MEPs warn that the ‘take-make-dispose’ economy must end and call for measures against greenwashing and false environmental claims. In order to achieve a carbon-neutral, environmentally sustainable and fully circular economy by 2050, MEPs have called for clear policy objectives in the EU. The Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety adopted its report on the EU Circular Economy Action Plan, with 66 votes in favour, six against and seven abstentions. The plan, which was published in March 2020, is one of the main blocks of the European Green Deal and includes initiatives along the entire life cycle of products from design to consumption.
Our lives often follow a linear path. We buy something, throw it away when we’re done with it, and that’s where too many stories end. This pattern leads to a lot of waste. If we want to combat this wastefulness, it’s time to start living life in a circle. Completing the circle means taking the waste and turning it into something new. This circular approach to life is exactly what Circle by Norm is all about.
Herriot-Watt University has announced the launch of a research project aiming to create new materials from residual waste leftover from recycling. The project involves a £250,000 Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) funded by Innovate UK and the Scottish Funding Council. Herriot-Watt will partner with Brewster Bros, a Livingston-based recycling business, with an aim of further developing Scotland’s approach to a circular economy. Part of the project will look at recycled clay which can account for up to 25 per cent of the output produced when excavation waste is recycled via a washing process. This by-product commonly ends up in landfill. Herriot-Watt confirmed that the project will also include the creation of a hazardous soil treatment centre, the first of its kind in Scotland.
The World Bank predicts that global annual waste generation will have reached 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050. That’s almost a 75 percent increase on the 2 billion tons we generate today. Building a circular economy will play a crucial role in reducing this forecast. Here, Mats W Lundberg, head of sustainability at global engineering group Sandvik, looks at why circularity needs to be considered from the initial design process; otherwise, it’s already too late. Product lifecycles traditionally follow a linear economy, where materials are transformed into products that are then used and thrown away in a ‘take-make-waste approach. This is unsustainable. The primary principle of a circular economy is keeping assets in use to create a responsible way of using resources while reducing waste. Circularity is crucial in closing the loop of product life cycles.
A major research programme encompassing 34 universities and 200 industry partners has been launched to catalyse the UK’s shift to a circular economy. The National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research (NICER) programme is supported by a £30 million UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) investment. The programme is delivered in partnership with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), to ensure research outcomes contribute to delivery of government policy.
In addition to the flurry of research relating to tyre pyrolysis published at the end of 2020 and the start of this year, in February it emerged that another related study has been released. In his master’s thesis for Tampere University, Mikko Sirén explored the best technologies for turning scrap tyres into secondary raw material and value-added products. The research project started in May 2020 as an initiative of Black Donuts, the turn-key tyre industry consultants, who desired up-to-date research of the recycling of discarded tyres as part of their circular economy initiatives.
Here’s how a highly intensive manufacturer of insulation and related building products with a presence in 33 countries in Europe, North America and Asia has been on a journey towards the circular economy for over 20 years, and knows it still has far to go. Owens Corning’s website defines sustainability as being about meeting the needs of the present while leaving the world a better place for the future. It claims that sustainability is at “the heart of our business, from the products we make to the way we make them”. It declares that it “considers the future in the decisions we make today…working to expand our handprint while we reduce our footprint”. Its 2030 goals are “to be a net-positive company, one where the positive impacts of our people and products (our handprint) exceeds the negative impacts of our operations (our footprint)”.
Seco Tools is uniquely placed to make a strong contribution to the circular economy, which prioritizes separating economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and designing ways to remove waste from our system of economic activity. Though it is by no means the only aspect, recycling plays a vital role in the circular economy by asking us to look at how we use the earth’s scarce and finite resources, and what can be done to ensure that we extract maximum value and usage from them. Recycling will play a key role in reaching Seco Tools ambitious goal of being 90% circular by the year 2030, with a number of broad changes to processes and business models leading the way. “It’s a challenging target, but we see this as very important for our company and our business,” says Ted Forslund, Sustainability & Audit Coordinator at Seco Tools. “What is good for Seco Tools is that we already have very good recycling processes, so now it’s about creating a good partnership with our clients so that they understand the value of us buying back tools, so that it becomes a closed circle where nothing goes to waste.”
Think about how many different pieces of technology the average household has purchased in the last decade. Phones, TVs, computers, tablets, and game consoles don’t last forever, and repairing them is difficult and often as expensive as simply buying a replacement. Electronics are integral to modern society, but electronic waste (e-waste) presents a complex and growing challenge in the path toward a circular economy—a more sustainable economic system that focuses on recycling materials and minimizing waste. Adding to the global waste challenge is the prevalence of dishonest recycling practices by companies who claim to be recycling electronics but actually dispose of them by other means, such as in landfills or shipping the waste to other countries.
