Closing the Loop. How Sweden and India plan to lead the transition towards a circular economy!

What common priorities do Sweden and India share for transitioning to circular economies? What would it mean to co-create solutions and learn from each other’s expertise? This week, we are very excited to introduce our eminent guest blogger...

What common priorities do Sweden and India share for transitioning to circular economies? What would it mean to co-create solutions and learn from each other’s expertise?

This week, we are very excited to introduce our eminent guest blogger – Chhaya Bhanti is the CEO and Founder of  Vertiver, a sustainability consultancy based in New Delhi that specialises in communications and behaviour change for climate action and nature based solutions. Ms Bhanti recently facilitated a dialogue between Swedish and Indian research funding agencies on a forthcoming India-Sweden joint call on Circular Economy. The upcoming joint call couldn’t be more timely considering Prime Minister Modi’s mandate for an Atmanirbhar Bharat and the Swedish government’s newly launched national strategy for circular economy. Below Ms Bhanti will share her interesting views on how Sweden and India can work jointly to support a shift to a circular economy.

The footprint of waste on our environmental, health and social systems is colossal, and the onset of the pandemic has further laid bare the urgent need to build greener, resilient and more self-sufficient societies. We at Vertiver created these infographics to demonstrate the heavy cost of resource extraction on our planet.

Enabling basic and applied research that can replace our traditional take, make, waste economic models with circular systems that reduce material and energy inputs is the need of the hour. 

Last December during King Carl XVI Gustaf’s visit, I moderated the Roundtable on tackling air pollution and adopting circular economy approaches. The event featured several examples of Swedish innovation and Indian ingenuity to solve waste challenges across various waste streams—Ikea’s product designs with paddy straw, Ericsson’s ICT applications for real time pollution monitoring deployed with IIT Kanpur, Tetra Pak’s plant-based polymer packaging, Bioendev’s bio-coal made at NABI, in partnership with the office of the Principle Scientific Advisor (PSA) to the Government of India.

Such examples are only a small hint of the massive circular economy solutions, that a research collaboration between India and Sweden could catalyze. Sweden’s long history of innovation across design, energy efficiency, ICT and recycling processes, coupled with its national commitments to climate action and natural resource conservation, make it a perfect circularity partner to India.

India currently recycles less than one quarter of its e-waste and less than half of its plastic waste. Only a negligible amount of waste makes it back to reuse and agri, textile and medical waste also pose similar challenges. Turning the environmental and health liability of this waste footprint into an economic opportunity will require scientific solutions that can also address social and environmental concerns. The Swachh Bharat Mission and various government departments  including the PSA’s Waste to Wealth Mission are pursuing a robust mandate for developing circular value chains, but the enormity of the waste challenge requires strategic partnerships across many domains.

On November 2nd, officials from the Intsam group (Vinnova, Swedish Research Council, Swedish Energy Agency, Formas and Forte) and India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Department of Science and Technology (DST) came together to discuss the development of a new joint call on circular economy to drive cross-sectoral research on circular economy. The call’s beyond-the-usual approach manifested at the onset, with the group replacing the word “waste” with “resource,” a recommendation championed by DBT’s Dr. Kalaivani Ganesan and enthusiastically supported by Dr. Louise Staffas at Formas.

What common priorities do the countries share for transitioning to circular economies? How would a research project demonstrate viable solutions that also address societal challenges? What would it mean to co-create solutions and learn from each other’s expertise? These were some of the questions that kicked-off the discussion on extracting value from accumulated material streams across Electrical and Electronic equipment, Residues of Biological Resources (agri, marine ets.), Plastics, Textiles, Medical and Metal and Mining sectors. Here are some of the priorities:

Closing the loop on circular economy requires scientific solutions at various different levels. From feedstock, to manufacturing, to distribution, to end of use, to waste collection, to segregation, to disassembly, to material recovery, to repurposing, to monitoring, there is massive multi-disciplinary research and innovation required to transition towards truly circular systems. The Indian call partners offer a multi-disciplinary ecosystem for basic and applied research projects to develop such solutions. The DBT’s BIRAC, and DST’s NIF ecosystems enable academia-industry connect to support projects that demonstrate viable ideas and link them to start-ups and SME networks for market-readiness. As work on drafting the call sets in motion, the India-Sweden partnership augurs tremendous opportunity for cross-cutting circular economy innovations in both countries.

Tackling mounting mountains of waste is not merely a scientific challenge, it is equally a behavioural, ecological, health and design challenge, areas where the two countries can learn much from each other to create sustainable solutions that help create low carbon, low material footprint and resilient economies.

– Chhaya Bhanti, CEO and Founder of Vertiver, a sustainability consultancy based in New Delhi.

The OSI Team is very grateful to Ms Bhanti for moderating the workshop and sharing important perspectives from the workshop in our blog. We look forward to support circular economy initiatives between Sweden and India. In the meantime, make sure to follow us on Twitter!

Greetings from Fanny von Heland, Leena Kukreja and Mini Nair