Circular > Waste: Unlocking the Future Economy With Blockchains
Infinite growth is not possible. The writer Annie Dillard says that “nature is as careless as it is bountiful, and that with extravagance goes a crushing waste.” Such laws apply to humans, too, and what we make.
Current economic models, whether or not it is always acknowledged, cannot grow indefinitely, infinitely on a planet with limited resources. “Number go up” is not a sustainable formula.
Though energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can be transformed: from life to death, from production to garbage. And transformations happen to systems, too. One bright spot in the technological landscape that might fuel the economy of the 21st century is the power of blockchain technology, peer-to-peer networks of value that will help align economic incentives.
Because this can’t last forever. We need solutions.
Waste to Circular Economy
Crushing waste. Humanity knows something about it. Humankind produces waste equivalent to four times its combined weight every year. With each passing second, that’s 60 tonnes of garbage polluting the world.
The waste is a byproduct of concentrated wealth in inefficient systems. To limit harm to global ecosystems and fragile, world-sustaining ocean environments, the future economies of the world must slow the production of waste to the minimum.
The challenge? Finding tools that can make the transition from a linear, always-growing model to circular economy, without a breakdown of efficient supply chains.
In a globally distributed economy, nations that find themselves on the higher end of planetary consumption also are among the worst offenders of shipping discarded goods to pollute other parts of the world. The effects become a feedback loop, where higher-consuming nations that do not worry about waste are freed up to produce more of it.
The bottom line is not a problem of individuals, but one of production accountability. A product is produced, sold, and then becomes the consumer’s responsibility.
Without clear guidance or incentives outside of certain products such as plastic bottles (and even in this case, the systems are imperfect), it’s difficult for consumers to make sense of what to do next.
Digital Twins on the Blockchain
In order to properly track and trace a product, or even model more efficient product iterations, companies are beginning to explore the use of ‘digital twins’.
A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical object, linked with real data sources from the environment, and preferably updated in real-time. It can represent a product, a manufacturing facility, a supply chain, or even infrastructure. The emergence of digital twins reflects a true need to model current systems and identify inefficiencies, breakdowns, and provenance.
In the case of tackling waste, there are many use cases for these “digital twins.” To increase circularity and reduce waste, each physical product may be linked to a digital product passport. Passports include product provenance to support proper accountability and reporting. With a digital passport, it’s easier to provide truth and transparency to a product’s lifecycle, including the sustainability of its composition and manufacturing. Transparency of supply chains serves the consumer, providing clear insight on things like composition and recycling, as well as infrastructure for delivering incentives to the consumer to reuse and recycle.
Imagine a consumer who sends out weekly glass recycling to find recycling credits delivered to a Web3 wallet after product provenance verifies the return of the empty glass bottles. These are the types of possibilities–of design space, really, that crosses circular economies–enabled by the adoption of product data synchronization.
Plugging in Additional Product Superpowers
A product passport is just the beginning.
Twinning a real-world object or event to an online version doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. In fact, doing so unlocks product superpowers, like amplifying the value of a product by creating a direct-to-consumer relationship. The life of a product may indirectly be prolonged with a dual life online, contributing to the reduction of waste.
Communications, rewards, and perks can be built directly into each product experience.
A Fantasy Many Years Away?
Actually, no! There are groups already working to accelerate these types of solutions, especially as impending regulations, in many countries, heat up the race to be more sustainable in true, verifiable ways, instead of in name only.
For example, Real Items is working with BASF, the world’s largest chemicals manufacturer, alongside the Government of Canada to create a solution for plastic circularity; Zero Waste Foundation is building incentive systems to track and support waste & recycling; Global Battery Alliance includes block chain-focused members seeking to improve the battery life cycle.
And those are just a few examples in a growing field of innovation.
Needless to say, both private and public, non-Web3 and Web3-native organizations understand the importance of the issue at hand. More and more people are working diligently to come up with solutions this decade.
Together, we can build an equitable future for all through mass adoption of Web3!