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Interview
Toward a Sustainable Future: Circular Economy Q&A with Adrienne Yuen

October 14, 2020

Toward a Sustainable Future: Circular Economy Q&A with Adrienne Yuen

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Interview
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The theme of World Standards Day 2020 is “Protecting the Planet with Standards”, so we sat down with Adrienne Yuen, SCC’s Sector Specialist for Climate Resilience and Sustainability, to talk about how standards can drive us toward a circular economy—a world without waste.

Q.

What is a Circular Economy?

A.

Circular economy is the idea that you can have an economy where nothing is wasted. The concept draws from nature, where the by-products of one process become the nutrients for another. The circular economy moves beyond our current ‘take-make-waste’ model, where we extract raw materials, make them into things, and then throw them away when we’re done with them. More and more businesses and organizations are interested in this concept for several reasons: a recognition that humans are consuming resources faster than the Earth can regenerate them; an awareness of the urgency of addressing waste and pollution around the world; and an understanding that circular economy is an incredible opportunity to work smarter and gain a competitive edge. Working toward a circular economy is most closely linked to UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production, while advancing many others. Some argue that it is in fact essential to tackling the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis, and the pollution and waste crisis.

 

Q.

What is SCC’s role in advancing the concept of the circular economy in Canada?

A.

Here at SCC, our job is to coordinate standardization for the benefit of Canadians. Everything we do is aimed at improving the health, well-being, and economic prosperity of Canadians. To move toward a circular economy we need governments, businesses, standards development organizations, consumer associations, and researchers to move in the same direction—all hands on deck. SCC’s role is to make sure that all key players in the Canadian standardization network are working hand-in-hand to solve the waste problem. For example, that could mean preventing duplication of recycled content standards, or developing conformity assessment programs to determine whether a product is compostable in the real world.

 

Q.

What do you see as essential ingredients to move us towards a circular economy?

A.

In my view, to move to a circular economy we need several things. First, we need a change in mindset. We need to move away from treating resources as unlimited and ignoring the fact that there is a cost to everything we throw out—and toward more creative and inventive ways of doing things. Second, we need to look at the rules and policies that govern our economic activities. Why is it so cheap, or so easy, for organizations, businesses, and households to waste and throw things out? Can we start to change those rules and policies so that people produce and use things differently? Third, we need to re-examine our relationship with stuff. There is growing interest in movements like slow fashion, zero-waste living, minimalism, and seeking experiences over material things. And now the pandemic has made people rethink priorities: Do we need to consume so much? Does it really make us happier in the long run? In reflecting on the theme “Protecting the Planet”, the bigger message is that protecting the planet is also about protecting humanity. Although the biosphere has changed dramatically thanks to our activities, the planet itself will survive with or without humanity. The real goal of the circular economy is to ensure the sustainability of humanity.

 

Q.

What role does standardization play in this space?

A.

Standards are like the grease that keeps the machinery of the economy running smoothly. Imagine that you had to buy a different kind of adaptor for your phone charger every time you drove to a different province, because the power outlets were all different. It would be a big hassle! But we have standards for that in North America, so charging electronics while travelling is a breeze. It’s the same with the circular economy. If we agree that products should be recycled at the end of their useful life, we will need standards for companies that design and make products so that those products can be properly taken apart and recycled somewhere else. If we agree that we should reuse more, we will need quality standards for a variety of secondary goods so that they can be traded across borders. If we want to simplify reverse logistics so that returned products can be restocked or repurposed, we’ll need standards that allow a range of organizations to participate in that system. The list goes on.

 

Q.

What do you see as next steps? Exciting projects on the horizon?

A.

Yes! There are lots of fantastic initiatives happening across Canada, in which SCC has an important role. In the standards world, the fairly new ISO Technical Committee, TC 323, is busy working on International Standards to define, measure, and implement circular economy ideas. There are about two dozen Canadian experts contributing to that work, for which SCC coordinates participation. Standards development organizations in Canada are working on different projects, like recycled content standards for plastic products. Governments—federal, provincial, and territorial—are looking at how standards and conformity assessment can help tackle plastics waste. I am currently collaborating with Environment and Climate Change Canada on a virtual workshop next month with waste reduction experts from provincial and territorial governments and SCC-accredited standards development organizations. The objective of the workshop is to determine a path forward for the coordination of plastics standards work in Canada. It’s very exciting to lead SCC’s collaboration with other organizations toward solutions.

 

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