A Circular Economy - more than just recycling

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A circular economy means a system that eliminates waste; where products are made from material that do not land in the landfill or ocean for years and years on. But more than this, a circular economy is about better end-of-life recovery and about minimising energy use.

If recycling means high usage of energy and resources and hence a net environment cost, then it is only a partial solution. Furthermore, many of the products that we think are ‘recycled’ are actually ‘downcycled’.  For example a plastic milk carton can never be recycled into another carton but made into a lower-quality item like plastic lumber, which can’t be recycled again!

Aside from the above, recycling is harassed with other problems: 

• Less than 10% of recyclables plastic containers get to the recycling facility as this is dependent on customers’ behaviour patterns.  They need to end in the right bin and not the garbage bag on the way to the landfill!   

• Even if they do get to the recycling facility success of recycling depends on the facilities capability.   Recyclable paper food containers can pose a challenge to the facility because of their polyethylene coating.   

• The deposit return system (DRC) for single-use containers is only as good as the collection system for recycling in place. The increase use of kerbside recycling services, online shopping and home deliveries have posed a challenge to the DRC.

• There has been effort at the industry and government level to promote recycling and some success has been achieved, but the volumes of collection materials required by the recycler have still not been achieved.   

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation recycling is an ‘outer circle’ of the circular economy and requires more energy input than the ‘inner cycle’ of repair. reuse and remanufacture.  

A circular economy is one where the technical part of a product is being reused and the biological part is increasing agricultural value, using renewable energy. 

So aside from not chewing gum and drinking from straws, a good sustainable alternative is using biodegradable and compostable containers.  A biodegradable product that breaks down quickly and is compostable results in a by-product that is rich in minerals and hence ideal for gardening and farming.  Compost is a natural plant growing medium that reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.

Disposable plastic tableware is a common everyday product used increasingly by households and adding to the growing plastic waste problem in no small measure. The Great British Clean 2015 Report  (source: http://www.mcsuk.org/) in its clean up last September found 3,298 plastic items per kilometre surveyed compared to  2,457 pieces in 2014.   

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EMAIL: gurcharn@cornware.co.uk

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