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Helen Ipinza: “Innovation is the key to adopting a circular economy strategy”

Mining is the most important economic activity in Chile, it contributes 10% to the GDP, represents 55% of exports and 18% of foreign investment and, therefore, it is strategic to move forward towards sustainability, hand in hand with the circular economy.

Although this sector bears the existence of important environmental liabilities, it should not be forgotten that copper, lithium and cobalt are central to the generation of clean energy, essential to advance in carbon neutrality, a goal that Chile has defined for the year 2050 that it is so necessary to limit the temperature increase of the planet to 1.5 ° C, established in the Paris Agreement of 2015.

Faced with an obvious scenario of climate change, increasing scarcity of resources and a population that increases steadily, it is fair and necessary to rethink the way we do things, review our production and consumption patterns, where “less is more”.

The invitation is to encourage the efficient use of resources, to move towards a Regenerative and Restorative Circular Economy (CE), characterized by having a systemic approach to economic development, on the value chain and the entire life cycle. The CE is based on three principles: design in such a way that waste and pollution are not generated; keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems. This is achieved through the rethinking and redesign of products, processes and services, where waste is considered a design error, so it seeks to maintain the value and utility of materials at their highest level at all times, to reduce the impacts on the environment and be a contribution to the community, positioning the concept of Shared Value.

Moved by the global deployment on this model, in the last year Chile has coined the concept of Circular Economy strongly, there are many companies of various sizes that have adjusted their business models, while entrepreneurs emerge with solutions in the circular line . The State is working on a Roadmap whose greatest unfolding will be seen during this 2020. Among the outstanding initiatives is the REP Law, which, through the promotion of recycling, invites producers and importers of six prioritized products to rethink their designs. Along these lines, Corfo has also motivated this by summoning a circular focus for entrepreneurship and business innovation, closing 2019 with a Circular Economy Technology Center for the northern macro zone of the country.

In the case of mining, the typical process is based on a LINEAR production model, of digging, transporting materials, processing, producing, transporting products, selling, using and disposing, leaving large amounts of waste and emissions along the way. However, there are great opportunities to look at extraction, production processes, logistics, goods and services with different eyes, analyzing the flows that enter and leave, opening to technological innovation, processes, products, business models and within of these, the development and empowerment of local suppliers.

Because we do not dare to rethink mining tires, for example, that great liability of the sector that for years has accumulated without a background solution, can be redesigned, reused, repaired, recycled, or be provided in a business model in which the property of the tire is not from the mining company, but from the manufacturer, who sells them the service and has all the reverse logistics to extend its value in the economy.

There are also great opportunities to perform Industrial Symbiosis with other economic sectors, such as the construction sector, where the waste of some is resources for others.

In the field of Circular Mining, in Chile the collaborative initiatives led by the Ministry of Mining and the Alta Ley Corporation stand out. There is the Green Mining Bureau and the National Tailings Policy, where one of its themes is the circular economy and the innovation. This is same line followed by that the Alta Ley Roadmap, promoted by Corfo, which contributes to the circular economy through its challenges related to recovery, efficient use of resources, chemical / physical stability of tailings deposits, energy sustainability, water and carbon footprint, emission reduction and R&D. Within the framework of these initiatives, Corfo has supported with Technological Programs of great relevance, in tailings monitoring, tailings recovery, use of hydrogen in mining trucks and mobile equipment.

Although we do not have conclusive figures on the contribution of the EC to mining, we can extrapolate its contribution by looking at figures from the cement, steel, plastic and aluminum industry, with an estimated reduction in its global CO2 emissions from 40% by 2050, achieving almost half of its goal of zero emissions with cost-effective solutions, which benefit the entire system (Completing The Picture How The Circular Economy Tackles Climate Change, Ellen Macarthur Foundation, 2019).

Undoubtedly, innovation is the key to adopting a circular economy strategy in business models, shared value, the articulation of the value chain, symbiosis with other productive sectors, as well as technological innovations, all ingredients for a Substantive transformation of the mining sector in pursuit of sustainable development, for which it is necessary to increase Research and Development (R&D). To accelerate this, the State already has the R&D Law, which establishes a tax incentive for investment in Research and Development, allowing the reduction of the first category tax, up to 52.55% of the resources allocated to these activities . This is only a first step in a global strategy established by this government, committed to the adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

Helen Ipinza
Sectorialist Construction and Circular Economy CORFO