Once again, it is Earth Overshoot Day, and as last year and all the years before, the date is coming sooner and sooner on the calendar. We are talking about the day in a year when we start to consume more natural resources and produce more waste than the Earth is able to regenerate and absorb in a single year. What does this mean?
It is a simple and easy way to understand what our existence and behavior brings to the planet and what are the risks if we keep doing things as usual. In fact, if we consider that Earth Overshoot Day didn’t exist before the 23rd of December 1970, we can get a sense of where the problem started. 1970 was the first year when we didn’t make it to the end of the year, looking from the perspective of balance between our ecological footprint and the biocapacity of the planet to regenerate itself. That day, the ecological overspending story of humanity began. From that moment on, the Earth Overshoot Day started occurring sooner and sooner in the year. In 2000, it was at the end of September, and today it is at beginning of August.
Today, we consume Earth’s resources and produce waste for 1.7 planets
At the moment, we consume resources for 1.7 planets globally and, with a business-as-usual approach, by 2030 we will be consuming 2 planets every year, and our Earth Overshoot Day will be on June 28th.
There are differences among countries. For example, if we consider for example the UK, it would take 3 “UKs” to support the current UK footprint alone. If we consider Japan, it would take 5.5 “Japans” to sustain their current global footprint. For Italy, where our Aquafil headquarters is located, it would take 3.8 “Italys” to sustain the current Italian footprint.
What is causing the unbalance between human ecological footprint and biocapacity of the Earth?
Carbon emissions and carbon footprints are causing 60% of the global population’s demand of the Earth resources. Since 2010, global emission has increased by 5.9%.
Al Gore, in his TED conference, reported an amazing figure by climate scientist James Hansen who calculated that the energy trapped by man-made global warming pollution is now equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day, 365 days per year.
In a TEDx talk, former EU commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik said that by 2050 we will use three times more resources than we currently use, and the demand for food, feed, fibers will rise 70%. And this is going to happen on a planet with an already 60% degraded or unsustainable ecosystem.
But not only we are extracting more resources than what our planet can stand, we are also forcing it to absorb an incredible amount of waste. Again Mr. Potočnik says that in the EU we are using 15 tons of resources per capita per year and 5 tons of those resources become waste. And of these, about 3 tons of those resources wind up lost in our landfills forever. So, when tossing about 80% of the products we use just after a single use, the useful materials that compose those objects are lost and cannot enter back into production as secondary raw materials. This is a huge loss of resources that in some countries are really needed. From 1998 to 2011, the prices of resources have increased by 300%, and already 40 % of an EU country’s economy such Germany is devoted to resources. The EU is extremely import-dependent and only recently started to push for some circular economy measures that will recover some of the resources needed and lower the amount of waste going to landfills.
There is a hope to stop and reverse climate change
Given these numbers, a balance between the biocapacity of the planet and our ecological footprint seems impossible, but there is hope and it lays in our minds and in our willingness to believe in the possibility of a different future. Recently a lot of this hope has been laid in the publishing of an interesting collection of 100 of the most promising solutions to stop and reverse climate change. The book is called Drawdown, by Paul Hawken, and is a collection of solutions that are already in place. For each solution, there is a description of how it works, its history, the carbon impact it provides, the relative cost and savings, and the path to adoption. The optimism that emerges from this collection is bound to the fact that the rapid adoption of a new technology is something that happened before. For example, cell phones spread rapidly even in places where landlines are not even available yet. So, the large adoption of some of these solutions together with a decrease in their prices will be a huge tool to fight climate change.
Besides this, there are the principles of circular economy that have recently being promoted in the EU and that, if applied on a large scale, would have a transformational effect on the way we do business, on the way we see waste and on how we use the resources and keep them in the production stream, possibly forever.
Aquafil is a good example of what one company can do to fight climate change
In all these challenges we have ahead, the collaboration of everyone involved is key. Nobody can be sustainable alone. To provoke a systemic change, we all need to be together. We know this very well at Aquafil.
When we started more than 6 years ago, we thought we were alone in this path. We were trying to substitute fossil raw material with waste in our process to produce nylon yarn for textiles. We had a good starting point. We were producing nylon 6, which is a material that is possible to regenerate over and over without any loss of quality. But we knew many were trying and failing into turning this in an industrial system.
Today, we believe ours is a good example of the solutions we all have ahead. We changed our mindset with the initial question: can we substitute the use of fossil raw material with waste? And from that big change, a whole revolution came in. We invented new machines, we experimented with different types of waste and we started recovering it not only from our industry (old carpets) but also from other industries (fish farming industry and the ghost nets recovered by NGOs). And on this path, we discovered many new partners we had never thought about, and we learned by doing.
Today, the ECONYL® Regeneration Process is recovering waste all over the world through agreements and collaboration with NGOs. With the supply chain effort of many, we are not only avoiding the use of nonrenewable resources but we are also giving new life to waste that would otherwise end up in landfills or in nature. By doing this, we are able to lower the Global Warming Potential of our raw material (caprolactam) by 80% compared to a fossil based raw material. But this is not the end. We are inventing new technologies to develop finer recycling processes both for fishing nets and old carpets. Today we are recycling products that were built many years ago without recycling in mind. The future is to improve the design of new products so that they are easily disassembled and recycled.
When we started we thought we were alone and were not sure if we were going to succeed. Today, many partners have joined, and this is becoming a movement that is touching many others, from direct customers to partners, NGOs and final consumers. We are sharing our solution in many conferences and are always looking to optimize our processes, like with the excess heating sharing we put in place in Slovenia or with our ECONYL® qualified project for the recognition of excellence and environmental stewardship in collaboration with some of our main suppliers.
We should all start taking actions to put Earth Overshoot Day further in a year
Today, for Earth Overshoot Day, we feel the pressure of the scientific challenges to stop and remove CO2 emissions from the atmosphere and keep our footprint lower, but we cannot remand ourselves to pessimism and inertia. Rather, we should start taking action and thinking about the positive future we can build by asking even upsetting questions like, what if I start doing things differently? What would be the consequences? And then stick to the challenge and look for partners. We owe a lot to this planet and from tomorrow on, even more and more every day, the least we can do is to use all our technological and creative power to reverse what we have created and #movethedate of Earth Overshoot Day further and further until we put an end to it.
Are you with us?