The Circular Economy: Redesigning our Planet’s Future
Think about the last item you threw away. Did you consider where that product ended up, once you threw it away?
The Earth’s growing waste problem can be traced back to a culture that treats virtually every item we buy and own as disposable. Rapid urbanisation, population growth, and industrialisation are key contributors to the burgeoning volumes of waste that humans are producing each year.
But what if there was away to get around that?
Introducing the Circular Economy
Today’s post from BlackRock highlights the key benefits of adopting a circular economy, and examines the factors that will make the biggest impact in the years to come.
A Culture of Consumption
Mass production is making products cheaper, more readily available, and more readily disposable, bringing levels of material comfort unimaginable to previous generations.
Companies are making new products at a frenetic pace to keep up with global demand─consuming finite resources as if the Earth had an infinite supply.
The intense effects of this mass consumption are visible across multiple industries:
- Construction: Construction waste alone is expected to reach 2.2 billion tonnes annually by 2025.
- Fast Fashion: Roughly 87% of clothing is discarded or burned each year, costing US$100 billion.
- Plastics: Over 95% of plastic packaging value is wasted every year, costing up to US$120 billion.
As natural resources decline and waste continues to pile up, our society is at a crossroads.
A Tale of Two Economies
Today, most of the world follows the Take-Make-Waste practices of the linear economy, with little regard for future use of these resources and products. Unfortunately, most of this ends up in landfills─by 2050, we could be producing 3.4 billion tonnes of waste each year.
The circular economy, by contrast, is focused on redesigning our systems, processes, and products to enable goods to be used longer, repurposed, or recycled more efficiently.
The circular economy is a major transformational force that will last decades…investors are increasingly considering sustainability factors when making investment decisions.
Companies and governments that choose to adopt a circular economic model could end up saving €600 billion (US$663 billion) annually─and potentially add €1.8 trillion (US$2 trillion) in additional benefits to Europe’s overall economy.
Designing a Better Future
Three major factors are driving the gradual, global shift to a circular economy.
Companies will need to switch from wasteful to sustainable practices, and many are taking steps towards a better future. The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment was signed in 2018 by over 400 organisations to eliminate plastic waste and pollution.
Regulations such as bans on single-use plastics and international waste imports are growing more stringent, and some governments are also offering tax incentives for corporations that follow sustainable practices.
More consumers are actively researching and questioning the impacts of the products they buy, and consumer demand is showing a preference for reusable products and practices.
While few public companies today are actively using a circular economy, several major brands are leading the way in sustainable business practices.
- Philips: Light-as-a-service that provides access to lighting rather than ownership of lightbulbs
- Levi Strauss: Repurposing old garments into building insulation, upholstery, and new clothing
- Toshiba: First multi-function printer, heat-sensitive erasable toner can do up to five reprints per page
- Renault: Revamped old vehicle drive trains, engines, and gearboxes to almost-new condition
Companies and governments in the circular economy have a structural advantage to solve some of the world’s biggest economic issues ─ giving them a strong, long-term market for goods and services, the potential to lower costs, and open profitable new business streams.
Lasting Impact on People, Planet, and Profit
In order for the circular economic model to achieve widespread adoption, both sustainable investment and partnerships across sectors are needed.
This rally for change is making an impact on financial markets─sustainable investments around the world grew from US$13.3 trillion in 2012 to US$30.7 trillion in 2018.
Healthy economies rely on a healthy environment, and building a circular economy is integral to the future health of our economy, planet, and society.
Mapped: The State of Economic Freedom in 2023
How free are people to control their own labor, property, and finances? This map reveals the state of economic freedom globally.
Mapped: The State of Economic Freedom in 2023
The concept of economic freedom serves as a vital framework for evaluating the extent to which individuals and businesses have the freedom to make economic decisions. In countries with low economic freedom, governments exert coercion and constraints on liberties, restricting choice for individuals and businesses, which can ultimately hinder prosperity.
The map above uses the annual Index of Economic Freedom from the Heritage Foundation to showcase the level of economic freedom in every country worldwide on a scale of 0-100, looking at factors like property rights, tax burdens, labor freedom, and so on.
The ranking categorizing scores of 80+ as free economies, 70-79.9 as mostly free, 60-69.9 as moderately free, 50-59.9 as mostly unfree, and 0-49.9 as repressed.
Measuring Economic Freedom
This ranking uses four broad categories with three key indicators each, both qualitative and quantitative, to measure economic freedom.
- Rule of law: property rights, judicial effectiveness, government integrity
- Size of government: tax burdens, fiscal health, government spending
- Regulatory efficiency: labor freedom, monetary freedom, business freedom
- Open markets: financial freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom
The 12 indicators are weighted equally and scored from 0-100. The overall score is then determined from the average of the 12 indicators.
