Here is one novel way for Malaysians to reduce our waste footprint: Give up on the idea of – gasp! – owning anything.
Maria Antikainen is confident this can be done.

She is from Finland’s VTT Technical Research Centre, which provides research and innovation services and information under Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

Antikainen explains that such a scenario is not impossible at all and is the basis of the concept of the “circular economy” that is gaining ground among Nordic countries (typically, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden).

She points out there are already platforms that allow for the sharing of services, such as e-hailing. “Everything can be offered as a service – clothes, furniture, housing, even food.

“There are already pilot projects offering clothing to share as a service,” she said in her keynote speech on How to Make Business Out of Circular Economy – A Nordic Perspective during a Nordic Day seminar on April 11 in Kuala Lumpur.

Some clothing companies in Nordic countries are already offering such sharing services. And the idea has caught on beyond, too: From Rent the Runway and Tulerie in the United States to YCloset in China, consumers are embracing clothes sharing.

Also read: Malaysians generate 38,000 tonnes of waste every day

Reduce waste by sharing not owning everything you need

Antikainen is confident the circular economy has opportunities for business even as it detaches consumers from shopping. Photo: Filepic

So what’s just one more step to eventually sharing food and, one day, furniture and even housing?

The Nordic countries are advocating implementing the circular economy in which consumption is based on using services – sharing, renting and recycling.

The current world economy, Antikainen says, is full of inefficiencies, resulting in loss and waste. “Studies show that cars are not used 92% to 98% of the time, offices are empty 60% of the time and one-third of food goes into the waste bin,” she says.

The traditional linear economy that is in place now in most countries – arguably, globally – relies on churning out ever more products to drive profitability, she points out.

“But what happens when the consumer buys the product? In fact, the value goes downhill. The value of a new car goes down in its first 10km – that’s depreciation,” explains Antikainen.

A circular economy, on the other hand, strives to retain the value of the product longer so that it can be used over a longer period of time, thus reducing waste and saving landfill space.

So while in a linear economy, a torn pair of shoes will be discarded and replaced with a new pair, this same pair in a circular economy would be repaired and reused – probably numerous times over – until its lifecycle is truly over.

It is a step up from a recycling economy, which, although it focuses on making recycling processes more efficient, does not actually preserve the environment, according to Antikainen.

Also read: Zero waste goals: No trash to be sent to landfills or incinerators

In addition, the recent controversy over plastic waste dumping means that much of the waste supposedly collected for recycling in developed parts of the world like the European Union, Germany and Australia simply end up being dumped in developing nations, including Malaysia.

Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin has talked about developing a circular economy in tandem with the government phasing out single use plastics – however, Malaysia’s recycling rate was, sadly, only at 24.6% last year.

Although many businesses may balk at the idea of consumers not owning goods – and, ultimately, giving up on shopping altogether – Antikainen claims that there is business potential and opportunities in a circular economy.

She says estimations made by Sitra – a public foundation that promotes balanced development – shows that the circular economy is capable of generating additional global economic output of US$4.5tril (RM18.8tril) by 2030 and US$25tril (RM104.41tril) by 2050.

At the moment, only the Nordic countries and Britain, Scotland, the Netherlands, Japan and Germany are seriously exploring the circular economy concept. Malaysian businesses might want to look into it as well – it would be foolish to miss out on such a huge financial pie that makes good food for thought for consumers.