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Companies are leveraging new technologies to create an inclusive circular economy

There’s been a fundamental shift in thinking about how we produce, use and dispose of all kinds of products. This, in part, has been prompted by images of oceans choked with plastic, mountains of rubbish being bulldozed into landfill and ships transporting harmful waste from rich nations to developing countries.

At the European SDG Summit 2021 a session entitled Closing the Resource Loop with Sustainable Technologies, has heard from companies taking a lead role in the development of a circular, sustainable economy by producing common materials using innovative technologies, ecosystems and processes. 

Creating an ecosystem to upcycle ocean plastic

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Image: Origins and destinations of ocean plastic

Source: Sequal

Michel Chtepa, the Managing Director of Sequal explained how his company is innovating to upcycle plastic pollution removed from the ocean. Once processed, the plastic is used in products ranging from car seats to clothing.

The infographic above shows the scale of the problem Michel is trying to tackle. More than 12 million tonnes of plastic waste finds its way into the sea every year.

He told the panel that only collaboration across a wide ecosystem of stakeholders can create any hope of saving the oceans. “We interact with communities, scientists, public authorities and NGOs”, he said.

The company also collaborates with The Ocean CleanUp, which has made headlines around the world with its giant floating booms used to remove plastic from the oceans. Sequal also operates on a ‘glocal’ model, initiating solutions designed to solve localised problems that form part of the global challenge of ocean pollution.

In an effort to increase the impact of its work, Sequal is now engaged with 1,300 companies and brands in more than 60 countries as it looks to build demand for products made with upcycled marine plastic.

The principles of a circular economy

Manufacturing companies looking to transition to a more sustainable business model need a set of guiding principles to reposition the business within the circular economy ecosystem. At TCS we developed a framework to replace outdated linear business models based on the ‘take, make and dispose’ approach. 

 

 

 

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Image: A circular economy resource loop model

Source: TCS

The ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ loop detailed in the chart above places added value on resources across the value chain. It also maximises the remaining useful life of assets with techniques such as condition-based monitoring while ensuring reuse, remanufacturing, and recycling.

Technology closing the resource loop

Delegates attending the Closing the Resource Loop with Sustainable Technologies session at the European SDG Summit 2021 were treated to a live demonstration of how new technologies can overcome challenges that defined the old economy.

Henning Ohlsson, Director of Sustainability at Epson Europe showed how the company’s PaperLab system recycles office paper without using water, thus aligning with SDG 6 which tackles the responsible use and reuse of valuable water supplies. You can watch a video here that shows how the system uses powerful vibrations to reduce the paper to its component fibres, before adding binding agents to produce new sheets of paper, all in the user’s office and on-demand.

Ohlsson also explained that the PaperLab system is operated on a B2B service agreement rather than the machine being sold directly to customers. In the circular economy this model will become more common across a range of products, with businesses selling maintained services rather than products that consumers may well dispose of in a non-circular way at the end of the product’s life.

The value of circularity

The World Economic Forum estimates that around 90 billion tonnes of material is extracted and processed each year, contributing to about half of all CO2 emissions. It predicts an alternative circular economy would yield $4.5tn in economic benefits by 2030 while reducing harmful waste and protecting the world’s dwindling resources.