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Implementing new technologies in the transition towards a circular economy. Scientists: We are unable to understand why no one has taken appropriate action. Report from V Our Future Forum.

Within the framework of the V Our Future Forum, the largest conference for young people, bringing together Poles, Ukrainians and Belarusians, two additional remote discussion panels were held. The first concerned the implementation of new technologies in the transition towards a circular economy. The moderator was Bartłomiej Leks – a student of the University of Warsaw. The discussion was attended by: Weronika Czaplewska – Vice President of Envirly, Paweł Nycz – PhD student at Loughborough University, Michał Ciok – PhD student at Bayreuth University.

Bartłomiej Leks began the conversation by raising the issue of wasting a huge amount of waste. He noted that we produce more than two billion tons of waste annually, and it is estimated that by 2050 this number will increase by as much as seventy percent. He asked how to reduce the amount of waste generated and whether there were more effective ways to take care of our planet than recycling.

Michał Ciok stated that already at the moment of production companies should consider its reuse. He noted that already now we can observe this phenomenon in the creation of phones, because used parts of smartphones are widely used in the creation of new electronic equipment.

Paweł Nycz added that an interesting solution are multifunctional products, such as air conditioners, which not only cool the air, but also heat it, thanks to which they are more widely used. “Using such goods means not only savings, but above all functionality” – he stressed. He predicted that in the future even photovoltaic panels would be recycled. At the end of his speech, he said that perhaps we are focusing too much on the production of waste at the moment, because he believed that sooner or later the production capacity of the factories would increase and that this would allow for the processing of waste on a larger scale.

Weronika Czaplewska talked about the ways to deal with greenwashing. She explained that the solutions claimed by a company to be eco-friendly are not usually eco-friendly at all. She mentioned that different companies can never be fully trusted because, in the end, profit is the most important thing for them, while ecology is, in the vast majority of cases, a secondary issue from their perspective.

Paweł Nycz agreed that the largest companies are guided mainly by the criterion of profitability. He noted that the state should support entrepreneurs promoting green solutions in order to level their chances on the free market. “The implementation of new technologies in the transition towards a circular economy requires cooperation on the part of entrepreneurs, consumers, but also state entities” – he concluded.

The Vice President of Envirly noted that transparency, sustainability and corporate social responsibility are key concepts that every modern company should know. She noted that employees from Generation Z are eager to choose employers who have in mind the well-being of our planet.

Michał Ciok drew attention to the fact that the risks for new companies associated with the introduction of ecological solutions are much greater than for experienced corporations. “Promoting sustainable development principles should be integrated politically, economically and socially,” he said.

Paweł Nycz fully agreed with the position of his previous speaker, but pointed out that the case of each industry is different and each situation should be approached individually. “It seems crucial whether we address our product to a business recipient or a consumer, because the consumer is guided by emotions when making decisions” – he stressed.

Weronika Czaplewska stressed that young people should be educated about climate change and ecology from the earliest years of primary school. She mentioned that when she was in high school, she lacked solid knowledge in this field, and this is definitely a key area.

Another question was about the inequalities between the global North and the global South and how they could be reduced. “Many companies do not care how the goods are produced, because only the purchase price is important for them” – answered Paweł Nycz. On the other hand, he pointed out that the inhabitants of developing countries are very sceptical about attempts by Western countries to impose specific environmental requirements. “It’s hard to surprise them. Western Europe has already gone through a phase of industrialisation and mass destruction of the environment, thanks to which it can now afford slightly more expensive but more environmentally friendly technologies. For developing countries, this progress has not yet been made,” he concluded.

Weronika Czaplewska and Michał Ciok fully agreed with the previous speaker and then proposed, as a solution to the problem of global inequalities, education at the international level for all inhabitants of developing countries, financed from the budgets of developed countries.

A moment later, Bartłomiej Leks asked about the speed of the changes made, in terms of the production of ecological goods. Paweł Nycz replied that attention should be paid to the increase in the level of legal regulations concerning certain environmental standards, as they are the ones that have a key impact on the pace of changes taking place. He noted that if companies do not have adequate motivation to introduce ecological solutions, for example in the form of targeted subsidies, they usually do not take the actions expected of them, because it is naturally not profitable for them.

Weronika Czaplewska stressed that technological innovations do not always have to bring benefits, because sometimes they also involve losses. “For this reason, companies analyze a given solution several times before they decide to implement it,” she said.

Michał Ciok mentioned that many companies do not even include environmental balance in their activities, which seems alarming, especially from today’s perspective. “We are seeing some progress in this area, but it is not as dynamic as we would like it to be,” he concluded.

Bartłomiej Leks drew attention to the fact that after each reprocessing, plastic gradually loses its properties, until at some point it is completely unsuitable for reuse. He then asked how to increase recycling efficiency so that plastic and other environmentally friendly materials can be used as many times as possible.

Michał Ciok noted that the most sensible solution would be to use durable materials, but the problem is that plastic is relatively cheap and handy, so it easily wins the competition with metal, glass and aluminum. He also said that, for non-reusable materials, we should use them to generate energy by burning them safely.

Paweł Nycz pointed out that the efficiency of recycling depends on many factors, often very inconspicuous, such as the way the product had to travel from the consumer to the landfill. He stressed that we will never achieve 100% efficiency in processing products. “For glass, which is an extremely easy material to recycle, the processing efficiency of the product is around fifty percent,” he said.

Weronika Czaplewska noted that the recycling process is facilitated by even things as mundane as separating different types of plastic when packaging products. “I believe that each of us can contribute our little bit to improving the well-being of our planet, through our daily choices,” she appealed.

Michał Ciok wondered why Poland did not introduce a deposit for the return of plastic bottles. He found it extremely simple to implement, but very effective from an environmental point of view. “I cannot understand why no one has taken appropriate action to solve this problem,” he concluded.

Source: our Future Foundation’s Report

Maksymilian Mirecki
I am a journalist and editor in Coopernicus. I study law and international relations at University of Warsaw. I am also a host of the podcast "Maximum Dose of Knowledge".
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Maksymilian Mirecki

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