Analysing Circular Economy Policies And Initiatives In India And The Way Forward


The circular economy model, the most recent solution in the drive to achieving sustainable development goals. The concept goes beyond the purview of pure economics and finds itself within the threads of state policy as well. The circular economy model refers to a system where goods live beyond their primary use to be recycled, reduced and prevented from becoming a pollutant. The model works on the principle of minimal yet efficient use of resources. Circular economy models have applications in a variety of fields: from water conservation and energy resources to waste management. This model however has inherent problems which are being observed and worked upon over time. Some of these problems are the systematic application of policy to the deficit in technological information. This paper focuses on various policies based on this model applied in India, their impact and challenges. India is committed to fulfilling Sustainable Development Goals in every aspect, therefore it is imperative to study the effect of the initiatives proposed and executed by the state. This paper touches upon policies such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, National Resource Efficiency Policy, Atal Innovation Mission, Financial Incentives, Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy Industry Coalition (G20 Initiative). This paper also tries to understand the challenges that are faced by the model, some of them include a lack of finance to develop infrastructure and develop production units, research to study more energy and cost-efficient systems and awareness that impacts consumer patterns that encourage sustainability-based commercial activities; and presents recommendations to resolve these challenges, awareness and global platforms are examples of the same. as well as conducts an introspection of policies implemented by other nations.


The concept of circular economy

Climate change threats looming over, landfills a common sight, and air and water pollution rampant, all of these phenomena have become a part of our everyday lives, and their long-term effects are now palpable. In a situation as dire as current, a complete system overhaul is required. Preceding industrial revolution producers have followed a linear system of production where mountains of waste can be observed in pre and post-production. This is yet not the end of the waste generation process, the end consumer in a bid for convenience and ignorance will contribute to generation of waste that is the result of heedless overuse of limited resources.

Fig.1. Representation of Linear Consumption Model

As per the European Parliament, the Circular economy is a model focused on production followed by consumption that promotes sharing, reusing, recycling, repairing and refurbishing pre-existing materials in order to extend their life cycles.  The invention of the circular economy model is out of the necessity of this very wasteful yet commonplace practice. The circular economy model is a tool devised to bring about achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It focuses on end-to-end use of every resource needed, forming an arrangement where each factor involved in production is used with optimum efficiency to extract maximum out of minimum and closing the loop of material utilization. It is an order that enforces the philosophy of cradle-to-grave and designing products that live beyond primary use, done through reuse, recycling, repair, refurbishing, remanufacturing, redistribution and renewing.

The principles of the circular economy model go beyond the purview of reforming manufacturing traditions, its applicability transcends fields and sections of society. Forming and enforcing policies fall under the responsibilities of governing bodies, local or national. Encouraging and demanding the shift towards sustainability customs as a natural norm is the duty of consumers who drive demand-side economics. Research and policy formation have to be undertaken by academicians and analysts who conduct an in-depth study of such concepts. At the moment only 8.6% of the world is estimated to be circular, showing that much work is yet to be done globally. 

Inherent problems of the model

One of the biggest observable problems of the model is the lack of uniform definition and scope. While its objective is clear, what aspects of economics and the ecological sphere entail within are debatable. Application of policies heavily rely on political and social intent. The model does not address ontological and epistemological factors that are imperative to long-term practice.

A critique that is inherent to the model is the end goal of no waste creation, an order of closed material loops. This very goal in itself is impossible from physical sciences perspectives. The goal determined needs to be in accordance with the laws of nature. 

The biggest problem observed within the model is that it fundamentally fails to challenge the neoclassical economic view that warranted no intrinsic value to the limited economic growth as a trade-off for environmental protection. Inefficiencies within the model do not garner an unanimous conviction that is required to propel it forward without reservations. 

Literature Review

India’s engagement with the circular economy model can be best understood through the working paper ‘India’s Tryst with a Circular Economy’. It provides a comprehensive account of the model in focus, starting from India’s current linearity to gradual transition to a circular system. It promotes reservation on natural capital keeping in mind India’s  primarily agrarian economic system, therefore having natural access to rich biodiversity. Along with analysis of current policies in practice, this paper also studies challenges that are predominately hindering effectiveness, some of these challenges include unsystematic waste management processes, lack of closed-loop mechanisms for products i.e., discarding products rather than recycling and practice of other R’s of environment. One of the major problems faced is lack of access to recycled raw material. Some recommendations provided by the paper entail publishing and publicizing a document describing a national level vision demonstrating the need for circular practices, along with self- regulation, a body to monitor, track and evaluate advances which bring about rapid inclusion of sustainable practices in daily life. An incentivisation program has also been suggested to encourage recycling, reusing and reducing waste. (Shanka, Bhalla and Kumar, n.d.)

One of the emerging policy aspects in the circular model is moving towards Bioeconomy. The term refers to development of methods of production, distribution, management and other economic activities that moves a nation on the path of sustainability. India is one of the earliest embracers of bioeconomy. This can be observed by already practiced use of biogas and food waste, however these processes need an efficiency boost to enable the nation to derive advantage out of its core-strengths.  A phased manner of processing is advised due to the sheer scale of industries present. Clustering groups transitioning to a circular economy will drive the nation’s ambitions. (“MOVING TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE, CIRCULAR MODEL”, n.d.)

