A Circular Economy is defined by WRAP, a UK government program to create a more sustainable future, as “an alternative to a traditional linear economy, which has three steps: make, use, dispose, in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service.”
At its core, a circular economy aims to exclude waste, and products are designed and optimised for reuse in different parts of the cycle within a circular economy.
There are five areas that need to co-exist and work together in order for a circular economy to successfully work, and these are:
- Design and Manufacture
- Consumers & Local Authorities
- Recycling Sector
The circular economy promotes the use of as many biodegradable materials as possible in the manufacture of products, so that at the end of their life they can get back to nature without causing environmental damage. When it is not possible to use eco-friendly materials, the aim is to give them new life by introducing them into the production cycle to create new material. However this isn’t always possible, so the final stage will be recycling in a respectful way to the environment.
The key benefits of a circular economy includes the creation of green industries and jobs for workers, a reduced dependence on the importation of raw materials, the avoidance of environmental damage caused by resource extraction and less pollution entering the earth’s life support system. To transition to a circular economy and take advantage of these benefits, everyone must push for change, showing the government and industries that a circular economy is the future. Change starts with the little decisions that we make in everyday life, such as reducing our consumption, reusing items or recycling anything we may not want anymore.
In a world where sustainability is at the forefront of everyone’s mind it begs the question of why more businesses are not utilising the circular economy more?
Frictions between the ways the systems are now and how it changes as we move into a circular economy will arise, as new systems always have teething problems, but these need to be handled efficiently to create way for the new change. Extending products lifetime will have an impact on the sale of replacement items, due to not having a need for these items anymore. It could also impact innovation, as there will be less of a need and demand for new items. Certain materials also have a limited life cycle, such as plastic, which can become brittle if recycled too much, which can create an increased strain if repeatedly used within the cycle. It can also create a burden on manufacturers who will have to come up with completely new designs and processes to be put in place in order for it to be successful.
While there are expected to be issues as more companies invest their time looking into a circular economy, there is an urgency for something like the circular economy to take its place, not only for the health of the environment but also for the future of the economy and businesses everywhere. The current linear way is not working and the planet only has a finite number of resources, which at some point are going to run out. As globalisation increases and our businesses depend on outside factors, issues like geo-political developments, the growth of industries dependent on critical materials, and price fluctuations will continue to grow, which is why integrating a circular economy not only benefits the environment, but also businesses and the economy.
WRAP hopes that by 2020 many UK businesses will be integrating a circular economy into their business strategy; so let’s find out what some of those UK businesses are doing.
Skipping Rocks Lab. created ‘Ooho’, which is sustainable packaging made especially for liquids, which is created from a seaweed extract. This is 100% natural alternative to plastic bottles, cups and sachets, and degrades in a natural environment in only 6 weeks. They are currently working with big brands like Just Eat, to create a sustainable alternative to sauce packets, and Virgin Sports, to create hydration packs for sporting events such as marathons. They are pioneering the use of natural materials extracted from plants and seaweed, to create packaging that has a low-environmental impact; with the liquid tab made edible meaning no waste has been created. From water to spirits and even cosmetics, a wide range of liquids can be used; so they hope to be able to take on the market and create a plastic-free, zero-waste future.
Another example of a UK business utilising a circular economy is bio-bean. bio-bean partners with waste management companies to collect used coffee grounds from local cafes and coffee producers, allowing businesses to dispose off their waste responsibly, without having a costly impact. bio-bean aims to shift the coffee industry from a linear to a circular system, recycling coffee grounds into renewable energy and enabling businesses to implement cost-effective initiatives that bring added value and sustainability to the back end of their supply chain. bio-bean is a closed loop business that places sustainability at its core, utilising a long-term, triple bottom line strategy to bring about environmental, economic and social change.
One region in the UK has created the first local circular model; the County Council in Cambridgeshire have partnered with a local plastics processor and packaging company, Charpak, to remove plastic packaging from bins in the area, which are then cleaned and processed before being reused by manufacturers. This is the first of its kind in the UK, and the collaboration between the council and a local business means that it is a model that can be easily replicated throughout the country.
So, how can a business like you implement a circular economy strategy?
Look for opportunities wherever you can. Listen to your customer’s needs and create solutions to their problems. Think about partnering with other companies. For example, when it comes to waste or recycling can you work with a much bigger business to help you meet your targets and take off a big chunk of the work from you? You also have the opportunity to maintain and repair any products you may be using in your supply chain or donate, resell, or recycle anything that isn’t used within the chain.
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