The circular economy has emerged as a crucial model for building sustainability by minimizing resource use and waste generation through product reuse, refurbishment, and recycling. However, the latest Circularity Gap Report highlights a widening gap globally between resource consumption and sustainability targets. Despite the circular economy’s immense potential, secondary material recycling rates have declined over the past five years. To address this, the report outlines four key circular economy principles: extending product lifetime through durable design, maximizing recycling and material reuse, supporting innovative startups via platforms like The Circulars Accelerator, and overall reduction in resource consumption across industries. With the global population now consuming around 60% more resources than the planet can regenerate, urgent action is imperative.

The good news is that startups, accelerators and incubators focused on the circular economy are rising rapidly. Analysis shows India has over 530 circular startups operating across sectors like cleantech, e-waste management, electric mobility, and renewable energyi. They are pioneering innovative technologies, business models and product solutions based on circular design principles of reducing, reusing, recycling and recovery. For instance, Bangalore-based Skibo facilitates plastic waste collection and recycling with traceability leveraging blockchain technology. Kanpur based Phool converting temple flower waste into charcoal-free luxury incense products.

Platforms like the Aavishkaar Accelerator provide crucial support to early-stage ventures with access to technology, business mentorship, government partnerships and growth capital to scale impact ii. Such focused incubation is vital to catalyze a startup-led circular economy transition. Policy experts underscore the need for further government incentives beyond existing schemes like SUPACEED by NITI Aayog. These include R&D grants for circular innovation and preferential procurement by public agencies iii.

With supportive policies and public-private collaboration, India’s vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem and startup incubators can massively accelerate progress on sustainable development goals and the Viksit Bharat 2047 vision. The circular transition can transform India’s production and consumption patterns to be more equitable, regenerative and waste-free over the next two decades. In this type of economy, products emphasize minimizing resource use, waste, and carbon emissions, promoting longevity through repair, recycling, and redesign. The importance lies in departing from linear economies depleting finite resources. Switching is crucial, potentially unlocking $4.5 trillion in economic benefits globally by 2030 according to an analysis by Accentureiv. However, this requires systemic changes across value chains, innovative product designs for extended lifecycles, and altered business models focused on services rather than sales.

Policy changes incentivizing circular habits, like France’s single-use plastic phase-out by 2040, are also pivotal. However, recycling isn’t the sole focus; designing products for multiple life cycles is key. For example, Dutch startup Fairphone designs modular smartphones with replaceable parts for easy repair, reuse and refurbishmentv. Over 5 years, a Fairphone can save 21 kg of e-waste per user versus typical phones. Analysis by the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) shows adopting circular models in mobility, food systems and the built environment can reduce greenhouse gases globally by 40% in 2030vi.

The global circularity state faces challenges, with a 9% decline recently in recycling secondary materialsvii, urging a transition to a circular economy that can reduce virgin material extraction by a third by 2030 according to expert analysisviii. Innovation by startups and platforms like The Circulars Accelerator supporting early-stage ventures ix plays a vital role in driving this sustainability transition. The Accelerator’s annual Circularity Gap Report outlines four principles for a circular economy to reduce global material extraction by 32%: use less through dematerialization and efficiency; use longer by extending product lifetimes; use again by recycling; and use clean energy in production.

The role of a circular economy in India’s vision for “Viksit Bharat 2047” is pivotal for achieving resource efficiency and job creation through new circular supply chains while also meeting sustainability and equity goals. Circular economy incorporation into Viksit Bharat 2047 aligns with national priorities like Atmanirbhar Bharat, Swachh Bharat and Skill India. Leading Indian incubators such as Startup Incubation and Innovation Center at IIT Kanpur have launched programs to mentor startups focused on circular innovation across sectors like Startup Gateway for Garbage Free Cities’ program under the ‘Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban’ of Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Tech for Tribals, EVs, battery reuse, packaging, and recyclingx. Such initiatives can catalyze India’s transition to a regenerative circular economy over the next 25 years.

As experts spanning policy, sustainability, social development and entrepreneurship sectors, we see the transition to a circular economic model as crucial for India to achieve the Viksit Bharat vision by 2047. This sustainable development pathway is anticipated to unlock economic growth through new circular value chains while advancing technological innovation and environmental stewardship.

However, social inclusivity should be a key priority with equitable access to resources, livelihood opportunities, skill development and participation in decision-making for marginalized communities. Furthermore, policy alignment across central, state and municipal agencies is needed to create an enabling environment. This includes incentives for startups and MSMEs to adopt circular design and production, along with public procurement policies mainstreaming circular criteria. By getting the social and governance aspects right, India can position itself as a global leader in ethical, resilient and ecologically regenerative development. In turn, this can accelerate knowledge transfer and financing from multilateral agencies to boost local capacity.

So, adopting a circular economy is pivotal for Viksit Bharat 2047 to realize sustainable and inclusive growth in line with international commitments like the Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals. The circular transition will foster a future where economic prosperity respects environmental limits through mindful production, consumption, and resource reuse. The time to accelerate India’s circular economy policy is now!

i CII, State of Circular Economy Startups in India, 2021
ii Aavishkaar Accelerator
iii Niti Aayog, Circular Economy Policy Recommendations, 2022
iv Accenture, Circular Advantage Report, 2022
v Fairphone Impact Report, 2021
vi PACE, Circularity Gap Report, 2022
vii Circularity Gap Report 2022
viii Circle Economy, The Circularity Gap Report, 2022
ix The Circulars Accelerator
x Startup Incubation and Innovation Centre, IIT Kanpur. About SIIC.

Vikash Prakash studied M.A Development (Public Health) at Azim Premji University, Bangalore. He is a Young Professional working with StartUp Incubation and Innovation Center, IIT Kanpur.

Anant Srivastav, IIM Jammu