Circular economy model especially focuses on waste management, with the context of today’s world e-waste and plastic waste make-up a major component of waste deposits. E-waste in particular is difficult to dispose of due to several components of different materials that are used to make electronic equipment. Some nations have severe legislations that demand producers to acquire disposed electronic parts and dispose of them in appropriate ways. India while enforcing such norms can focus on integration of formal and informal e-waste collection centers and incentivize usage of recycled materials. (Goel 2022)

Plastic on the other hand poses a different range of problems. Objects made of plastic are essential for the biomedical industry and thus cannot be banned completely and while attempts to ban single-use plastic have been made, the widespread usage has been persistent. There has been a change that can be observed for instance the widespread use of paper and other renewable materials, raw material of disposable utensils, growing awareness regarding harmful effects of plastic use, shopping malls and grocery stores promoting use of private shopping bags or selling paper or cloth bags, adhering to government regulations. Methods to recycle plastic that has already been disposed yet needs to be developed but actions in that direction are being taken. (Bharat 2023)

This paper focuses on qualitative evaluation of initiatives currently in practice for specific areas as well as generally applicable policies, it views challenges from a bird’s eye view as well as provides some recommendations for the same. (guide, n.d.)

Areas of Concern

As mentioned earlier the circular economy model is designed to perpetuate the practice of causing minimal damage to the society and it focuses on several industries in an economy. It is not limited to just commercial activities but the target is to prevent and reverse environmental damage. Therefore, out of several areas of application, this paper focuses on the starting points of the production cycle, the  natural resources such as soil, water bodies and energy. Waste management practices and financing of activities related to sustainable development will be looked upon as further linkages. 

Natural resources: Soil, Water and Energy

Preservation and efficient utilization of natural resources are essential for the growth of an economy but also more importantly sustenance of human life. This paper sheds light on four aspects of these resources.

Soil plays a very important role in more than one.  High-quality fertile land is required to produce food for a growing population as well and forested land prevents damage caused by intense natural disasters. Soil is a non-renewable capital that once lost will not only impact the production of food but will also cause a great disturbance to the ecosystem dependent on it and unrecoverable damage to groundwater stores as well. Policies include diversification of crop patterns, soil-based research education for farmers, and reduced use of chemical insecticides. Such initiatives can be observed through Krishi Vigyan Kendra- a center to promote agricultural practices in sync with technology to maintain soil health without trading off food production quantity and quality. Micro irrigation initiative- Per drop more crops to utilize limited water resources to the maximum. However, soil management goes beyond agriculture as one aspect requires reforestation and native biodiversity. Policies reprimanding uncontrolled felling of trees and clearing of land of vegetation form an integral part of soil preservation.   

Water- once presumed abundant is now realized to be rapidly depleting. Water conservation efforts make an impact in areas ranging from environmental protection to the fulfillment of basic human needs. As such water management takes into consideration preservation of water bodies, reusing wastewater and collection of waste water. Jal Shakti Abhiyan essentially promotes rainwater harvesting to manage drinking water resources as an example. Promotion of wastewater treatment plants is undertaken to prevent linear water management and polluting existing water bodies.

Energy access is a necessary condition for the development of any economy. The source of energy is a matter of concern that the circular economy model addresses. Deriving energy from non-renewable sources not only acts as a major polluting factor, it is also evidently not a long-term term solution for power needs. Global efforts are concentrated on pushing forward energy transition towards greener modes, especially renewable methods such as solar power plants, wind farms, and hydropower plants. Nuclear energy, once deemed the cleanest form of high-quantity power source poses its own sets of problems much like previous renewable forms. The circular economy model pushes for not only research on the use of various energy sources but an emphasis on conservation efforts as well. Green Hydrogen Mission is an initiative to achieve Net Zero and ultimately lead to decarbonization of energy.  It will focus on providing energy throughout the economic spheres within the nation and outside. 

Waste Management

A major portion of pollution is caused due to massive quantities of waste deposits. Waste is categorized based on its contents and therefore each category requires a customized management process. With increasing economic activities and rapid consumerism landfills and improper waste disposal have become commonplace practices.  Waste management requires adequate technology, substantial infrastructure investment, various processing systems as well and reverse supply chains. Circular economy initiatives intended for waste management work on reducing, reusing, recycling, repairing, refurbishing, and remanufacturing, as a result, waste management efforts start from the design of the product and end with consumers discarding it.  Reduction of waste accumulation from the very source is an extremely important waste management practice, this not only reduces the pressure on the segregation system but on the processing front as well.  To promote waste management, the efficiency of private sector players needed for the creation of value through reverse supply chains has been observed to be the most effective way of bringing in businesses specializing in waste management, reducing the burden of the same on public capital. A sector as humongous with direct and indirect impacts on several allied industries faces a number of challenges from behavioral to logistical and technological deficits. 

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Author: Jesal Sheth