Published 1 year ago.
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Whether making a widget or a culinary treat, prioritizing a circular life cycle for products helps keep them out of waste streams until they are negligible — or better yet, they never land there.
Those of us in the sustainability space have been talking about “circularity” or
at least the early 2000s. However, the idea of a circular economy was first put
forth in an essay by economist Kenneth E. Boulding in 1966, entitled “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth,”
where he explained that “we should be in a ‘cyclical’ system of production.”
Boulding theorized that the open economy was the “cowboy” economy where there
are unlimited resources, and that the closed economy was the “spaceman” economy
where Earth might be considered “a single spaceship without unlimited resources
for anything ... Therefore, man must find himself in a cyclical ecological
Many of us are working to find ways to extend the life cycle of almost every
product — from
These companies are looking to move away from the traditional, linear economic
model to one that is more circular, providing other benefits during the full
product life cycle.
At its base level, a circular economy comes down to limiting waste in the
manufacturing process and finding ways to extend the life cycle of every product
we use. For example, let’s look at the environmental impact of a
According to Deloitte
“A brand-new smartphone generates an average of 85 kilograms in emissions in its
first year of use. 95 percent of this comes from the manufacturing processes,
including the extraction of raw materials and shipping.” The EPA’s greenhouse
gas emissions (GHGs)
shows that this is the equivalent of driving 211 miles in a car. When you
consider that there are more than 4 billion smartphones in use in 2022,
including the one that you might be reading this article on right now, that’s a
lot of emissions created from one single product. The obvious circularity
question is: What parts of that smartphone could be put into constructive reuse
after the phone has served its initial purpose?
Companies in all industries are increasingly looking for ways to create
circularity in their operations. Food and beverage manufacturers are no stranger
to the pursuit of a circular economy — with a rise in tactics such as upcycling,
turning food waste into animal feed, and component recycling becoming part of
the new norm.
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The food and beverage industry offers unique opportunities for dramatic GHG
reductions by investing in the circularity of its core products and packaging.
As most people know, most discarded food either ends up in landfills or at
incinerators; and it’s an even larger contributor to GHG emissions than the
aviation industry. But food waste has enormous benefits for the planet, if
recycled correctly. Redirecting food out of the “cowboy” economy (landfills or
incinerators) and into the “spaceman” economy transforms food waste from a
terrible GHG generator to a decarbonization and regenerative-agriculture
Polar Beverages and Cabot Creamery are two examples of companies
successfully using a circular economic model to support their businesses and the
Polar Beverages, based in Massachusetts, is a
leader in the sparkling water and flavored soda market and has been a first
mover with its ESG initiatives. Polar has also set several goals to further
shrink its carbon footprint in the coming years.
The company has minimized all raw materials and ensured that any used are 100
percent recyclable, and has eliminated 31 percent of potential wasted material
for its fridge-style packaging of 12-pack cases. Polar has also reduced its
water usage by over 75 thousand gallons per day and has set a goal to increase
that number to 125 thousand gallons by year-end. The company continues to look
at ways to reduce PET materials, already seeing a reduction of 7 percent with
the advent of a new finish and cap in 2011 and 50 percent of PCR materials on
2-liter green bottles.
For circularity, Polar has engaged Vanguard
Renewables to recycle its expired and
off-spec materials at Vanguard’s Farm Powered® anaerobic
— where the nutrients are converted into renewable energy, organic fertilizer
and irrigation for Vanguard’s host farms. Vanguard receives the rejected
materials and mechanically separates the liquids from the packaging, creating
part of the daily feed for the microorganisms that produce renewable natural gas
at its digester facilities. Polar then closes the circularity loop by using the
renewable energy from the farm to power its manufacturing facility in
Worcester, Massachusetts — creating a truly circular approach to both its
waste and energy management.
Vermont-based Cabot Creamery long been a
sustainability leader. Much like Polar, the farmer-owned co-operative was an
early adopter of Vanguard’s Farm Powered solution to recycle its inedible food
waste to create clean, renewable energy and help mitigate the release of
greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. For over 100 years, Cabot Creamery has been
working to sustain local dairy farms and help build strong communities. Cabot
has been a forerunner in regenerative ag and
and was the world’s first dairy co-operative to become a certified B Corp.
Cabot’s approach closes several loops: First, the Goodrich Dairy
in Salisbury, Vermont and Barstow’s Longview Farm in Hadley,
Massachusetts are both Cabot Co-operative family farms that provide milk used in
Cabot’s manufacturing processes; and both host Farm Powered digesters. The waste
created from Cabot’s manufacturing processes is returned back to the two farms.
There, the anaerobic digesters convert the dairy byproducts into renewable
energy, which is used to decarbonize Cabot and many other community members
while the liquid portion returns the nutrients to the farm’s soils. Both farms
have reported a significant increase in crop yield and nutrient value since
converting to the circular fertilizer versus conventional sources.
I can’t help but think about how right Boulding was nearly 60 years ago about
the future of our global economy. Today, we are in a fight between the “cowboy”
and the “spaceman” for the future of our planet. It has become essential that we
accelerate our transition to a circular economy if we want to continue to have a
habitable “Spaceship Earth” to live on.
Companies such as Polar Beverages and Cabot Creamery Co-operative are leading by
example by closing the loop from the beginning to the end of their products’
life cycles. Whether making a widget or a culinary treat, prioritizing a
circular life cycle for products helps keep them out of waste streams until they
are negligible — or better yet, they never land there.
Published Dec 5, 2022 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
John Hanselman is Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Vanguard Renewables — the U.S. leader in farm-based organics to renewable energy. John launched Vanguard Renewables in 2014 to connect farm-based anaerobic digestion to agricultural resilience and produce renewable energy. His work includes finding a decarbonization pathway for the food and beverage industry by enabling the repurposing of unavoidable manufacturing and supply chain waste into renewable natural gas. John’s strength is bringing together partners in the decarbonization journey and Vanguard has strategic partnerships with Dairy Farmers of America and Dominion Energy, among others. (Read more ...)
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.