ELEVENTH HOUR: Turning the wheels of the circular economy in the Philippines

In the discussion of the circular economy in the Philippines, where are we headed?

The conversation on the circular economy in the Philippines is growing in momentum, especially in small circles. As a practitioner myself, it’s interesting to see the conversation evolve into practice. The past few years have seen a surge in circular activity in the country, with the eruption of sustainability agencies, firms, and organizations. As it is commonly put, there is more to do and much more to achieve. But in a country that reuses Selecta ice cream containers until cracks form, I often wonder why the discussion on circular economy remains small.

Filipinos have long been observing circular practices despite being unaware of the textbook and definitive label. It is more of a matter of re-education. There is a definite lack of proper circular education being introduced to Filipinos, which grows to be a larger concern considering the expanse of natural resources we’re cohabitating with. This puts us on the vanguard of responsibility. How do we, as Filipinos, begin observing an economy that integrates restorative and regenerative practices by adopting a framework that lengthens the life of a single product?

Circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. (Photo from Circulo)

First and foremost, one must distinguish the circular economy from the prevailing linear economy. The linear economy is what we see every day. Capitalistic mindsets have prompted producers into adopting a waste-laden process to production. In short, the raw materials being made into consumable products are often discarded after use. Contrasting this against the workings of its opposite, the circular economy works to close the cycles of these raw materials, effectively heightening the length of material life.

The former instigates the over-mining of resources and the excess of polluting practices, both of which have proven to bring humanity closer to an uncertain future—one that is grim, bleak, and above all, inhabitable. But on the other hand, circular economy provides something that earlier frameworks of production could not—it is future-proof. In short, it can be labeled as “Sustainability 4.0,” which is sustainability, coupled with the innovative capabilities of an industrial revolution.

In the Philippines, efforts being undertaken to involve circular practices are slowly taking their strides. The main concern to tackle: How do we shrink the loops of production? The agenda of the Philippine circular economy focuses on four pillars: fashion, food, plastics, and electronics. These pillars serve as the prime concentration for circular efforts in the country, as each holds high stakes in the increasing demand for sustainability. For example, what kind of intervention can we introduce to lessen and eventually eliminate retasos (excess fabrics)?

Such efforts align with the three (3) principles of the circular economy: designing out waste and pollution; keeping materials and products in use; and regenerating natural systems. Abiding by the tenets of sustainability, the circular economy is slowly making ripples and waves across different disciplines and sectors, whether it be in the creative industry or manufacturing. It provides a platform where you can bring in sustainability aspects with high-tech and low-tech, thus creating a paradigm shift where things are designed and produced without capital gains in mind.

The principles in this diagram are the building blocks of a circular economy. (Photo from Circulo)

Through the organization Circulo, we are placing emphasis on the necessity of an innovation-led sustainability approach. While the previous industrial revolution acclimated us to a heightened quality of life, the cost came with the exhaustion of our resources. But other local organizations and initiatives have also taken it upon themselves to spread the doctrine of circularity. Change agency Tayo has recently partnered with design studio, And A Half, to produce a circularity resource book, detailing the steps taken and needed to advance the movement.

There has been a significant increase in secondhand clothing consumption within select markets, marked by the increase in “ukay-ukay” vendors on social media. Aside from that, plastic collected by large corporations is being reconstructed and utilized as binder agents in construction materials and furniture. With all these examples in mind, it seems that circling back and thinking simpler may be key. But how else can we integrate ourselves and our practices in the circular dimension?

Slowly but surely, we are moving towards an era where thinking twice before producing (or even purchasing) a product will be a consistent habit. Last month, we opened applications for the Circulars Accelerator Cohort 2022. The prompt dictated: “Do you have the next big idea for shifting to a circular economy?” The future is circular. Be part of a sustainable future.


About the author

Carlo Delantar is a Climate Reality Leader and a Circular Economy Pioneer at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. He is the founding partner of Core Capital, which invests in the next generation of the Philippines’ most promising startups. He is also the Head of Circular Economy at Gobi Partners, where he leads investments in innovative companies that champion sustainability. Previously an award-winning social entrepreneur, his work as the Country Director of Waves For Water Philippines (W4W), a non-profit providing access to clean water, impacted one million Filipinos. He was also the co-chair of the Global Shapers Climate Action Steering Committee at the World Economic Forum.