Circular Economy Demystified

Everybody is talking about Circular Economy. But do you know what is it in details, on how it applies to your business?

When something is perhaps seen as a ‘big’ word or concept it often helps to break it down into more tangible pieces, little bits everyone can relate to.

Enter the Cola bottle!

Coca Cola Bottles

It is made from a material bearing the wonderful name polyethylene terephthalate.

For those who crumble before such beauty it is often abbreviated as PET.

PET is a fantastic material!

It is easy to make, cheap, light-weight, can be transparent or tinted in any colour, and, last but not least, easily cleaned to the exacting standards of the food industry, which is why it is so ubiquitous.

Plastic Clamshell Fruit Packaging Disposable Fruit Contain

Now, plastic has got a lot of bad reputation, and it is true that plastics can cause a lot of damage to the environment if appearing in places where it doesn’t belong, e.g. in a fish’s stomach.

Plastic garbage in ocean

PET has got another favourable quality, namely, that it is chemically speaking an ester.

An ester is a compound that is formed by the reaction of an acid and an alcohol.

Formation of an ester

Esters lend themselves favourably to decomposition by enzymes, it is therefore possible to take PET, treat it with a suitable enzyme (a so-called esterase) and turn it back into its constituent components, the aforementioned acid and alcohol.

The acid and alcohol thus generated from waste plastic can then be reconstituted to give new PET to make new Cola bottles, clamshell packagings, fleece jackets and other products made from PET.

Ideonella sakaiensis- Plastic eating bacteria

This is circular economy in a nutshell, and this concept can (and must!) be applied to all products made from natural resources.

An ever increasing world population is using natural resources at an ever faster pace, by now the theoretical yearly supply of resources is used up not in December but in July.

Country Overshoot Days 2021

What does that mean for you as a company?

Or as an individual? What can you do?

You can analyse your waste streams and investigate uses for it.

What you throw away may be used by someone else in ways hitherto unthought of.

To come back to the example of the PET bottle, PET was originally made and sadly continues to be made from fossil resources, but the more PET is recycled (by which we mean actually RE-cycled, not down-cycled (i.e. pressing empty drinks bottles into garden benches or similar), the less fossil resources we need to make bottles, clamshell packagings, yoghurt pots and whatever else.

From PET to textile

The opposite of the the circular economy is the linear economy (i.e. you take natural resources, turn them into some product which at the end of its life is thrown away and new natural resources will be used to make the same products again).

In-between the linear and the circular is the recycling economy, which is where some of the product is reused/refurbished at the end of its life but still a significant amount of natural resources is required to make the next lot of the product in question.

From Linear to recycling economy

Most companies nowadays are still somewhere between the linear and the recycling economy.

The linear economy looks like the picture below:

Linear economy

And the recycling economy as follows:

Circular Economy

Of course, out in the fields, things rarely work out as easily as portrayed above.

If you would like to find out how to make the circular economy work for you, contact the experts (i.e. us) by clicking on the link below and let’s make green economy work for you!

Co-Fonder of Trianon Scientific Communication. Expert in Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainable Development for SMEs — https://www.science-by-trianon.com

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