This year’s World Economic Forum Africa meeting will focus on advancing economic transformation in Africa by driving strategies and actions to set the whole region on its path towards a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future.
However, the current prospects for growth and development in Sub-Saharan Africa are mixed. The region accounts for some of the world’s fastest growing economies but it is also home to countries whose commodity-dependent economies have struggled to adapt to structural downturns in prices.
According to Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa at the World Economic Forum, “Africa has a historic opportunity to shift the trajectory of its development by avoiding the excesses and mistakes made by countries in advanced parts of the world. But its success will depend on creating new models of growth that provide equality of opportunity to everyone and allow innovation to flourish.”
My belief is that the circular economy is an innovative solution that can be implemented to deal with global challenges. In South Africa, for example, we have already seen the results of a fully functional circular economy being driven through the tyre waste stream. A significant positive aspect of this approach is that it is not limited just to waste tyres or indeed even to South Africa. The business model can be replicated for other waste streams and used in other countries.
Currently South Africa’s biggest economic challenge is arguably job creation. With a largely stagnant economy, the current reality of a junk status rating, and a shrinking GDP, the South African economy is facing challenging times. We can no longer rely on legacy industries such as mining and manufacturing to drive the much-needed industrial development and job creation.
It is clear that we have a problem, and now is the time to look at things a little differently in order to find new ways of doing business and creating jobs.
One of the biggest challenges we face is educating people about the opportunities that can be found and created in waste, all by creating a circular economy, of which extended producer responsibility forms a part.
Waste is a resource and should not be dumped in landfills or burnt. We need to transition to a circular economy as a more sustainable economic growth model through partnerships and initiatives aimed at increasing material recovery and reducing the impact of waste on the environment.
While some progress has been made, there are still only a few countries experimenting with more circular thinking – these include South Africa, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, China and Japan. In all of them, we have barely begun to explore the full potential of the circular economy concepts, but it is already clear that there are benefits in the reduction of waste, protection of the environment, job creation and conservation of resources.
Positively, the European Union Circular Economy mission to South Africa is currently underway and they are already engaging with various stakeholders to discuss the benefits of the circular economy both socio-economically and environmentally.
The circular economy initiatives will provide innovative and new business needs which will simultaneously address resource and environmental challenges, and generate economic activity – especially the job and economic boost much needed in our country.
The circular economy is essentially the industrial revolution turned on its head: instead of continuing to mine natural resources, a market dominated by a few major players, it’s time to mine and recreate from the old. This approach presents a huge economic opportunity for new market leaders – those who are able to see opportunity where others can’t. As a developing continent Africa is perfectly poised to use this to its advantage.