Article published by DSM on the Circular Economy & ECOR

“Ethical Markets advocates the green transition to circular economies globally!  This article describes some innovative projects based in Europe, which is currently ahead of the USA in this re-design of many  business models and materials for re-use and upscaling.  For full disclosure, Ethical Markets is a Media partner with ECOR and Hazel Henderson is a technical advisor.

~Hazel Henderson, Editor“

Eco-designing the future of the circular economy

We don’t want to think too much about landfill and incineration, especially as they serve to eliminate the unwanted products we are done with. Not only does it make economic sense to avoid wasting stuff, it’s the right thing to do, since we only have one planet to live on – and its resources are finite.

Our current rate of resource use is unsustainable. We are consuming and extracting more raw materials than our planet can provide in the long term. By 2050, there will be 6 to 7 billion middle-class consumers around the world inflating demand for food, materials and energy. Some of the resources we rely on for these products cannot be replaced by nature at the rate we consume them, with fossil fuels being an obvious example.

The circular economy

As part of tackling the waste problem, The European Commission officially introduced and adopted the Circular Economy Action Plan, which – amongst other things – intends to change Europe’s legislation on waste disposal and treatment. With the goal of reducing waste in mind, the plan outlines legally-binding targets to drive action. If it all goes according to plan, by 2035 we can expect only 10 percent of total municipal waste to be going into landfills, with all remaining waste materials repurposed and circulated back into our economy as useful products – over and over.

There’s plenty of work ahead – only 9.1 percent of the world’s materials used in products are currently ‘circular’ – the rest do not find their way back into the economy.

Smart Product Design

Europe is ahead in terms of realizing a circular economy, but there is more to be done to establish the paths to achieving this objective. One such path is smarter product design which basically entails:

  • Reducing the use of resources
  • Replacing scarce, hazardous and potentially harmful substances in products
  • Enabling recycling by only using the lowest possible diversity of materials and smart and safe materials
  • Only use reversible connections between different materials to enhance dismantling of products

With effort from all parties in the value chain, we can create products that are environmentally-friendly throughout the life cycle. Smart product design offers radical new ways to prolong product longevity, and makes it easier to reuse, replace and recover products that have reached the end of their lifespan – preventing waste in the first place.

Redesiging from scratch

If we’re looking at landfill, carpets are one of the top five single-product contributors in European countries; 2.2 billion pounds of carpet waste goes to landfill in Europe each year.

Attempting to recycle a carpet is a complex process because of its combination of different materials. DSM Niaga has overcome this and is redesigning products from the ground up to fit the circular economy. The Niaga® Technology for carpet production allows carpet-makers to use only one material for the full product (or use two materials that can be easily decoupled after use) for economically profitable recycling back into carpets. At the end of last year, we embarked on a research collaboration with ECOR, an advanced green building material, which will focus on developing fully recyclable and healthier alternatives for particleboard, MDF and other panel materials which can be used in industries such as building & construction, furniture, interior decoration and displays.

The Eco-Design Directive

Just recently the European Parliament recommended that the European Commission should continue to include more product groups selected on the basis of their ecodesign potential in a crucial piece of legislation: the EU Eco-Design Directive. A good next step!

The point is clear: a circular economy is imperative and everyone has a part to play in reducing landfill waste, end-user or otherwise. The transition towards an eco-innovation and eco-design approach to manufacturing is inevitable and already taking place.

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