Infrastructure — Not What You Think

Circular World™ Media
5 min readApr 21, 2024

--

The wider world is coming to accept that we are heading towards major resource scarcity. Equal to the threats of climate change and biodiversity loss, resource scarcity will affect us in ways the other two threats will not — it may even result in wars.

We extract a huge amount of primary raw materials to manufacture the products we use every day. We already know many of these products are manufactured in ways that cannot be repaired, reused, remanufactured, or repurposed. We already know that many of these products are made from mixed materials and contain toxic chemicals. We already know that most of these products will end up in incineration or landfill while the world continues to extract more primary raw materials to repeat the cycle all over again.

The solution is so incredibly complex that it is beyond our ability to comprehend where to start. Sure, there are very small pockets of circular initiatives occurring all over the world. It is just not enough, mainly because the narrative for change does not resonate like we want it to. Using the term the ‘circular economy’ to justify behaviour change on a grand scale is far too weak, given its current profile and still confusing definition.

Circular Economy — Penang Project

  1. We cannot recycle our way out of this mess ‘ — Guess what? We are going to have to. It does not matter if a product has one use-cycle or ten use-cycles; eventually, it will die, and we need to make sure these products are returned so the materials have the best chance possible to be reprocessed. In essence, we no longer have the luxury of discarding our materials.
  2. Infrastructure means collection or returns’ — According to my analysis, the collection and returns infrastructure only plays a small part. Yes, a significant part, but not everything. Unless you take a holistic overview of the infrastructure architecture, you increase the risk of failure.

As I am currently in the early stages of stakeholder engagement outreach, I created a PowerPoint presentation and below is one slide. It aims to communicate the long road ahead for all of us.

My project takes on a different perspective from the ones usually associated with ‘recycling’ because it is not a recycling project. It aims to deliver, over the very long term, a shift from waste management to materials management. In a recent presentation to the Malaysian Federal Ministry of Housing and Local Government (KPKT), I gave a very simple demonstration of what this means and where we need to focus our efforts to improve material recovery in the future. The main message behind my project will be to shift consumer actions away from ‘ saving the environment ‘ to actions based on ‘ valuing our finite resources ‘.

Yet, we do not have enough information to make the right choices and decisions regarding any changes that need to occur. Nor do we have enough data to back up profitable investment into reprocessing secondary raw materials at scale.

Once we accept that ‘It’s the materials, stupid’, we open the door to the greatest era of material innovation the world will ever know. Except for one major hurdle. Innovative new materials will only be valuable if they can be reprocessed or re-utilised at the end of their final use-cycle. And, for this to occur at scale, we require an efficient returns infrastructure system that consumers use as part of their daily routine.

The intended geographical location of my project is Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Behang, but geography has very little to do with it. Laying down the foundations, securing stakeholder engagement, aligning everyone on a single message and testing how well it works is the first step towards addressing resource scarcity.

The circular economy is really a simple concept, one where everything is based on a cycle of returns. Within this cycle are the Circular Rs and within each Circular R are a myriad of configurations offering entrepreneurs, NGOs and companies ample opportunity for creativity. The main portion of my project focuses on only one element of this returns system, the final end-of-use-cycle. A smaller portion of my project will be dedicated to the feasibility of incorporating reuse in selected areas and with participating brands.

As a circular economy professional, I cannot ignore the dire necessity to include reducing end-of-use-cycle items through the promotion of the Circular Rs and product-life-extension. It is just a matter of getting the system architecture right.

Personal Note

Since being court-evicted from my previous house for non-payment of rent on 14 March 2024, I have had no personal stability, I have not eaten a proper meal since 09 April 2024 (actually, I am literally starving) and live in a hostile environment. All of this has had a devastating impact on my life and work. On Monday, 22 April, the Batu Ferringhi police will come around, and I will be once again evicted from my current temporary accommodation. Not because I am a bad person but mostly because it is impossible to live in a house that doubles up as an unlicensed cat rescue and rehabilitation centre.

While I am happy to relocate, I refuse to be separated from my cats. They are my emotional support animals, and I have had many of them for several years. Unfortunately, I have zero funds. As yet, I do not know how any of this will evolve into a more stable and productive environment.

Over the last several days, I have opened up to the backstory that has resulted in my current predicament. If you are interested, please go to my LinkedIn company page — Circular Economy Asia, for the details.

***************************

Ms Adrienna Zsakay is the Founder and CEO of Circular Economy Asia Inc , and this article represents her opinions on the circular economy. Circular Economy Pick of the Week is brought to you by Circular World™ Media — a brand owned by Circular Economy Asia Inc.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

--

--

Circular World™ Media

Circular World™ Media is owned by Circular Economy Asia Incorporated. Registered in Australia, based in Malaysia. We focus on resource management & efficiency