circular economy development poverty waste

How waste can save lives and create jobs

On Tuesday I dropped in on the launch event for the Virtuous Circle report, hosted by Tearfund and the Institute for Development Studies. The report is all about how the circular economy can deliver economic growth, create quality jobs, and save lives in developing countries, while improving the environment at the same time.

It’s one of the first pieces of research I’ve come across that takes the circular economy out of the rarified air of the World Economic Forum and Western think-tanks, and applies it to African cities, Brazilian farmers, and Filipino rubbish dumps. I wrote about it in more detail here. The circular economy will bring efficiencies and profit to some of the world’s biggest businesses – and that’s great, because it will reduce their environmental impact in the process and they wouldn’t do it otherwise. But it’s even better to think that the circular economy will improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people too.


  1. I harp on about this regularly, but the easiest way to use waste material for fuel is just to burn it in a steam engine.

    The thermal efficiency of steam engines is never going to be particularly high but developments in recent years have produced increase of about 30%. However, the fuel for a steam engine does not need to be expensively and inefficiently converted into the fluid form needed to drive an internal combustion engine.

    Obvious applications are sawmills and forestry, where portable steam engines used to be widespread, using the offcuts as fuel. A steam engine, can, of course be used to generate electricity if required, but direct drive often suffices for machines such as circular saws – again, avoiding a loss of energy.

    A traditional agricultural use of steam engines was for ploughing, which avoids the damage done by conventional tractors.

    1. It does mean that those materials are lost, so it’s no substitute for circular economy principles. But there’s definitely a place for this. Do you know of anyone who is working on it?

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