A circular economy is an economic system that focuses on eliminating waste and the unnecessary use of resources.
What that means to businesses, industries and individuals can vary, leading many to ask, “Which practice supports a circular economy?”
Using resources efficiently is the practice that is central to how the circular economy is implemented. In other words, the goal of a circular economy is to use as few resources as possible by keeping materials in circulation and getting the greatest value from them.
That may mean different things to different companies based on your industry, what services or products you offer, and your sustainability goals. After all, there are many ways to incorporate circular economy concepts, from salvaging used parts for production to incorporating circular economy practices into your waste management plan.
How The Circular Economy Works
When looking at circular economy practices across several industries, they all have one thing in common … They focus on using as few resources as possible and keeping what resources they do use in circulation.
How does the circular economy work? Currently, many companies operate under a “take-make-dispose” approach, which is known as a traditional linear economy business model?
Under this approach, companies face many challenges, such as unpredictable raw material prices and a high cost of constrained resources. For this model to work, a company must heavily rely on large quantities of cheap, easily accessible materials and energy.
Companies that focus on a “make-use-recycle” model, on the other hand, focus on designing a system that doesn’t produce waste and pollution and keeps materials in continual use. This approach is becoming popular among domestic and global companies that are renewing their commitments to sustainability, looking for ways to boost the economy and are working to create jobs.
Examples Of A Circular Economy In Practice
Taking a closer look at how companies have implemented practices that use resources efficiently can give you a better idea of how the circular economy works … and how you can implement these practices in your operations.
For example, in 2014, Unilever achieved its goal to keep 100% of the non-hazardous waste it generated in its network of 242 factories out of landfills. Any non-hazardous waste the company generates is reused, recycled or recovered.
In 2018, Procter & Gamble released its new sustainability goals called Ambition 2030. These goals include manufacturing shampoo bottles made with 20% beach plastic, introducing packaging that is all paper and plastic free, going carbon neutral, and eliminating waste from its more than 100 production sites.
Lehigh Technologies is working to reduce the number of tires that go into landfills by cryogenically freezing the rubber from waste tires. Every year, nearly 300 million tires are discarded in the United States. This innovative technology keeps materials in use because the cryogenically frozen tires are shattered, creating a powder that is then used as a raw material for several consumer applications.
Lastly, PolyPeptide, a global biotechnology company, generates solvent waste as part of its manufacturing process to create peptide-based generics for the veterinary and pharmaceutical markets. The company discovered a way to cut costs using innovative technology that recycled its hazardous waste, which we’ll explore below.
Using Resources Efficiently In Waste Management
Particularly when it comes to hazardous waste, companies have a unique opportunity to incorporate the circular economy system into their waste management plans, which can offer many long-term benefits.
PolyPeptide, for example, used to send its solvent waste from southern California to Arkansas for disposal. Once the solvent waste reached its destination, a portion of it went through a fuel blending process, while the remaining portion underwent an incineration process.
Sending its solvent waste across the country not only increased transportation costs for the company, it also dramatically increased its carbon footprint through the burning of fossil fuels needed for fuel.
The company decided it needed to make a change not only to cut costs, but also put into practice a new component of its corporate sustainability plan that supports the circular economy. Rather than ship its solvents to Arkansas, the company made the decision to send its solvent waste to Temarry Recycling.
Temarry now manages that waste through a distillation process that repurposes the solvents for continuous use. Whatever is unable to go through the distillation process is used as an alternative fuel for manufacturing cement - rather than being incinerated.
By transporting the solvents just 70 miles south of its San Diego location for this process, PolyPeptide has also dramatically improved its carbon footprint.
How Closed Loop Recycling Supports The Circular Economy
The distillation process that PolyPeptide takes advantage of at Temarry Recycling is part of a closed loop recycling system. Closed loop recycling embraces the circular economy concept because it focuses on the recycling of a material indefinitely without degradation of properties.
For companies like PolyPeptide that want to improve the sustainability of their waste management streams, Temarry Recycling takes an existing physical product (industrial solvents) and recycles it with useful waste byproduct.
Through this cutting-edge technology, Temarry gives companies the tools to embrace a circular economy. Here’s how the system works:
- A waste to energy process converts high BTU organic solids to steam to be used as energy on-site.
- A solvent distillation process (where PolyPeptide’s solvents are recycled) utilizes the steam from the waste to energy process to power the recovery stills. Through distillation, spent solvents are remanufactured and sold back into industry for their original solvent properties.
- A water treatment process then extracts usable water from industrial hazardous wastes, including acids, bases, coolants, oily water and latex paint. Treated water is used on-site for industrial needs.
Like PolyPeptide experienced in the company’s quest to use resources more efficiently, West Coast companies can substantially reduce their waste transportation costs and meet their sustainability initiatives because Temarry’s processing facility is located in Tecate, Mexico just across the border from San Diego, CA.
Using Resources Efficiently For A Sustainable Future
Using resources efficiently is the primary focus of a circular economy. Any practices that employ this methodology are working toward a more sustainable future.
A company’s waste management structure offers the perfect opportunity to incorporate circular economy concepts, especially if a company regularly generates hazardous waste such as spent solvents.
Although the circular economy concept can mean something different to every company, if your business generates waste, taking advantage of closed loop recycling can offer many long-term benefits to your company and the environment.