not an Option for Africa in Her Development Quest.
The manufacturing sector plays a huge role in most economies. It creates jobs, provides platforms for innovation, and products/technologies for everyday use to make life better and easier. To do this, the manufacturing industry transforms raw materials into finished products using processes and energy. The raw materials may include outputs and by-products from other sectors as well as virgin materials.
However, the sector is also responsible for a considerable amount of CO2 emissions, high energy consumption and material inefficiencies. The emissions result from part of the players using fossil fuels and inefficient manufacturing processes with the latter meaning material processing inefficiencies and high energy requirements.
Another issue with energy consumption relates to the continued use of virgin materials in the linear economy process even when there is the possibility of embracing some of the principles of the circular economy such as remanufacturing, refurbishing and recycling, especially at the meso level.
To guarantee sustainability objectives are met such as net zero 50, there is a need for efficient manufacturing systems and improved material and energy utilization. To achieve that, there is a pressing necessity to optimize processes in resource recovery at the end-of-life of products within the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and Circular Economy (CE) context.
Optimal resource recovery, supposing what could have been reused or repurposed has already been utilized as such, means optimal or maximal product use at the end of a product’s life in some way. Without neglecting the concerns over the quality in endless reprocessing of some recycled materials, at least we must appreciate that with more research, we can always find new ways to put the same products into use and create value out of them.
Circular Economy and Development
Should the African continent heighten its transition towards the circular economy, the benefits in terms of development cannot miss to be emphasized. Given that the circular economy is designed to benefit businesses, society, and the environment suppose proper implementation is done, African nations can solve a very long issue of balancing the development gains economically, socially and also environmentally.
Development is a positive change in society, economic growth, and increased consciousness of the need for environmental conservation and social development. The social part entails equality and equity in resource allocation, education, water access, income opportunities, gender balance, leadership, and governance. It is interesting to note that the circular economy principles once applied in the manufacturing sector have ripple effects downstream.
It is even more beautiful to know that its applications get applied across the board. The circular economy applies to the food sector, electronics, fashion, basic consumer goods and much more. Imagine how empowering women to do waste plastic collection for instance for plastic manufacturers (for recycling) and getting paid for it presents income opportunities and addresses gender gaps.
As a matter of principle then, we need individuals competent in the area of sustainable manufacturing and who are better placed to help the governments in policy development to ensure our manufacturing organizations understand how their activities affect society and the environment and how best they can address those issues using CE and LCA principles to be more sustainable.
Inclusivity for SMEs is Important
In Africa where the largest percentage of manufacturers fall under the SME category, a lot of these manufacturers believe that it is the big manufacturers who are contributing more to emissions and pollution for instance.
So, they don’t take keenness to put measures in place to address their emission or pollution without understanding that the SMEs could account for more than the big manufacturers when looked at collectively. In other cases, the big manufacturers would be very keen on their activities since they are visible and come under regular scrutiny compared to the small manufacturers.
It is very possible to find some of the big manufacturers have measures in place or put commendable efforts to recycle their packaging at the end of product use whereas the small manufacturers have little means or measures in place to undertake such actions. Additionally, there could be a lot of inefficiency in the processes of small manufacturers due to tight operating capital which may mean less recycling, for example. This means that sustainable manufacturing may need to be seriously considered by all manufacturers small and large on the basis of gains at economical, ecological and social levels.
The circular economy management which can help address a good chunk of issues faced by all manufacturers needs to be implemented by both small and large manufacturers as a matter of principle. It is one very important tool to address sustainability issues.
Thus, attaining a sustainable manufacturing sector can go a long way in making most African countries regionally and globally competitive.