Here’s a closer look at every country’s score:
|#5||🇳🇿 New Zealand||78.9|
|#15||🇰🇷 South Korea||73.7|
|#24||🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||70.9|
|#25||🇺🇸 United States||70.6|
|#28||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||69.9|
|#45||🇨🇷 Costa Rica||66.5|
|#47||🇨🇻 Cabo Verde||65.8|
|#48||🇧🇳 Brunei Darussalam||65.7|
|#56||🇲🇰 North Macedonia||63.7|
|#59||🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||63.5|
|#63||🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina||62.9|
|#65||🇩🇴 Dominican Republic||62.6|
|#66||🇧🇸 The Bahamas||62.6|
|#74||🇸🇹 São Tomé and Príncipe||61.5|
|#79||🇱🇨 Saint Lucia||60.7|
|#81||🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire||60.4|
|#88||🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago||59.5|
|#98||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||58.3|
|#101||🇬🇲 The Gambia||57.9|
|#107||🇸🇧 Solomon Islands||56.9|
|#111||🇧🇫 Burkina Faso||56.2|
|#114||🇸🇻 El Salvador||56.0|
|#116||🇿🇦 South Africa||55.7|
|#136||🇱🇰 Sri Lanka||52.2|
|#140||🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||51.7|
|#148||🇸🇱 Sierra Leone||50.2|
|#153||🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea||48.3|
|#157||🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo||47.9|
|#166||🇨🇫 Central African Republic||43.8|
|#176||🇰🇵 North Korea||2.9|
Only four countries in the world have a score of 80 or above, Ireland, Singapore, Switzerland, and Taiwan, categorizing them as completely free economically.
Let’s now look at things from a more regional perspective.
From a regional perspective, Europe ranks the strongest in economic freedom.
Despite being a powerhouse within Europe, Germany ranks 10th in the continent, with a score of 73.7. One of the categories Germany scored the weakest in was government spending (28.3/100). Over the last three years, government spending has averaged 49% of GDP.
Ireland ranks third globally, scoring particularly high in categories like property rights and judicial effectiveness. The country also has no minimum capital requirement—which is typically a banking regulation and corporate law issue determining how many assets an organization must hold—making it attractive for businesses to set up shop on the Emerald Isle.
Currently, Africa is the continent with the least economic freedom in the world, however, it is also the region with the highest potential for economic growth. A booming population, and thus, labor force, are promising for future innovation. In fact, it’s anticipated that Africa will see an increase of 2.5 billion people by the end of the century.
The lowest scoring country in Africa is Sudan, a country under further strain thanks to rife civil conflict. Historically, economic development has been constrained by rampant corruption and a lack of institutional capacity.
Conversely, Botswana registered the highest score on continental Africa (64.9), ranking higher than countries like France and Italy.
In the Americas, the United States ranks 3rd regionally—25th overall—with a score of 70.6. The report attributes the categorization of U.S. as only “mostly free” to issues like inflation, increasing government debt, and unchecked deficit spending. Public debt currently sits at a figure equivalent to more than 128% of GDP.
In South America, Chile comes out on top, ranking above many other economic powerhouses like the U.S., the UK, and Japan. However, the 2021 election of a new Constitutional Assembly could risk the current economic state, as it favors a much more socialist approach to the economy.
East Asia and Oceania
China’s score is among the lowest in East Asia & Oceania, ranking 154th in the world categorizing it as a repressed economy. The ruling Chinese Communist Party routinely exercises direct control over economic activity. China’s protectionist stance towards foreign investment and a plethora of trade tariffs imposed by other nations also factor in here.
In India, where public debt is equivalent to about 84% of GDP, fiscal health is the worst-scoring category. Additionally, much of the economy remains quite informal; a large share of people work in jobs without tax slips, recorded income, or formal contracts protecting them, which challenges labor freedoms.
The Middle East and Central Asia
It may come as no surprise that the United Arab Emirates has the highest score in the Middle East. The UAE has implemented various measures and initiatives, such as tax exemptions, duty-free zones, streamlined business registration processes, and flexible regulatory frameworks to encourage entrepreneurship and foreign direct investment. As well, the top individual and corporate tax rates in the country are 0%.
Türkiye’s lowest scoring category relates to judiciary effectiveness and the rule of law. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has already been in power for two decades, recently won the country’s election, again cementing his authority over Turkish politics. This makes it unlikely that Türkiye’s economic freedom score will recover in the short to medium term.
Where Does This Data Come From?
Source: The Index of Economic Freedom from the Heritage Foundation
Data notes: A number of countries were not ranked due to unavailable data or other factors, like ongoing war, that made it difficult to properly assess the economy. These countries include: Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Liechtenstein, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
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