Yes, you read that right!

Now that I have your attention, and hopefully your interest, let me explain why the old adage “one man’s waste is another man’s treasure” has never been truer.

We’re working on a number of client projects within the circular economy and it’s fascinating to witness the value that can be created from waste.

From waste management, to intricate recipes and manufacturing of building materials produced from large deposits of industrial waste and even turning sewage into potable water, the circular economy is exploding.

Firstly, what is the circular economy?

A circular economy (often referred to simply as “circularity”) is an economic system aimed at minimising waste and making the most of resources. This regenerative approach is in contrast to the traditional linear economy, which has a ‘take, make, dispose’ model of production. In a circular system resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing, and narrowing energy and material loops; this can be achieved through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling.

Why this matters in South Africa?

South Africa is a net importer of the goods we consume.
Often the cost of these goods from foreign producers is so low that local producers and manufacturers simply cannot compete – the old “China Imports” discussion is nothing new.

The circular economy however provides the opportunity to take waste and repurpose it at source or close to source reducing the cost of the raw materials and production, while positively impacting the environment and economy.

Some great examples of the circular economy in Africa include:

  1. Recycling drinking water from human waste – Namibia
  2. South Africa’s new Plastic Road
  3. Bio-gas plant at BMW’s Rosslyn plant in Pretoria

It takes a coordinated effort to convert ideas into credible innovations and then to commercialise and capitalise these innovations into sustainable businesses. The biggest challenge in these projects is securing consistency and volume in supply of waste raw materials, as well as offtakes for the end product.

There are honestly hundreds of innovations within the circular economy where corporate South Africa can participate through their R&D budgets, tax incentives such as Section 11D and supplier development, to bring projects to a feasible stage that will attract further investment in them.

These are the types of industrial circular economy projects which have the potential to attract capital through incentives, such as the Black Industrialist Scheme and Critical Infrastructure Programme, as well as debt from development banks and supplier development.

Ensuring these projects are effectively initiated, planned, capitalised and implemented is critical, not only for the sustainability of the economy and project, but for the environment and future generations.

What industrial waste do you know of that can be turned into “gold”?