Eco-Friendly Gifts Blog: The Circular Economy Is Here
Traditionally, products have a linear consumption process. This means that a product is made, it is sold, and then it is disposed of via typical public waste disposal processes such as landfill, recycling and incineration.
We haven't included recycling as we know it in the circular economy we are thinking of, because the recycling rate for conventional plastics are so low. When we are thinking of the circular economy, ideally rates of independent recycling processes specific to each product should be 100%. As well as low rates, recycling plastic is specific to the range of materials that make up conventional plastics, which makes it not specific enough to be counted as a circular process.
In this blog, we are going to look at the circular economy as a whole, and specifically at what we are doing at LFHP with regards to becoming a circular business.
What Is The Circular Economy?
The circular economy is different from our current economy, in that products are designed to be reused, returned and independently recycled into the same product. This will lead to less waste entering landfill and the natural environment. This means that the circular economy involves producing services providing independent recycling, as well as just the products themselves.
Let's take the example of a single use plastic cup. Assuming it won't be successfully recycled (only 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled), the plastic bottle, let's say is made of PET, will end up in landfill, an incinerator, or sadly, the natural environment.
Our compostable cups are made from PLA, a biodegradable and compostable bioplastics produced from renewable resources. With LFHP zero, we bring these compostable cups into the circular economy. Just being compostable does not make it part of the circular economy, the process enabling guaranteed composting of the cups is required.
LFHP Zero is our range of schemes, designed to reduce waste sent to landfill and bring many of our gifts into the circular economy.
We see the future of waste management being developed by the producers of the products entering the waste stream. By developing independent end of life journeys for every product, and making that process widely available for free, or low cost, much less waste will enter the traditional waste flow.
In theory, every single item made should have a specific end of life process. We are currently providing two schemes under LFHP Zero, which are our compostable post back scheme and tee-shirt recycling programme with our supplier.
When it comes to clothing, there are already several concepts that are part of the circular economy. Upcycling, donating to charity and selling clothes on second hand fashion websites are all mechanisms in which clothes can be kept out of landfill. These are great ideas, and with our clothing recycling programme, we can stop clothes entering landfill when, for whatever reason are being considered to be thrown away. At the end of all circular processes, there should be a systematic process in place from the original supplier, to ensure that no waste goes to landfill.
Even though these processes, and developing products that will enter these circular journeys cost money, the overall benefits economically will outweigh the cost. It is an investment to put money into reducing waste sent to landfill, because eventually the current processes we have in place will not be possible anymore, due to their lack of sustainability.
By creating these processes, more jobs will be created, new industries will form and we will be economically stronger for it. Up until this point in modern history, it has been easier to make money by causing harm to the environment. This is changing rapidly, and through consumer choices and environmental effects, businesses are showing their support for the environment.
However cynical this may be, especially when it comes to large (we won't name them) multinational fizzy drinks producers who have topped the list of the world's most polluting companies for the last decade or so, who are suddenly now interested in fighting plastic pollution after causing the problem themselves, the overall effect regardless of the motives behind it are positive.
In order to ignite mass change in the populus, we need to get everybody on board. This includes the people who have no interest in the environment, and protecting the world around them. In order to reach these people, we can do two things: educate them, or pay them.
By using reward schemes that reward consumers for disposing of their products into the developed circular end of life process, we can reach the people who either don't know, or don't care about the importance of protecting our environment.
Education can be used to reach children easier, due to schooling, but it won't be so easy when educating adults. In theory, the combination of educational and financial incentive should be enough to encourage the majority of people to use the circular economy.
The Future Of The Circular Economy
Even today, there are many start-ups as well as existing companies who are designing their products with a circular service included. These are mostly companies who are choosing to offer their products on a rental basis, rather than a permanent one.
Renting is and will continue to be a key part of the circular economy. It sums up the mentality of the circular process, in way of recognising nothing is permanent. The idea of ownership is a western idea, and is embedded into our culture. The drive to own objects with value is the main driver of our current economy. But if you think about it, nothing anyone buys will really last their whole life time, even when it is advertised as such. By recognising this, we can see the importance of implementing an end of life process in all items sold.
If we take a TV for example, and it's the latest, flashiest TV, you might purchase it with the intention of watching that one TV for the rest of your life. But in reality, a newer, better TV will be produced in a few years, and you will be considering getting the new one to replace the old one.
This shows that even permanent objects will eventually get thrown away, so why not make sure there is a process to deal with it at the end of its life? In the grand scheme of things and on the scale humanity is at, the difference between a 'single use' water bottle which will last one day before being thrown away, compared to a 'permanent' TV which let's say lasts five years, is really not that big.
To show this, let's imagine we are 1,000 years in the future, in the year 3020. A single use water bottle lasts for one day, which is 0.027% of 1,000 years. A TV which lasts five years is still only 0.5% of 1,000 years.
So in this time frame, and the assumption that the average tv lasts five years before being thrown away, 200 TV's will be purchased per household. This means that over the course of 1,000 years, 199 TV's will be thrown away per household.
With the average number of TV's being thrown away in the UK every year standing at 5 million, we can start to see the problem of not developing end of life processes for 'reusable' and 'permanent' objects.
By starting to let go of the idea of objects lasting forever, we need to learn to accept that everything has a life span. Once we have recognised this, we can then easily see that every item has a lifecycle, rather than just a life of use with no end.
With regards to who should pay for the end of life process, it should be the company producing the items. If they aren't prepared to pay to keep their product from harming the environment, then they shouldn't be allowed to produce it.
Companies could form partnerships with end of life processes, to share the cost of development and use. If we continue with the TV example, all parts of all TV's could be made from uniform materials, which would ensure they can be recycled easily and efficiently. To take it a step further (this is unlikely due to governments not wanting to regulate companies), why not just have 1 television model? The companies selling the TVs would still make money, the retailers would still sell to consumers, and consumers would still watch TV.
But now, with the one model of which there is a straight forward, efficient plan to recycle independently with 100% success rate, there won't be any waste from TV's.
The danger of this is the obvious potential fall in quality, as there would be no competition. This could lead to higher prices for TVs and a drop in quality. This is also the most extreme example, to make a point. Realistically, TV manufacturers could make their TVs rentable instead of purchasable, and at the end of the five years, they would come and pick up the TV, and replace it with a new one.
On their end, they would recycle the TV's independently, with zero waste going to landfill.
With this blog, we have hopefully given an insight into what the circular economy is, how it differs from the current linear economy, and what the future could look like. The linear economy is not sustainable, which is why we are seeing this shift into the circular economy.
If you would like to read more about sustainable processes and how we are working within the circular economy, feel free to subscribe to our mailing list at the bottom of the page.