How a Circular Economy Can Change Your Waste for Good

circular economyAccording to the EPA, the US produces 718K tons of trash per day – and most of it is landfilled. Because businesses are responsible for a large majority of waste production, their use of sustainable waste disposal methods that divert trash from landfills can have a major positive impact on our environment and our future. Your business has the power to turn from trash creators to trash innovators.

One rapidly growing segment of corporate sustainability strategies is the evolution of circular economies. This approach revolves around designing out waste and pollution by keeping resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while in use, then recovering and regenerating materials at the end of their service life. This economic model is an alternative to the common linear economy based on the ‘take, make, dispose’ model of production.

We encourage businesses to adopt more sustainable alternatives and to participate within a circular economy so that they can create revenue opportunities, reduce operating costs and divert waste from landfill.

Embracing a circular economy is all about rethinking and re-strategizing your resource management process. Instead of thinking of waste as a zero-value by product of commerce, we encourage businesses to shift their mindset and think of waste as a potential resource stream. This resource stream can not only be financially beneficial to your business, but can also help to create a more robust economy and benefit the environment.

Moving towards more ‘circular’ models is an emerging strategy to help businesses reach their sustainability goals, especially for those within in the industrial, retail and manufacturing industries. The trend of moving toward a circular economy is largely due to an increase in zero-waste goals and regulations and the opportunity to make money from waste.

Several large companies are leading the way toward a circular economy, uncovering the business benefits from moving to more circular models. For example, Dell utilizes closed-loop recycled plastic within its supply chain and has introduced reclaimed carbon fiber source materials into some of their products to reduce volumes of e-waste. Energizer is beginning to apply circular economic principles to their batteries. They are the first producer to attempt to utilize recycled materials within new battery design.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy is based on three principles:.

Principle 1: Design waste out from your processes

Within a circular model, waste should be designed out. Materials in the industrial, retail and manufacturing sectors should be designed to be easily recovered, reused or recycled. This minimizes the amount of energy that goes into making the product, and maximizes the ‘stored’ value within the material.

Example: One way to design waste out of your processes is by using less packaging and switching to recycled options when available. If your business produces a lot of cardboard waste, you could partner with another business that ships frequently to keep the cardboard in circulation longer.

Principle 2: Optimize resources

Resource optimization requires that businesses restructure their resource management processes to reuse and recycle as much as possible, so that materials remain circulating and contributing to the economy for longer. Sharing also increases product utilization, so your business can collaborate by partnering with other businesses to share valuable assets.

Example: For industrial companies, this could mean sharing warehouses or transportation vehicles when possible. Businesses in the restaurant industry can combine their food waste to sell in bulk to a composting company.

Principle 3: Keep refining the process

As with many other processes, refining these circular processes will increase the number and value of resources we are able to reuse and keep in circulation. This will, in turn, help to influence other businesses to move towards a circular business model. Individual business owners often find it challenging to become zero waste alone and benefit from partnering with other businesses to gain more control of where their waste is going.

One way we help businesses find partnerships is by optimizing the business/waste hauler relationship to ensure your circular plans are carried out, and identifying reuse and recycling possibilities for your waste.

Example: A door manufacturer generates significant sawdust during their milling. They collect it and sell it to a press board vendor to make particle board. The scrap generated is collected and sold to a local hardware store for kindling firewood. The firewood is sold to a consumer and the ashes can be added to a garden for fertilizer.

How to Get Started

As proponents of the Zero Waste movement and the Circular Economy, National Waste Associates is committed to helping your business achieve sustainable operating improvements by minimizing your waste and reducing your environmental impact with a resource management strategy. We encourage businesses to think strategically about turning waste streams into resource streams. Implementing a circular business model is a process that needs to start at the very first step of your industrial process or business system.

  • Identify the materials and processes that are pivotal to your business
  • Create processes to design the waste out from these materials and processes, and determine potential business partnerships to share and/or repurpose these resources
  • Continually develop your business model to change from generating waste streams to revenue streams

To get you started, NWA can help you identify business partners and map material flow to keep your resource stream moving in the right direction. In our next blog post, we will take a deeper dive into how your business can participate in a circular economy and start the conversation to build beneficial partnerships.

Even making small changes, such as recycling or reusing more of your waste, can help reduce operating costs, divert waste from landfill and reduce your carbon footprint. Making strides toward zero waste and participating in circular economy initiatives are growing components to a sound resource management strategy.

National Waste Associates is here to help you change waste for good. For more information, contact National Waste Associates at 888-692-5005 or email us at sales@nationalwaste.com.