Anna and I frequently have conversations about the circular economy. While most people and businesses understand the importance of the three R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle – there is an even more important aspect, which many businesses do not yet utilise: Supporting the circular economy.
As we’re gradually emerging from the unprecedented turbulence of the Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses are looking at all aspects of how they operate to understand if things need to change. For some businesses, change has been a necessary factor simply to survive. But now could be an opportunity to consider how things could be truly different.
More than a buzzword, circular economy principles can make a huge difference to businesses. Not just from an environmental perspective, but also in benefitting the companies themselves.
What is the circular economy?
According to Zero Waste Scotland, a circular economy is ‘part of the solution to our global climate emergency. One in which products, services and systems are designed to maximise their value and minimise waste.’ It involves businesses and organisations re-thinking how they operate to move away from the linear model of ‘make, use, dispose’.
Rather than simply being a commitment to schemes such as recycling, or making use of recycled materials, this model puts a focus on completely reimagining how a business operates at all stages from design and manufacturing to sourcing materials and finding secondary uses for materials, with the ultimate goal of designing out waste. In other words ‘make, use, remake’
The environmental benefits
The circular economy model has valuable ramifications for sustainability and the environment. The more businesses and organisations across the UK are willing to get behind these values, the better it can be for green issues.
“Cutting edge circular economy services are vital,” says Chris Howard, Managing Director of Countrystyle Recycling “in order to help deliver the UK’s ambitious target of at least a 68 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade compared to 1990 levels”.
The environmental benefits are varied and multifaceted. Uptake in this model has been linked with environmentally-friendly improvements such as reducing greenhouse gases, the return of healthier soil and the reduction in use of finite raw materials.
The business benefits
Recent studies show that moving to the circular economy could increase resource productivity by 3 percent by 2030, across Europe. Thiscould generate cost savings equating to €600 billion per year alongside €1.8 trillion in further economic benefits.
But that’s looking at things on a broad scale. Individual benefits for businesses could include reducing the costs associated with raw materials due to the greater focus on recycled and reused materials. This, and other factors such as new potential revenue streams can be a positive in terms of profit.
The barriers to the circular economy
Of course, there are barriers for businesses looking to embrace the circular economy too. Common themes that have been recognised by early adopters include challenges within the supply line, quality issues with recycled materials, and coordination problems between organisations.
There is no doubt that circular economy principles still need time to deal with some of these challenges, but they can be overcome.
Given that the world is slowly emerging from Covid-19, now is the perfect time to re-evaluate and consider what is going to work for businesses moving forward. Yes, there are certainly challenges for implementing circular economy practices, but these may well be outweighed by the benefits.