In a Properly Built Circular Economy, One Should Rather Focus on Avoiding The Recycling Stage at All Costs. It May Sound Straightforward, but Preventing Waste from Being Created in The First Place Is The Only Realistic Strategy.

(World Economic Forum, 2019)

What is THE PROBLEM with our current system?

When people think of ‘classic solutions’ to waste management, the first thing that comes to mind is often recycling. Indeed, since the 1980s recycling or repurposing of waste has been at the forefront of campaigns against waste and pollution, and remains the area where most efforts are placed. Such methods are referred to as “downstream solutions”, which are implemented to deal with the amount of waste and pollution that has already been released into the environment.

Downstream solutions are necessary to solve the immediate symptoms of the problem, however, they do not solve the problem itself. At the speed in which waste is currently being produced, it would be impossible to recycle or reuse our way away from waste.

To put simply, downstream efforts alone are insufficient. We need to look at the whole system and beyond the immediate concerns to simultaneously solve the root cause.

We need to look UPSTREAM.

Healing a BROKEN SYSTEM with an Upstream Approach

Upstream innovation is about treating more than just the symptoms of a broken economic model. Upstream innovation addresses waste and pollution at its source: Flawed Design.

Through innovation in product/process design, upstream solutions aim to create a closed-loop system of materials where waste is never produced to begin with. That way, we can stop the flow of waste into the environment and make downstream efforts more impactful.
Combining Downstream and Upstream solutions will help the world recover from the devastating consequences of waste and pollution.

Re-designing & Accelerating Upstream innovations

Innovative upstream solutions require more support from all types of stakeholders. If we were to apply all downstream and upstream solutions currently available simultaneously, in 20 years, we would only achieve an 80 per cent reduction in the flow of plastic into the ocean.

Technological advances, new business models, significant spending, and, most crucially, accelerating upstream innovation are needed to get us there. And they are needed fast.

By supporting entrepreneurial and innovative ideas within the upstream field, we will be able to unlock new value and bridge the gap to zero waste.

ICM’s work within Upstream Innovation

Circular innovation within the upstream field requires different implementation priorities in different geographical settings and for different industry sectors. High-income countries have to decrease overall plastic consumption and improve the design of the system; while middle-/low-income countries must simultaneously prioritize maximizing reduction and substitution, and investing in sorting and recycling infrastructure.
The ICM Falk Foundation works primarily within a middle/low-income country context where we will focus on supporting reduction and substitution solutions. We aim to enhance the positive impacts of upstream innovation, in concert with ongoing downstream solutions in our targeted sectors, namely: Consumer Packaged Goods, Fashion, and Food Systems.

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