Companies leading the circular charge to tackle climate change

rethink sustainability

Companies leading the circular charge to tackle climate change

The development of circular economies hold any number of benefits for our societies - mitigating climate change; dealing with plastic pollution; managing excess waste and overconsumption amongst them.

Now companies are adopting strategies in how they supply products to improve their environmental impact and embrace the circular economy. They are steering away from established modes of business towards innovation, rethinking production models to decouple them from the extraction of new resources and the production of waste.

…companies are adopting strategies in how they supply products to improve their environmental impact and embrace the circular economy

So who are the innovative firms at the forefront of pushing the boundaries to improve the future for all?


Reducing food waste

Food waste is one of the most frequently cited environmental problems of our time - a recent study put the volume generated in retail, hospitality and homes in the UK at 9.5m tonnes in 2018. Furthermore, it has been estimated that if food waste was a country, it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations

Now British start-up Winnow has developed a smart meter that analyses the amount of food being wasted in commercial kitchens. These smart weighing meters are installed on kitchen bins and catering staff throw away food as normal throughout the day, tapping the screen installed above the bin to identify what food was thrown in and at what stage. The Winnow system measures the food thrown away and then recommends ways to reduce the waste.

…the reduction of waste by consumers and retailers is the best strategy for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the food and agriculture industries

A 2019 UN report1showed the reduction of waste by consumers and retailers is the best strategy for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the food and agriculture industries. The Winnow system has been installed in over 1,000 commercial kitchens across China, North America, Europe and the UAE amongst others, as well as in global chains such as IKEA, Sofitel and Marriott Hotels. It claims to have saved 61,000 tonnes of carbon, which is the equivalent of taking over 13,000 passenger cars off of the road in a year.

Extending product lifespan

The recycling system around plastics has long been the subject of criticism, with the amounts that are reused a small fraction of what is being produced. What’s more, falling oil prices have impacted recycling levels as virgin plastic is considerably cheaper than recycled plastic. In the US, large amounts of plastics are also being sent to landfill due to a lack of capacity for them to be recycled.

French company Schneider Electric could have part of the solution to this problem. It provides software, hardware and services for energy management in homes, businesses, data centres and industrial plants. Its product range is huge, ranging from circuit breakers, switches, solar power inverters and renewable energy storage batteries to industrial robotics, data centre cooling systems and motion detectors for security systems. The circular economy strategy it has adopted means its products are now manufactured using more recycled content and recyclable materials. It has committed to doubling the quantity of recycled plastics in all products by 2025 and banned single-use plastics in all of its facilities.

Product lifespans have been extended through a range of initiatives, including leasing and pay-per-use programmes, which see the products themselves, and the components within them, being returned and re-used rather than becoming waste.

Product lifespans have been extended through a range of initiatives, including leasing and pay-per-use programmes, which see the products themselves, and the components within them, being returned and re-used rather than becoming waste

Since 2012, Schneider has increased the amount of waste it recovers from 8% to 95%2, the equivalent of saving 11,000 ton of waste from landfill. It's recently launched Green Packaging Project aims to reduce the use of plastic film in packaging by 97,000 square meters, which could cover 14 soccer fields.

The company has also introduced the ECOFIT service for industrial customers through which old electrical equipment is either fully or partially replaced with new in order to extend its lifespan, and the obsolete equipment is removed for recycling.

It’s not just companies that are tackling plastic pollution. Regulators are playing a part too. The EU’s post-COVID recovery package will impose a tax on non-recycled plastic and pass on the proceeds to EU coffers from January 2021.


Cutting carbon while creating clean water and energy

The international competition for water has led to a scarcity across the globe with a quarter of the world's population living in water stress3 As a result, solutions to relieve the problem surrounding water supply are much in demand.

In Massachusetts, Cambrian Innovation has invented the EcoVolt Reactor technology, a wastewater treatment system that typically removes 80% of pollutants to provide clean water while converting the chemical energy of the pollutants into clean, renewable energy.

Used in a wide range of industrial sectors, EcoVolt has enabled leading NapaValley winery, Rombauer Vineyards, to consistently remove 99.9% of the pollutants in its wastewater. Additionally, having an on-site wastewater treatment system means the winery no longer has to transport wastewater for treatment using diesel-burning trucks. This has seen Rombauer reduce its annual carbon emissions by 4,150 metric tons, which is the equivalent of the electricity used in 703 average homes in a year.

The company operates subscription services, in which it installs, owns and operates the system for customers, providing a circular energy and water solution for some of the world's largest industrial corporations and government departments.


Diverting e-waste

With the rise in the number of electronic devices and equipment being used has come a spike in e-waste. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has highlighted the problems of dealing with used materials as both adults and children risk exposure to hazardous substances during primitive recycling techniques.

HYLA Mobile is working to reuse and recycle the millions of smartphones and tablets that get discarded when consumers upgrade to the next version. Reports have suggested4 e-waste has grown by 9.2 million tonnes since 2014 and is projected to grow to 74.7 million tonnes by 2030. In the past 10 years, HYLA Mobile has recycled and reused 57.9 million devices, which has saved almost 18,000 tons of e-waste from going to landfill. Working with leading manufacturers and service providers, such as Samsung, Vodafone and Verizon, it provides a software platform and analytics services that enables retail companies to run cost-effective device collection and trade-in programmes. The used phones and tablets are then processed by HYLA's Device Processing and Liquidation service, which either refurbishes them or recycles the components within them.

According to the World Economic Forum, they have noted that a circular economy for electronics could reduce the costs to consumers by 7 per cent by 2030, and 14 per cent by 2040. 


The circular impact

Progress has been made but a lot more needs to come. The global rate of circularity is just 8.6%5 so there is a seismic shift needed in how businesses, governments and communities operate to realise the benefits that a circular economy can bring. One success story, and a model for other countries to follow is in the Netherlands - the country has achieves a 24.6% circularity and has been suggested as a blueprint for success.

The global rate of circularity is just 8.6% so there is a seismic shift needed in how businesses, governments and communities operate to realise the benefits that a circular economy can bring.

The benefits are clear - the World Economic Forum has calculated that global adoption of circular strategies could deliver up to $4.5 trillion in economic benefits by 2030. At the same time, delivering these economic benefits delivers less waste, reduces primary resource extraction, increases recycling, and uses less energy.

 

1 http://www.fao.org/3/ca6481en/ca6481en.pdf
https://sdreport.se.com/en/circular-economy-highlights
3 https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/aug/06/extreme-water-stress-affects-a-quarter-of-the-worlds-population-say-experts
4 https://publications.globalewaste.org/v1/file/271/The-Global-E-waste-Monitor-2020-Quantities-flows-and-the-circular-economy-potential.pdf
5 https://www.circularity-gap.world/

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