Circular economy: Transform to sustain

Published December 9, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Sonny Coloma


Sonny Coloma

Sustainability is “the capacity to endure in a relatively ongoing way across various domains of life.” When the banner of sustainable environment is raised, it must stand for rebirth, re-growth and regeneration – or, in a word, transformation.

Thus declared Laura François, co-founder and chief instructor of The Spaceship Canada, an educational program aimed at entrepreneurs who want to build businesses that make a difference, the featured personality in the master class of the Business For Good arc of the virtual Rotary Presidential Conference for Asia that was beamed from Manila last 26 November.

Committed to design a circular economy in which new mindsets that will future-proof work are established, she starts by pointing out that the concept of sustainability as it is presently promoted is flawed and needs to be rectified. She cites Einstein’s wisdom: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Linear thinking is sequential as in the days (Monday to Sunday) and seasons (winter, spring, summer and fall).

Conventional economy operates in a linear fashion: take, make, use, recycle, use, and waste. The circular economy, says François, “sees waste as a resource from the start.” She cites the example of the avocado, a food product that already contains a seed that would be used to regenerate it.

François spells out other key principles of the circular economy. The purpose of going circular is threefold: 1) Design out waste and pollution; 2) Keep products and materials in use; and 3) Regenerate natural systems. A circular economy is a more resilient economy. The pandemic experience has driven home the realization that it is possible to reduce reliance on scarce resources.

Also featured in the Rotary conference was the convergence of three enterprises that exemplify the principles of the circular economy: a real estate development project that uses concrete panels and hollow blocks blended with recycled plastic and toilet paper rolls.

Morpheus Gorabat, who served as president of the Rotary Club of Makati Northwest in established the Starboard Foundation, Inc. to provide continuing livelihood opportunities to deployed seafarers and their families.

Evangeline ‘Vangie’ Jaehn, who served as president of the Rotary Club of Makati Gems, owned restaurants in shopping mall food courts that were shuttered due to the COVID lockdown. She needed to act quickly – and pivoted to the manufacturing of concrete panels – with help from residents of a Rotary-assisted community.

A property development firm, DDC Land, tapped both Morpheus and Vangie as suppliers of concrete hollow blocks and panels to be used in housing development projects in Tanza, Cavite. Aside from creating gainful livelihood and employment, they used materials and methods that regenerated resources – a facet of the circular economy.

RC Makati Northwest’s community livelihood project involved the production of concrete hollow blocks; five to ten percent of the mixture consisted of pulverized recycled plastic. Every eco-block was produced from two kilos of plastic coming from a combination of about 60 sachets and 40 pieces of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. These were collected at two production hubs in Tanza, Cavite and Mabini, Batangas. The sachets and bottles were exchanged by members of the beneficiary communities for items at the barter store and were valued at P6 per kilo.

Their product has been tested to be more durable at 716 PSI (pounds per square inch) of compressive strength compared to the 400 PSI of other concrete hollow block products.

Vangie Jaehn’s precast composite block panel, branded as D’ EZ Blox is an alternative to the traditional concrete hollow block. In-between two concrete panel blocks is a wire-mesh component that holds cylindrical cardboard (recycled toilet paper rolls) filled with concrete mixture. Housewives in the Parañaque Rotary Homes community assemble the wire-mesh component; these are then conveyed to the production facility for concrete pouring. Many heads of families lost their jobs due to the pandemic and this project gave their wives livelihood opportunities while working on a product that is beneficial to the environment.

According to Vangie, the product has been certified by the Department of Public Works and Highways to have a compressive strength of 2,350 PSI, and unique insulation properties that prevent heat from entering the buildings, therefore minimizing the use of air conditioning that results in a lower carbon footprint.

The concrete blocks and panels made out of recycled items are both being used in the construction of family homes in the Tanza city projects of DDC Land in which Edna Sutter is the CEO. A past district governor, she was the chairperson of the Rotary Presidential Conference.

As each concrete hollow block was produced from two kilos of plastic coming from a combination of about 60 sachets and 40 pieces of PET bottles, it is projected that every four-story building in DDC Land’s housing project involved the recycling of 13,600,000 sachets and PET bottles.

As they met to reflect on their common experience, they realized: “We are three Rotarians practicing our vocations in doing good for the community.”