03 July 2019
The Circular Economy has become an environmental buzzword. But what exactly is it, how does it apply to cleaning firms, and what are the benefits? Lorcan Mekitarian of RPC bpi recycled products explains
In 1684, Thomas Savery invented the steam engine and shook the world. From that day, we began to sail, weave and engineer our way into the Industrial Revolution. Products became cheaper and available in greater quantities than had ever been possible, while faster, and larger, vehicles began to transport materials around the world. Labour was easily accessible as families poured into the cities, and no one spared a thought for the preservation of finite resources.
In the twenty-first century, at least in the developed western nations, we have become accustomed to a lifestyle that would have been unimaginable three generations ago. Cheap products and unlimited access to fossil fuels are the norm, and technological development continues apace.
Over the last 250 years, we have followed a linear model. Resources are mined and grown on a mass scale to fuel demand for consumer goods, which are used until the product no longer works, or is replaced by a more up to date model. In many cases, the raw materials that went into making the product cannot be split apart for recycling, or cost more to process than virgin material; they end up in landfill or are sent for energy recovery, and the process begins again.
This system is called the linear economy, also referred to as Take-Make-Waste. In contrast, the Circular Economy involves consideration for how we manage resources. Instead of following a linear system, reuse and recycling are incorporated into the design phase, so that end of life products can be easily repaired, reused or recycled.
Clear principles underpin the system. The most important is the designing out of waste and pollution. Since 80 per cent of the environmental impact of a product* is determined at the design stage, it is crucial to tackle waste early on. The next goal is to keep products, and the materials they are made from, in use as long as possible. One way to do this is to remanufacture components and materials into other products – for example at RPC bpi recycled products we recycle used plastic film into high-grade refuse sacks and other products too.
The final principle is to regenerate natural systems. In practice, this means returning valuable nutrients to the soil. This might be by making compost, or sending food waste to an anaerobic digester which uses enzymes to digest the food, producing renewable gas and a compost-like digestate in the process.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which works with business, government and academia to build a framework for the Circular Economy, has calculated that implementing the system will provide cost savings of $700 million to the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector, and a reduction of 48 per cent in CO2 by 2030. A change in approach is good for business, good for the planet and, also good for consumers – generating an additional €3,000 in disposable income for European households. The European Union and the UK have pledged to uphold the targets of the latest Circular Economy Package which includes a requirement for packaging producers, such as big brands and retailers, to fund the full cost of recycling for their products.
So how can cleaning firms and facilities managers play a role in the Circular Economy?
A good place to start is through procurement. Finding new markets for recycled material is currently one of the greatest barriers to keeping resources in the system, so buying recycled products such as refuse sacks has a much greater impact than you might think.
Investigate what happens to the waste you collect from customers’ sites and ask waste management partners to recycle wherever possible. In the meantime, encourage customers to opt for recycling systems and work with them to ensure that the systems are a success. Use clear signage and ask clients to educate staff through emails or intranet. Some cleaning firms remove individual bins; others provide posters or congratulate staff, reporting on how much recycling has taken place.
More and more businesses are choosing to engage with the Circular Economy; showing that you are proactive can help to win business, save money and, importantly, lessen our impact on the planet.
Case study – RPC bpi recycled products: Circular Business
RPC bpi recycled products is one of only a few UK businesses that can boast a true end-to-end recycling system, recycling plastics into high performance finished goods such as recycled refuse sacks at its UK manufacturing sites or feedstock for other companies to use such as its new Sustane grade of Post Consumer Recycled Polythene. In addition to producing 30 million refuse sacks each week, it is also one of the largest recycler of waste polythene film in Europe recycling 100kts of film and 50kts of rigid Polyolefins per year
The award-winning Green Sack range is manufactured from recycled British farm waste plastics. The finished product has a carbon footprint of at least 35% less than imported refuse sacks from the Far East and significantly lower than most other 100% recycled refuse sacks imported from Europe*
RPC bpi recycled products has achieved Zero Waste to Landfill accreditation at three of its four manufacturing sites. In 2018, it was awarded ‘Plastics Recycling Business of the Year’ in the Awards for Excellence in Recycling and Waste Management.