What could a functioning circular economy look like?
A functioning circular economy would require an extensive shift in the way we produce, consume, and manage goods and resources. It would involve re-evaluating and reforming processes and systems with the goal of maximized resource efficiency and minimized waste. A holistic transformation is required. From redesigning products to be recyclable, less bulky, and longer lasting, to optimizing supply chains for reduced CO2 emissions and wastage: changes would need to be made at every step of the waste cycle.
But it’s not just the singular parts of the production loop that make for a functioning circular economy. The entire waste cycle must be streamlined to ensure maximum value is generated at each individual stage. Instead of following the traditional linear model where different institutions handle production, distribution, use, and disposal separately, each stage of the cycle should be logically connected and aim to resources available and reusable in the next step. With a clear strategy, organisations are afforded better control over a product lifecycle, allowing them to streamline processes, reduce inefficiencies, save costs, encourage innovation, and overall generate greater value.
Companies like PreZero are already taking the steps needed to lay the foundation of a functioning circular economy – but it will take much more than that. Collaboration among businesses, government bodies, and communities will play a pivotal role in driving collective efforts toward circularity. Cooperation fosters innovation and allows for the development and scaling of a shared infrastructure. By working together, we can hope to better overcome barriers, share information, combine resources, and collectively drive the changes needed to build a more sustainable circular ecosystem.
Examples of a circular economy
Nature has always operated within a circular economy of sustainability. Plants feed the animals which in turn enrich the soil, ready for the next cycle. By comparison, the linear economy and the discarding of raw materials is entirely manmade.
Fortunately, the necessary course correction is already underway. The drive towards recyclable materials was the first step. However, to begin closing the loop, even greater efficiency, innovation, and commitment is necessary. Proper waste collection and sorting, recycling and then reuse: All stages of the waste cycle must be prioritized for each individual material if we want to strive towards a circular economy:
Aluminum: 100% recyclable, aluminum is a great example of a material which can benefit a circular economy. Aluminum spray cans, for example, offer numerous advantages – they are hygienic, lightweight, robust, and resistant, among others – and are already in use across a wide range of industries (cosmetic, pharmaceutical, cleaning, etc.). With its partners TUBEX and NEUMAN ALUMINUM, PreZero Pyral has created a sustainable aerosol can made from up to 60% post-consumer recyclates that are 100% recyclable. We achieve this by sorting our aluminum by alloy so we can guarantee a high-quality product. With more than 100 million cans already part of the cycle, we’ve created a true circular product that can be recycled and repurposed again and again.
Plastic is a leading material in product manufacturing and packaging, yet only 10%* of plastics are recycled globally. 75% of global plastics, however, are thermoplastics – which means they can theoretically be melted and remolded multiple times, returning to the cycle over and over again in a closed loop system. With more than 30 years of experience in the plastic recycling industry, PreZero processes 95,000 metric tons of post-consumer and industrial plastic waste every year. The result: custom-fit raw plastic recyclates that our customers can return to the production cycle – and with the right “design for recycling” get their products ready for the return to the circular economic system.
What are the benefits of a circular economy?
Must all good things come to an end? Not in a circular economy. Closing the production loop and ending linear wastage is good for everyone. It allows us to build toward a healthier environmental climate and a more prosperous economic future.
Circular economy benefits include
Saving natural resources
The demand for raw materials for products and packaging will remain high in the future. However, if we succeed in implementing the efforts of politics, society and industry to ensure careful use of our finite natural resources and to use more recycled raw materials for production in a simpler and more natural way we will be able to unlock one of the biggest potentials of a functioning circular economy. Now is the time to invest in the future and align manufacturing with the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste (PPWR) regulations, whereby packaging must be designed so that it can be recycled, scheduled to come into effect in 2030.
Reduced amounts of non-reuse or non-recycable waste
A society that produces no waste would of course be desirable. But even if this ideal is not completely achievable, we have some powerful levers in our hands by adopting the principles of the circular economy. If we succeed in optimizing the design of products and packaging for their recyclability, in paving the way to dual systems through the licensing of packaging and in ensuring that consumers can carry out very good pre-sorting through understandable separation instructions, we have already accomplished a good part of the way. Every material that finds its way into meaningful recycling is a win. Recycling- and recyclate-use-quotas are means used within and outside the EU to accelerate our progress towards saving valuable raw material and reducing waste.
