How a Circular Economy Can Change Your Waste for Good

circular economyAccording to the EPA, the US produces 695.9K tons of trash per day – and most of it goes to landfills. 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 a restorative industrial economy designed to reduce waste and pollution by either cycling materials through a supply chain to create biological nutrients that safely enter the biosphere or technical nutrients that work through a production system without entering the biosphere. 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, like a circular economy, to create revenue opportunities, reduce operating costs and divert waste from landfills.

Embracing a circular economy is all about rethinking and re-strategizing your waste management process. Instead of thinking of waste as a byproduct of commerce, we encourage businesses to shift their mindset and think of waste as a resource stream. Your resource stream has the power to impact your business and other industries, both economically and environmentally.

The concept of a circular economy is an emerging option for reaching sustainability goals, especially 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 benefits that can be derived by example. Dell announced the expansion of its closed-loop recycled plastic supply chain and introduced reclaimed carbon fiber source materials into some of their products. Energizer is beginning to apply circular economic principles to their batteries. They are the first to attempt to capture recycled materials to serve as inputs in new batteries.

What You Need for a Circular Economy

According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, a circular economy is based on three principles that address resource and system challenges experienced by industrial economies.

Principle 1: Preserve and enhance natural capital

Your business needs to first reduce the amount of natural materials and utilities it uses. A circular economy allows your business to enhance its natural capital by encouraging the natural flow of the system and creating opportunities for regeneration.
Example: One way of enhancing your natural materials 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 re-structuring your waste management process to repurpose, refurbish or recycle your waste to keep components and materials circulating and contributing to the economy. Most of a circular economic system takes place on a local level. Your business can collaborate and partner with other businesses to share assets and remanufacture products or components.
Example: For industrial companies, this could mean sharing warehouses or transportation vehicles when possible. Similar businesses in the restaurant industry can combine their food waste to sell to a composting company.

Principle 3: Keep refining the process

As with many other processes, refining the circular economy system will increase the number of resources we are able to reuse and keep in circulation. This will, in turn, help influence other businesses to implement a circular economy system. Business owners don’t have the infrastructure to accomplish zero waste alone, so when businesses partner together they can have more control of where their waste collection is going. One way we help businesses find partnerships is by optimizing the business/waste hauler relationship to ensure your plans are carried out.

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 are added to a garden for fertilizer.

How to Get Started

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

  • Identify the materials and processes that could play a pivotal role in building your circular economy
  • Determine potential business partnerships to share and/or repurpose these resources
  • Develop your business model to drive and support the change from waste stream to revenue stream

To help you get started, NWA can help you identify business partners and map materials 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 landfills and limit your carbon footprint. Making strides toward zero waste and participating in circular economy initiatives are growing components to a sound managed waste strategy.

National Waste Associates is here to help you change waste for good.