I decide to attend the World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki


The World Conference on Circular Economy will be held between June 5 and 6 at Helsinki. Nearly 1500 participants are expected as the registration is free. This ground-breaking event will present the world’s best circular economy solutions and will gather together the most recognized experts and decision makers in the field.

I spoke about this event and in general on the concept of circular economy to my Professor Friend.

“Are you attending this event?” He asked.

I said I have received an invite with sponsorship but I am not attending because there are just too many people. “It will be a huge mela (fair). There will be long queues for lunch and tough times for preferred vegetarians like me.  Besides the program is too tight. I won’t be able to visit my favorite jazz bar Laiska Karhu

Don’t miss Laiska Karhu

Professor agreed, especially on the point on Laiska Karhu. “You have a good reason not to go Dr Modak”.

The next day, early morning, the bell rang and Govind, my newspaper boy, was standing outside the door.

I did not understand why he was waiting for me

“I already paid your bill Govind and the used papers will be ready for you to pick up on next Sunday”.

I have a good deal with Govind. I buy from him newspapers every month for Rs 560 (US$ 8) and he buys from me the used newspapers for Rs 100 (USD 1.5) based on the weight. This makes the newspaper go circular.

“Sir, I want to speak to you about circular economy.” Govind said. “I heard that you will attending the World Conference in Helsinki”

Oh, how did you come to know? Hope this was  not in the news! But I have decided not to attend this conference. What is your question anyways?

“I came across AAGRUTI™ Waste Paper Recycling Services based in Delhi”. Govind said. “This social enterprise started in December 2011. Today, it extends its services in the field of Waste Paper Recycling to over 200+ institutions across various platforms in the Delhi NCR region. I want to start similar initiative in Mumbai with couple of my friends. Please help me”

I knew that Govind was an educated and smart person. I told him that recycling Waste paper is today big business in the world. A Chennai-based company, Global Waste Recyclers Ltd ( GWRL)  started this business some 50 years ago. It is the largest and the only organized player in this line of business in the country.

Today, GWRL collects waste from the region within a 75-km-radius with Chennai as the center. “Collection is the problem. Not selling.” Pujara, the Managing Director of GWRL says. Despite constraints, the company has seen good growth in the last five years ending up with a turnover of Rs 430 million last year. It hopes to reach Rs 2000 million in a couple of years.” says Pujara

Govind was really impressed the success story of GWRL. “You must go the World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki and talk about this story.” He said in a serious tone. “But Govind, I am not going to Helsinki” I told him. I saw him rather disappointed.

As I stepped out, I remembered that I had to go to the Ambience Mall for a few errands for my office. I bumped into Raj Singh Gehlot, the Chairman of the Ambience Group. “Oh, Dr Modak, how come here? I can ask someone to accompany you and help” He then paused and said “I was told that you will be attending the World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki – on your return, let us meet over a drink. Give me some ideas on how to turn the Ambience mall towards circular economy”

“Mr. Gehlot, you don’t have to attend World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki to know that. The Place to visit is ReTuna Återbruksgalleria in Sweden” I saw Raj rather confused. So, I told him the story.

ReTuna Återbruksgalleria is a shopping mall that sells only repaired or upcycled products and has gone beyond the local drop-off centers. Here, the dropped off goods are sorted into various workshops where they are refurbished or repaired. There are 14 workshops  that include furniture, computers, audio equipment, clothes, toys, bikes, gardening and building materials; all garnered from second-hand products. Several of these shops function as “do-it-yourself” showrooms, where customers can learn how to repair or refurbish. The products then reach the mall that includes a café and restaurant with a heavy focus on organic products. There is a conference and exhibition facility complete with a specialty school for studying recycling. Visitors can enrol in a one-year Design-Recycle-Reuse program. In addition, ReTuna  offers study visits during which attendees can learn about the inner workings of the mall. These visits cost about $136 and are held once a week.


The Mall is operated by the local municipality and has benefited the local economy by creating 50 new repair and retail jobs, and providing space for private start-ups and local artisans. The biggest bonus for the Swedish community is relief from the tremendous burden and expense of disposing of unwanted goods.

ReTuna Återbruksgalleria is about 75 miles west of Stockholm. It opened in August 2015 in the city of Eskilstuna. ReTuna is not only the first shopping center to sell recycled and reclaimed goods in Sweden, but also in the world. Eskilstuna’s 67,000 residents seem more and more open to the idea of buying repurposed and refurbished goods, which is inspiring ReTuna to set an even bigger goal: to position this town as a global destination that will showcase what sustainable living and the circular economy are all about. ReTuna Återbruksgalleria is a living demonstration of the circular economy.

