Circling Back to Recycling Basics

Source: Innventia

Heather Lynch

Increasingly, the concept of recycling is offered not only as a solution to environmental degradation and climate change, but also to rising production costs and shortages raw material shortages.

 A recent article in The Guardian noted that while a traditional, linear economy makes, consumes or uses, and then disposes of materials, a circular economy first evaluates all available options to ensure the use of as few resources as possible, and then strives to keep those resources in circulation for the maximum length of time, while squeezing the most value from those resources as possible. The focus then becomes to recover these same resources for other uses once they no longer serve the purpose for which they were originally intended. One of the ways to do all of this is, of course, to recycle.

However, recycling is not enough, in and of itself. While recyclability is increasingly considered at the earliest stages of product design, an emphasis on efficiency in production, coupled with systematic recycling, is key to achieving and maximizing value. Companies are increasingly beginning to recognize the inherent value of recycling activities in terms of simultaneously boosting profitability and sustainability.

In a recent Papermaking Towards the Future report, approximately 30% of respondents said they believed recyclability would be the most important characteristic of paper in the next decade. They also said recycled fibres were likely to experience the most critical shortage over the same time period. While recycling levels are increasing globally, particularly in Europe, there remains a shortage of available recycled materials, which drives up demand. This supply-demand disequilibrium, coupled with improving environmental awareness and societal value on functional ecodesign, place stringent demands on recycled fibres. However, this equation could also lay the foundation for an entirely waste-free society in the foreseeable future.

The paper industry has a critical role in supporting the circular economy and a drive towards zero-waste. Through a sustained emphasis on collection, sorting, ecodesign and efficiency in handling and processing of recycled fibres, companies like Innventia are making a profound difference, both in terms of trends, and on the bottom line.

The circular economy is much more than recycling. A linear economy makes, uses and disposes materials. The circular economy looks at all the options across the chain to use as few resources as possible in the first place, keep resources in circulation for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them while in use, then recover and regenerate products at the end of service life. This means designing products for longevity with repairability in mind so that materials can be easily dismantled and recycled, not to mention the alternative business models that encompass trade-ins, sharing models and service packages.