Historically, solid waste management has been a very reactive system; we have designed waste management infrastructure around the quantities and types of waste that are generated (up to 2.5 billion metric tons globally).
The goal of Circular Materials Management is to shift the paradigm to proactive materials management. This means thinking about managing materials before any “waste” is produced. And instead of thinking of our systems as linear models of produce › consume › dispose, consider byproducts and discards as inputs to other systems, mimicking what we observe in nature with cycles of nutrients.
The Circularity Informatics Lab (CIL) led by Jenna Jambeck uses concepts of the Circular Economy and Green Engineering Principles to examine materials and products along their entire value chain. Waste management needs to become materials management. CIL utilizes tools of materials flow, life-cycle assessment, and existing frameworks to conduct analyses and provide data that can assist with decision-making.
We also understand that materials management is very much a cultural and social issue. Even the concept of discarded material is subjective (one person’s discarded material may be another person’s resource). And in some cultures, there is not even a direct translation of the term “waste” in the native language. As we continue to evolve to materials management, a new paradigm is being created and CIL is at the forefront of this transformation.
Click here to access the Urban Ocean Toolkit from Ocean Conservancy, with scientific knowledge provided by the Jambeck Research Group Circularity Informatics Lab. To review select reports from the Urban Ocean Circularity Assessments team, click here.