The unveiling of new research across industries has revealed that existing tools and collaborative research could hold the key to driving forward the shift to a more circular economy.
As part of the Circular Economy 100 (CE100), a pre-competitive innovation program designed to accelerate the transition to a circular economy, industry giants such as Dell, Arup and Renault have been teaming up left and right to launch a series of Co.Projects — formal collaborations between CE100 members — that focus on delivering circular solutions for product repair, recycled plastics and the built environment.
The members of three recently completed Co.Projects have shared the results of their collaborative research in an effort to inspire others to adopt circular principles into their own operations.
The first, a cooperation between tech giants Dell, Lexmark, Philips, Renault, Schneider Electric, Suez Environment, TU Delft and Veolia, involved the mapping of material pathways and loops of the main engineering plastics used in products such as cars and electronics. Two best practice case studies were used to uncover the main barriers to closed plastic loops and prove recommendations for successful implementation. The first was of closed loop ABS recycling at Dell and the second of closed loop PP recycling at Renault, both of which provide examples of how brands can navigate the challenges that often arise in closed loop plastic systems.
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The project, which culminated in the production of a paper on plastic streams and material loops, found that the scale and effectiveness of collection activities, the lack of a market for recyclates and limited skills, knowledge and collaboration of and between value chain partners are major hindrances to the closed loop recycling of plastics.
Administered by eBay, HP and iFixit, the Empowering Repair Co.Project was developed to empower consumers to repair their tech products. The project involved a two-step process which commenced by taking account of current noncommercial repair activity and identifying barriers based on surveys conducted among 317 Repair Cafés in 10 countries and providing recommendations based on both to encourage self-repair.
The surveys revealed that a lack of product information and not being able to find a suitable guide was the most significant barrier to successful repair. The next major causes were related to spare parts — either people were unable to find any or they found them too expensive. The report suggests that addressing these two key issues — repair information and spare parts — could unlock additional potential for product lifetime extension through non-commercial repair.
The second part of the project saw eBay, HP and iFixit create an online portal with production information to aid in the disassembly and recycling of IT products and more efficient data capture. The portal is a work in progress and will be continuously updated as new products emerge.
Circular business models for the built environment was the focus of the third Co.Project, a collaboration between Royal BAM and Arup. The report explores how the built environment fits into the concept of the circular economy and how the adoption of circular principles can provide added benefits to the value chain in construction. By highlighting the value proposition to all stakeholders, it is intended that more companies will see the benefit of a built environment based on the circular economy.
Meanwhile, a new study from Rezero, Zero Waste Europe and the Reloop Platform has revealed that existing measures and incentive schemes that have been used successfully for products such as beverage containers can effectively usher Europe into the next stage of the circular economy. The research also identifies additional key waste streams that could benefit from such measures.
“The move from a linear to a circular economy will require changing the economic incentives. This study provides a great toolbox to double or even triple collection rates for a variety of materials, including waste streams with existing extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes,” said Joan Marc Simon, Director of Zero Waste Europe.
According to the study, deposit refund schemes, refundable taxed and buy back schemes could play a critical role in driving down plastic pollution and reducing littering if adopted into public policy. Rethinking Economic Incentives for Separate Collection highlights the fact that despite widespread support for the circular economy, current fiscal policies continue to support a linear economy model. This is evident in low collection rates for textiles (< 20 percent), cigarette butts (< 35 percent), batteries (< 40 percent) and even lower rates for other items such as coffee capsules.
The study proposes several economic instruments to increase the collection and recovery of various waste streams, including:
- A deposit system for mobile phones, in which a refundable deposit is applied to phones in order to incentivize collection rates, thereby increasing recovery of scarce and valuable materials.
- A new EPR system for carpets, which could help increase the currently low recycling rate of (< 3 percent) of this waste stream.
- A deposit system for coffee cups in an effort to reduce the more than 15 billion units of disposable coffee cups that go to waste in Europe every year.
“Deposit return has been used to capture high quantities of empty beverage containers for decades. With more than 35 successful systems around the world and growing, maybe it’s time for governments to consider this economic instrument for their own countries or regions. Just look to the best practice programs and follow their lead,” said Clarissa Morawski, Managing Director of the Reloop Platform.