Currently, most of the world’s countries base their economic systems on a traditional linear consumption model. This entails extraction, production, usage, and disposal of products, which we know is unsustainable. The current system is designed with the untrue assumption that there are infinite resources on planet Earth. Take, for example, the amount of global electronic waste. Almost 76% of e-waste is undocumented for, which means we have no means of tracing or repurposing these valuable materials. So, what are our other options? Circular Economy (CE) is a concept currently promoted by several national governments including China, Japan, UK, France, Canada, The Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, and the EU, as well as by several businesses around the world. CE provides an alternative model for the flow of materials
What goes around comes around, according to the old saying. And in the case of the circular economy, that’s certainly true. The circular economy takes a different approach to the take-make-dispose model of consumption to which many have become accustomed. By reusing and recycling as much as possible, plus repurposing and selling on items that have outlived their initial use, the circular economy is creating jobs and generating economic activity, while easing some pressures on the environment. It’s an approach based on “designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems,” in the words of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The idea is gaining momentum and truly hitting the mainstream as a growing number of household-name brands adopt circular methods and develop products with circularity built in.
Corrugated packaging giant DS Smith is to plough £100m in research and development (R&D) and innovation in a bid to bolster its circular economy work. The new investment over five years includes the creation of a new breakthrough technologies hub in the UK, new materials development to replace plastics and a pilot to gauge G-force shock in home delivery packaging. DS Smith chief executive Miles Roberts said: “How we live our lives is changing fast due to many factors and how we all take care of the environment is a top priority. We are now investing more than previous years to ensure that we are leading this change and can offer customers packaging that has less impact on the environment.
For many of us, 2020 was a year postponed. While we were focused on coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, we lost ground on other critical issues, including plastic pollution and climate change. It may have gone unnoticed, but the waste management and recycling value chain in South and Southeast Asia has ground to a halt while the use of single-use and virgin plastics has soared. The situation is untenable for the long run and the environmental impact is sobering. As we inch closer to the promise of mass vaccination and kick off 2021 in the Year of the Ox, it is time to adjust our perspective: these crises present incredible prospects for economic recovery and growth, and are not just environmental issues for the dinner table.
We hear the term “circular economy” more and more these days. Can you explain what that means for those who might not be familiar? Why is it important?
In a traditional economy, we take, make, and dispose in a straight line. But the circular economy is all about how we can change that process into something more continuous, finding ways to be more intentional and keep resources within the cycle. It’s all about reducing waste, whether through packaging design or using more eco-friendly materials in general. Another huge element is asset recovery, finding ways to repair, refurbish, or reuse old products for our spare parts inventory. The circular economy is not only good for the environment, but it is good for the bottom line. There can be a lot of cost savings, because we don’t have to extract new natural resources each time. Instead we leverage existing resources in new and innovative ways.
A 30-strong group of EPFL students came up with an impressive array of inventive ideas during the pilot Climate and Sustainability Action Week (CSAW), with the goal of making our campus – and society – greener and cleaner. Their ideas included an “Eco-Score” to rate the environmental impact of meals served at EPFL restaurants, a new digital currency and platform called Karma for exchanging goods and services within the EPFL community, and a web browser add-on called Web Citizens to combat misinformation and encourage critical thinking.
Green Pea is Italy’s first green retail park and to celebrate its inauguration, designer Cristina Celestina created Calatea Green – a chair made to follow the circular economy model! Calatea Green was born from the company’s original piece, Calatea chair which was given a sustainable design refresh. Calatea Green uses eco-friendly materials and organic aesthetics to fit in the Green Pea retail park. In fact, Celestina reinvented each element of the original Calatea chair’s design after becoming aware of the impact it had on the environment. The green chair’s padding is crafted from recycled PET fabric which is sourced from water bottles – it is both recyclable and compostable. For the legs, Celestina has used FSC-certified ash wood which was sourced from responsibly managed forests with controlled logging.
On May 25, delegates of the EU-27 in the EU Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCOPAFF) backed draft regulation aimed at setting EU baseline standards for the validation of insect frass as fertilizer, as part of the EU legislation on animal by-products. The regulation harmonizing the standards for insect frass in the EU will play a pivotal role in bolstering the competitiveness and overall growth of the sector, while enhancing its circularity potential and contributing to generating complementary revenues for insect producers, said EU trade group, the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF). “We expect the standards to enter into force towards the end of this year,” said Constantin Muraru, spokesperson for IPIFF.
The transition towards a circular economy is among the core objectives of policy-makers at all levels of government. Yet, its full and effective achievement strongly depends on the readiness of all the societal and economic actors. In this regard, a growing mismatch between skills and labour needs can hamper both the transition as well as the possibility to exploit its great potential for employment and social inclusion. To counter this trend and facilitate the adoption of effective models by regions and vocational educational and training (VET) organisation, AER launched a dedicated webinar within the 2020 edition of the Skillman International Forum. During the first day of the Skillman International Forum (10-11 December 2020), AER held the webinar ‘Circular Economy: Opportunities and Needs in the Labour Market’.
What about leasing and hiring your outdoor furniture and fountains instead of buying? It makes sense if you’re a local council and want to be part of the circular economy. Queensland-based outdoor furniture manufacturer Urban Fountains & Furniture is on a mission to transition to a circular business. It’s come up with the idea of leasing rather than selling its water fountains to stop waste and save its customers’ money. According the company’s managing director, Simon Higgins, reducing waste has been part of the 20-year-old manufacturer’s DNA from the beginning. The company has always sought to design durable products without built-in obsolescence.