The idea of a circular economy has become quite the buzzword in recent years–but what exactly does it mean? Let’s break down its benefits and challenges and how chemical and waste management are a key part of the solution.
In our traditional linear economy, products are made, used, and then disposed of. But in a circular economy, the goal is to avoid the end of the product life cycle through processes of repairing, reusing, refurbishing, and recycling.
A circular economy starts with procurement – utilizing recycled resources rather than sourcing for raw materials. At the end of that product’s life cycle, its individual parts are broken down to be reused and repurposed once again. Energy and resources are highly valued throughout this process, and nothing is wasted or thrown away.
On a large scale, several global economies are embracing the concept of a circular economy. In Europe, the Green New Deal is the EU’s action plan for moving away from linear waste cycles towards a robust circular economy. In the US and Canada, broader recycling initiatives are being implemented to provide infrastructure for more sustainable waste management. Achieving a truly circular economy is a slow process, but it’s one worth pursuing in order to create a sustainable product life cycle.
In this article, we’ll be answering the following questions:
- What are the benefits of a circular economy?
- What are the challenges faced when transitioning to a circular economy?
- Why are chemical and waste management keys to success?
- How do digital solutions improve chemical and waste management programs?
Benefits of a Circular Economy
A circular economy is one that is intentionally regenerative. It considers every aspect of the product life cycle and works to improve the performance of the resources being used.
By intentionally using resources to their fullest potential, a circular economy creates numerous economic benefits. In fact, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development estimates that creating a circular economy is a $4.5 trillion commercial opportunity.
These benefits occur through economic growth, including the development of recycling and repairing industries that provide a much-needed service in the circular economy. Additionally, innovation in creating new uses for recycled items and materials will see major growth as companies seek ways to recycle their products.
A circular economy also contributes to resource consumption reduction. Studies indicate that by reducing consumption, businesses can see a 70% increase on material savings. This not only reduces costs but encourages the development of a robust supply chain that can manage resources throughout every part of their life cycle.
The circular economy is truly the foundation of sustainability. It not only changes how we think and do business, but drives innovation to create new solutions for challenges within our current system.
Challenges to Transitioning to a Circular Economy
Despite the benefits, there are still many challenges standing in our way of adapting to a circular economy.
One issue of a circular economy is that it limits consumer convenience. Customers will have to learn how to move away from buying what they want to what is actually available. When keeping to the principles of a circular economy, some items might not be produced or sold locally. This means consumers will have to choose from other alternatives.
A lack of local regulations or widely accepted standards of waste management also inhibit the transition to a circular economy. Likewise, a lack of waste infrastructure and recycling technology prevent a circular economy from being fully functional. In addition, poor business models and practices that aren’t built for a sustainable economy make it difficult to streamline the transition from a linear economy to a circular one.
In order to achieve a robust circular economy, each of these challenges must be addressed, systems and infrastructure must be updated, and business models must be revised.
Why Chemical & Waste Management are Key
Responsible material sourcing is critical for adopting a circular economy. One way to optimize this process is by focusing on the chemicals used throughout the production process. Improving these chemical processes through an expanded risk assessment is one step towards creating a circular cycle.
An expanded chemical risk assessment should assess hazards of chemical disposal and exposure and identify safer or less toxic alternatives that could increase reusability. The risk assessment should also include considerations for how chemicals can be responsibly and appropriately reused.
Another key aspect of adopting a circular economy is to improve the waste management process. Here, it’s important to overhaul our understanding of waste management by emphasizing a cradle to cradle approach, rather than a cradle to grave approach. This effectively means taking the “waste” out of waste management to find new ways to repurpose what we already have.
With the right assessment tools and capabilities, businesses will better understand the product life cycle and be able to identify ways to optimize and improve their systems for a circular economy.
Using Digital Solutions to Work Towards Circularity
That brings us to digital solutions–one of the most effective ways to improve both chemical and waste management for greater sustainability.
Digital tools assist with supplier management, helping companies understand supplier processes and how they comply with circularity goals. By identifying criteria for suppliers and storing that data, digital software can help companies evaluate their suppliers and compare them to other suppliers in the industry.
Within chemical management, digital solutions provide businesses with access to a safety data sheet library and identify what chemicals are in products, how safe those chemicals are, and what regulations apply to those chemicals. They can also offer options for reuse potential and provide risk assessment data on safety and environmental considerations.
For waste tracking, digital tools can help businesses divert landfill waste by pinpointing where products could be reused or recycled. This increases waste recovery rates as well as business revenue streams by finding opportunities to sell back leftover or used materials to companies that can repurpose them.
Making Empowered Decisions
Chemical and waste management tools are an excellent way to track objectives and goal projections. Digital solutions are powerful tools that provide the data for comparative analysis and future forecasting. They give you access to information that can help make impactful, data-driven decisions.
With the confidence of knowing your numbers and having the data to report your progress and gains, you’ll be able to optimize your business and orient it towards a circular product life cycle.
To learn more about optimizing waste management, watch our webinar, Gather Around: How to Optimize Waste and Chemical Management and Embrace a Circular Economy.