Lower carbon emissions
Studies have shown that recycling plastics reduces carbon emissions by anywhere from 30-80% compared to the original manufacturing process. Likewise, much less CO² is produced when recycling paper than when harvesting new raw materials for initial paper production. Aluminum recycling, in particular, is notably advantageous when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. Recovering one ton of aluminum from the waste cycle can save up to 19.3 tons of CO2 emissions and 1.8 tons of chemical substances which are required for material processing. What’s more, the recycling process can save up to 12,725kw of electricity and four tons of bauxite compared to primary aluminum production.
Waste is a byproduct of economic inefficiency. The old linear model failed to recognize waste as the valuable resource it is. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, companies that implement circular economy principles into their business processes could potentially see their raw materials and disposal costs greatly reduced.
Stimulated economic growth
A circular ecosystem stimulates job growth in well-paid industries including manufacturing, design, and recycling. New smart technologies can change and improve processes, greater knowledge of recyclable design and careful use of materials can save raw material costs and - through shorter transport routes - also significantly reduce (next to the amounts of CO2 for logistics) transport costs.
Greater competitive advantages
Get ahead tomorrow by starting today. New circular economy-orientated laws and regulations are continually being implemented across the globe. The complete transition from linear to cyclical production is inevitable. Proactive companies will gain a significant head start over their reactive competitors.
What key elements contributs towards a circular economy?
The is the idea behind the zero waste and circular economy concepts cannot avoid waste overall, however, they aim at fighting the wastage of valuable resources. Progress is being made around the globe towards this better production model.
Placing greater importance on reverse logistics, mandating repairable and long-lifetime products, and setting ambitious recycling targets are all done in the pursuit of a more circular economy.
However, there is much work still to be done. With PreZero consulting services, we can help you close the production loop faster by focusing on the key elements that contribute to a circular economy:
Waste prevention is dependent on packaging and product innovation. To maximize profitability and the amount of waste that can be continually repurposed, materials need to be straightforward to recycle. Lighter, leaner and more streamlined products and package designs made from mono-materials further reduce unnecessary waste, transportation costs and emissions. Compared to multilayer packaging, mono-material packaging consists of just one material, they are "unmixed" and can therefore be easily sorted for further recycling. The experts at PreZero Sustainable Packaging advise customers on packaging design and offer an easy introduction to recyclable packaging with the recently launched digital recyclability tool SPOT.
Longer product lifecycles
A throwaway culture is incompatible with a circular economy. Products need to be repairable and/or recyclable. The EU’s ‘right to repair’ initiative is a prime example of a circular economy-guided regulation designed to extend product lifecycles. Nevertheless, it is important to consider the end of product-use in the early design stages by embedding the view to later recycling. PreZero offers recycled materials as raw materials that are themselves recyclable and increases potential in recyclability and material sorting.
Efficient waste sorting & recovery
Billions of euros worth of plastic is disposed of in landfills every year. Literal goldmines, if only the materials were properly separated and recovered. PreZero keeps track of all steps of the circular economy. We analyze the current processes of municipalities, event venues or in industry, optimize waste management and separation systems, advise on waste avoidance, ensure the safe and efficient collection of different waste streams, sort, process and recycle in the best possible way in the spirit of a functioning circular economy.
Circular economy consulting with PreZero
Times are changing. Linear economy vs circular economy – it’s no contest. The traditional one-way system is outdated and inherently wasteful. Valuable resources manufactured at great cost only to be quickly discarded from the production cycle? There is a better way. PreZero takes a holistic approach to circular economy consulting. Covering the entire production cycle from packaging design to raw material collection and recycling, our services are designed to create circular economy models to meet any company-specific needs and individual circumstances.
Talk to one of our experts today and see how PreZero consulting services can support your business. We work with you to design a tailor-made plan based on circular economy principles, helping you achieve the highest sustainability while extracting the most value.