June 1, 2022
SUMMARY: It's no secret that we, as a global community, are facing major challenges regarding sustainability. Companies like SI Group, however, are readily taking the lead in meeting this challenge. By driving forward the plastics industry’s march toward the circular economy and leveraging innovation, businesses are paving the way toward a greener tomorrow.
What is the circular economy?
The circular economy, at its core, is a fundamental reorganization of industries, managing resources in a more sustainable way, and avoiding turning them into waste. Reduce, reuse, recycle are key to making the circular economy a reality.
The linear economy – the way our economy has been structured up until now – was simple. You extracted valuable materials, you produced products, and took them to market, after which they quickly became waste. This arrangement has two flaws: the amount of waste that’s generated from this model and the sheer speed at which things become waste. In many products, there is a gulf between the time it took for the planet to generate the resources used to create the item and the functional lifetime of the product. Taking a disposable plastic coffee cup as an example, the natural and finite resource – oil – took millions of years to form, yet if you compare that to the amount of time coffee is actually inside the cup, the need for a total restructuring becomes clear. Whatever we extract from our planet needs to be used to its absolute maximum rather than for a fleeting moment.
The circular economy isn’t just about conventional recycling, it is challenging us to eliminate waste by striving to convert resources back into their highest possible valuable, upcycling where possible. It has gained incredible momentum across the world, becoming the mainstream topic supported by new generations of consumers.
Embracing the circular economy has almost become essential for any player within the plastics industry. Even from an industrial perspective, it’s necessary to:
Collaborating for circularity in the plastics industry
While the transition toward the circular economy presents exciting opportunities to accelerate and grow, it will also require a massive and fundamental change within the plastics industry. Transforming the linear economy into a circular economy is no simple feat. New rules and dynamics are being forged across the value chain. The transition will require unprecedented collaboration and new attitudes when it comes to how businesses conduct themselves.
One of the primary attributes of the circular economy – where plastic materials will stay in use and will be recycled multiple times – will inevitably introduce an element of complexity that isn’t present in the current linear model. As such, closing the loop will require all stakeholders to make the transition together, totally rethinking the established perceptions of value. One of the most important elements to success in the circular economy is partnership.
Trade organizations, such as Petcore and Plastic Recyclers Europe (both of which SI Group are members of) are instrumental in this kind of collaboration. Within these groups, businesses can participate along the entire value chain, helping the industry drive the circularity agenda forward as one movement. It also allows members to network with one another and identify business partners that have the resources to help you and your business become more sustainable
To keep this rework of the economy viable for businesses, the potential complexity needs to be controlled to some degree. A facet of this will be standardization. For example, driving design toward recyclability and circularity while also simplifying material flows across interconnected ecosystems.
The circular economy model will inevitably create new roles, many of which will be fulfilled by external disruptors with novel capabilities and new technologies. This is where the partnership aspect comes in, where larger, industry leading companies like SI Group have an opportunity to drive acceleration in the circular economy by combining these new competencies with their own expertise. Together, businesses can create a better tomorrow.
What does the future hold?
The circular economy is inevitable, and the world is just at the beginning. There are few subjects that have dominated the agenda as much as sustainability in recent years and this trend is only poised to accelerate. It is not something companies can afford to ignore anymore. This period of change offers an opportunity to plastics companies too. By seizing the future, staying ahead of the curve, and helping drive the circular economy forward, businesses can place themselves in good stead for the future.
Rewiring the industry will sometimes feel like two steps forward and three steps backward, but companies will have to show persistence. This change won’t happen overnight, but if the plastics industry works together and creates a better playing field for us all, we will hopefully look back on these years and be proud of the fundamental shift we drove forward for future generations.
Taking the lead
It is the responsibility of larger, global companies to take the lead on the circular economy. Not only do global companies like SI Group have the capacity to lead, but also the expertise to scale new solutions to an industry-wide platform.
It is also vital to have a solid base of effective manufacturing capabilities. Innovative solutions from the linear economy can be used to solve early problems in the circular economy, such as extending the usage of materials. Equally, however, having a base of genuinely innovative DNA within your company is important as the circular economy grows and the need for reinvented and cutting-edge solutions is made ever more noticeable.
Through collaboration and partnership, backed by a global supply chain and innovative portfolio, businesses have a chance to not only get ahead of the curve, but also help create a better world for us all.
Learn more about SI Group’s sustainability initiatives from our Senior Director of Regulatory Compliance, Dave Brassington in our blog here.
Jeroen Frederix is the Market Development Manager - Circular Economy at SI Group