Ninth in Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India’s series on SDGs in relation to zero waste, circular economy methodology and sustainability is Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.
While it can appear disheartening to think about industry and waste because of the pollution that has occurred since the industrial revolution- the rise in technologies through industry saw a “major increase in population, which, along with an increase in living standards, led to the depletion of natural resources. The use of chemicals and fuel in factories resulted in increased air and water pollution and increased use of fossil fuels” (source)- it is important to remember the positives to come out of these situations too. Since the 1800s there has been a decrease in people living in poverty or without access to education and electricity, among other important areas. While there are still 2.6 billion people without access to electricity and 2.3 billion people who lack access to basic sanitation (source) it is vital, to stay optimistic about environmental matters, to put this into perspective and look forward toward sustainable solutions with industry. The benefits found through innovation and improved infrastructure has brought more to the world than solely the negatives mentioned above.
Plastic, for example, has revolutionised the world in terms of packaging but has far-reaching consequences environmentally. Fortunately, more and more people and organisations are becoming aware of the situation and trying to address the crisis (source). Industry leaders such as Danone and Unilever, who are members of Food Industry Asia, are currently “very interested in innovation in (plastic) packaging”, and note that “as an industry, we want to work closely with governments on policy development, waste management, collection and recycling” (source). Yet, despite the largest organisations raising their hands to address the problem, this, of course, does not suggest that the situation is resolved. There are problems due to industry. Within India, for example, “thousands of small scale and bigger industrial units simply dump their waste, more often toxic and hazardous, in open spaces and nearby water sources. Over the last three decades, many cases of serious and permanent damage to the environment by these industries have come to the fore” (source). However, this does not suggest that the situation is hopelessly lost, a sustainable environment where waste is managed to a high level can be achieved.
It is of course not the most pleasant starting point to attempt to address the waste crisis in order to live sustainably with the environment we inhabit but it is where we are. The industry has brought amazing levels of progress to humanity while placing us in a situation that is dire. Yet, if innovations such as those made by the ‘Plastic Man of India’, who has created a process of mixing bitumen and plastic where the combination of materials enhances the road’s ability to carry weight and could drastically reduce the amount of plastic debris in landfills and in waterways (source) is not embraced we may be missing out on potential solutions. There are of course positive and negatives to innovations such as these but we must see the opportunities presented by new technology that builds upon the current situation while addressing the multitude of problems that the environment faces due to unsustainable practices that have been in place since the Industrial Revolution. If we instead choose to ignore industry and the innovations that continue to come from large and small players we are wasting a resource.
We have reached a point where resources are too limited, the damage is known to enough stakeholders globally and the knowledge that former practices are detrimental, being accepted by most. By utilising innovation within the industry to tackle this issue instead of only seeing the negatives, mentioned at the outset of this article, there is a growing opportunity that new methods can help humanity live sustainably while addressing the waste issue in ways that ‘the Plastic Man of India’ has. Succinctly, “the circular economy, turning trash into treasure, promises innovation and sustainability” (source) by industry and other stakeholders. The habits of industry are changing and need to continue in order to help protect the environment after all the damage that has been caused. Fortunately, we, the consumers “appreciate recycling, reuse and other ways to protect the environment… (while expecting) to be treated as partners” (source) at a growing rate. This means that industry, to stay economically viable and functioning as a business, will adjust to help create a sustainable environment because the people buying from them want to live without causing detrimental effects to the world. Importantly, it is also up to us to keep the industry in check as active members of the circular economy.