While we live in a world where we’re becoming more aware of the amount of waste we produce than ever, waste generation globally continues to increase with no signs of slowing down. By 2050, global waste generation is set to increase by 70% to 3.4 billion metric tonnes a year.
If organisations are to meet net zero targets in line with the government’s net zero carbon strategy, they need to address embodied carbon in the products used everyday (an estimated 45% of carbon emissions according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report: Completing the picture) as well as transitioning to renewable energy and implementing energy efficiency measures. A strategic and practical approach to achieve this is by transforming the way we make and consume products through the transition to a circular economy. In this article, the Zest Recycle team will discuss what the principles of a circular economy are and how we can bring one about.
What is a circular economy?
A circular economy is a system in which there is no waste and today’s goods are also tomorrow’s raw materials. It’s called a circular economy because it stands in contrast to today’s – largely linear – system. Today’s system looks like this: we produce items, utilise them, and discard them. Conversely, products in a circular economy are fed back into the manufacturing process in their original or processed form, meaning there is quite literally zero waste.
You might think this sounds like recycling, but recycling as a concept doesn’t quite capture the long-term thinking of what a circular economy is trying to achieve. Recycling addresses the materials at the end of the product’s lifecycle, whereas a circular economy starts at the beginning of a product’s lifecycle viewing any potential waste and pollution as a design flaw.
How can we start closing the loop?
Let’s take a look at some of the key concepts of moving towards a Circular Economy and how these may translate into the workplace.
Sustainability and design: As we’ve just mentioned, one of the first key steps towards a circular economy starts with an overhaul of the design process. We need to start thinking about what exactly is going to happen to a product once it’s at the end of its usable life, viewing the materials which go into the product as resources for the future, which should influence the material choices to make the product in the first place.
Similarly, we should start ditching the idea of single-use or seasonal items. For example, fast fashion encourages us to buy low-quality, low-cost clothing that should be ditched after the year ends. We need to alter our relationship with certain products if we are to move towards a circular economy.
In the workplace this means looking at the consumables, equipment and furniture you are buying or leasing and considering whether sustainable design principles have been applied, what is the potential lifespan of the product and what will happen to the product at the end of it’s life? Can the materials either be repurposed, reused or recycled at the end of their life?
Promote the sharing economy: The sharing economy has erupted over the last ten years, with companies like Airbnb, Gumtree, Shpock and even OLIO becoming an integral part of people’s daily lives. This is undoubtedly something we need to continue to encourage, as it allows us to extend the usable life of an item way beyond what the manufacturer actually intended.
On top of this, as the concept of a sharing economy manifests itself more clearly in the public consciousness, the realisation that we don’t need to own half as much as we do becomes more widespread. Whether it’s sharing lifts, appliances or food, the more we share, the fewer products need to be created for each of us.
The sharing economy also provides an opportunity to support local communities and social enterprises by diverting much needed resources to those people that need them the most. Social value is also becoming an increasingly important factor to large organisations who need to demonstrate that their activities are having a positive social and environmental impact on local communities.
This concept is becoming more available to workplace environments with organisations like Globachain who offer a reuse marketplace which allows businesses to distribute resources and stock across business networks
Maintenance and repair: Maintenance and repair services aren’t exactly new concepts, but our attitude towards them could do with refreshing. That is, once something breaks, many of us would rather look at replacing it with a newer model rather than looking to get it fixed. If we saw maintenance and repair as more of a fact of product ownership rather than a last resort, we would be closer to a circular economy. Within a workplace environment this could mean considering rental and leasing options for office equipment and furniture rather than purchasing.
Renovation and refurbishment: Again, renovation and refurbishment are ideas and processes that have been around for a while, we just need to remove our aversion to them. Renovated and refurbished products, such as laptops, often function just as well as they did towards the beginning of their life-cycle but are available at a fraction of the cost, offering excellent value for both us and the planet.
There are companies that specialise in providing sustainable workplace solutions, by looking at how furniture and other equipment can be repurposed or refurbished within a business or alternatively donated or diverted to other orgnisations and charities.
Reducing, reusing and recycling: Just because a circular economy amounts to more than just recycling, this doesn’t mean that recycling and upcycling won’t be an integral part of it. Our attitude to recycling improves with each year, but if we’re going to move towards a circular economy, we need to get even better. For example, we need to start thinking of upcycling – changing the nature of a product without breaking it down – as less of a novelty and more of a key part of a product’s lifecycle. Businesses also need to look at their supply chains and consider where there are opportunities to reduce waste and reuse resources within their business to create less waste.
Here at Zest Recycle, we’re one of the leading waste management companies in the UK and we’re leading the charge when it comes to championing a circular economy. We analyse our customers’ businesses and look for opportunities where we can start building more circular and sustainable processes, whilst helping them save money and improve operational efficiency in the process. If this sounds like something your business could benefit from, all you have to do is get in touch.