Raj Gehlot was really inspired with my story on ReTuna. “Let me work on this and make one mall of Ambience like ReTuna” he said. “But please do visit the World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki to get more such stories”. I said “But Mr. Gehlot, I have decided not to attend this event”. I saw that Raj was not happy about my decision.

In the afternoon, I met Professor over a lunch and told him about Govind and Paper recycling and my encounter with Raj Gehlot in the Ambience mall and the story of ReTuna.

“Oh, these are all good stories, but I have even a better one” Professor said this while relishing the chicken salad with garlic bread. “Have you read about the Give Back Box program?”

He lit his cigar.

“Amazon and Give Back Box® are working together to bring in circular economy. The scheme goes like this

  1. Open Your Box:Unpack your merchandise from your Amazon shipping box.
  2. Pack Your Box:Fill the box with usable clothing, accessories and household goods you no longer need and print your free shipping label from amazon.
  3. Send Your Box: Contact UPS or the U.S. Postal Service to deliver your box of donations

Donations go directly to your nearest participating charitable organization using a free shipping label and empty Amazon packaging box. Your donation helps support employment placement, job training and other community-based services. So, the packaging box gets recycled, old clothes get used and funds are created for increasing employment.

“This is amazing Professor” I exclaimed. “I see great environmental, social and economic benefits”

Professor smiled and said. “We need to convince Amazon to do this bit in India as well. Talk to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon when you are at the World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki”.

“But Professor, I already told you that I am not attending the event”. I was rather irritated now.

Professor asked me to reconsider. “Don’t make a fuss. Stay a day longer to visit Laiska Karhu” He said this while extinguishing his cigar.

In the evening, I met with Hardik Shah, earlier Member Secretary of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board and Dr K. Rao of ACC Ltd.  Both talked about examples of Circular Economy in Practice in India. Examples included co-processing of hazardous waste in cement kilns, potential recycling of resources (metals and plastic) from abandoned vehicles, manufacturing of recycled construction aggregates and pavement blocks from construction and demolition waste and plastic to fuel plants.

Hardik Shah mentioned about the on-line waste trader created in the State of Gujarat that is used by thousands of industries to recycle waste as a resource. Both Hardik and Rao offered me their collection of PowerPoints as they thought that these slides will be useful at the World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki.

I told them that I am not attending World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki. Both Hardik and Rao were disappointed. “You need to tell the world about India’s circular economy”. They  said. “The recent India report by Ellen MacArthur Foundation does not capture the circularity of material flows in India. So please reconsider”. I presented to them the 2013 book by Adam Minter titled Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade. “Read this book in the context of circular economy” I said. “There are stories of recycling in the State of Gujarat and of course from China”.

“Well, I am certainly going to attend this conference” Professor called me at night. ” The PMO has asked me to integrate the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan  (Clean India Mission) and the Make in India program. This will be India’s model for Circular Economy unlike in EU and in China. And we will take strategic inputs from the Indian Resource Panel where you are already a member! In fact, I told the PMO that I will be taking you along”

I thought Professor made good point. Integration of Swatch Bharat Abhiyan and the Make in India was an innovative idea. But I disagreed to his optimism on the Indian Resource Panel.

Considering everything, I thought I should not miss attending this event. May be I should slip out earlier before closing of the sessions to avoid long queues for the lunch.

I told my travel agent to book flights between June 4 and 8.

5th and 6th were the conference days.

I reserved the evening of 7th for my favorite jazz bar Laiska Karhu.

I booked a table for two. Not for the Professor – but for someone whom I knew and was keen to see again.

Was it the real reason for attending the World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki?

Cover photo sourced from https://www.sitra.fi/en/projects/world-circular-economy-forum-2017/

If you like this post then Follow Me or circulate amongst your network


  1. The shortcomings of the present focus on circular economy is that it is mostly about waste recycling. The damage is already done – the waste has been generated.
    Recall that 95% of the resource flow is waste din various manufacturing an transport stages. Doing clever things with the remaining 5% is not the key issue in sustainability.
    Real circular economy would first focus on consumption patterns, product (design) issues, distribution and overall resource flows. Wastes comes in only at the end. It shouldn’t be the driver of CE.
    Try calculating material flows (MFA) before looking at recycling options.

  2. Dear Fritz

    I agree with you. CE in its definition as well as in its operational framework emphasizes more on recycling the “secondary materials” and does not emphasize enough regarding taming or influencing consumption. This needs to be done on an explicit basis as the very first step. However, you would see some communique done in this direction, in the recent Fact Sheets released by the European Commission. See https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/circular-economy-factsheet-consumption_en.pdf

    Many thanks for pointing

    Best regards

Leave a Reply