How businesses can embrace the circular economy and create their own small-scale circular economy. 
“The Circular Economy”? I’ve heard of that. Isn’t it about recycling? 
 
Well, yes, sort of. 
 
We all live in a world where the majority of people and businesses acknowledge that we need to reduce energy usage, reduce waste, reduce pollution, reduce consumption of precious resources, and the “Circular Economy” has become a term to highlight how what one company discards as waste can be recycled and reused as a commercial product. We have social and commercial drives to ensure that plastic products use a certain minimum percentage of reclaimed or recycled plastic, there’s an industry built upon converting domestic waste into usable energy and we have a recycling policy which tried to minimise what is sent to landfill. 
 
In general we are coming round to the idea that we can’t continue to create, use and dispose of things, because, put bluntly, that is using raw materials and converting it into waste. Everyone acknowledges (or should) that we need to recycle much more, and we should reduce our use of fossil fuels and virgin materials, but what is this “circular economy”, and is it truly achievable? 
From Linear to Circular 
 
Our current linear economic model now includes the opportunity to recycle materials from our waste, so they can be re-used in some form. In general this is done by separating materials out and reprocessing them to be used again. 
As an example, did you know that a printed newspaper, when recycled, can be used for newspaper another 12 times? But only if it’s returned back to a central collection point. 
 
Did you know that recycling aluminium containers is a lot more energy-efficient than processing aluminium from ore? 
 
Did you know that waste food can be used to power a generator? 
 
And that is part of the problem. 
We have all become nearly 100% dependent on an infrastructure which supports recycling, and the only thing we need to think about is the binary decision – can it be recycled or not? The processing needed to convert the waste after we’ve finished with a product is usually beyond the understanding or scale of individuals and businesses, so we continue to do our “bit” by recycling. 
Ever-Decreasing Circles 
 
However, there is still a lot that many businesses can do to not only reduce their waste, but to benefit directly or commercially from it. Instead of only being part of a larger, nationwide circular economy, there are steps we can take to shrink the loops down to our own premises. 
 
Take food waste, at the domestic end. Raw vegetable matter, peelings etc, can be composted. In time, using a natural process with minimal intervention, that becomes a nutrient for the soil. The soil can be used to grow food, and the cycle continues. Cooked and animal products can also be broken down using a “wormery”, again using minimal intervention, and the waste product from that is a strong fertiliser which can be used for growing more food produce. (No, it doesn’t smell, and yes, it can be suitable for high-rise living). 
If a business has shredded paperwork, that paperwork can be used for animal bedding; after use as bedding, it can be composted as well, in most cases, and this can reduce costs for commercial disposal. 
 
Many industries need to apply heat to a process, and that heat is dissipated either to the atmosphere or to drainage. Removing some of that heat to put back into the process reduces the energy bills, and also may reduce regulatory requirements for discharge. 
 
In some cases, there isn’t a simple business case for the organisation, but there may be a partner organisation or neighbouring firm which could make use of your waste, which could benefit the both of you. A bit of local mutual co-operation will also develop some strong relationships too. 
 
It often needs a bit of independent thought and a challenge about what is seen as “normal practice”, to be able to hit on some novel but simple ideas to make use of our waste streams. 
It often needs a bit of independent thought and a challenge about what is seen as “normal practice”, to be able to hit on some novel but simple ideas to make use of our waste streams. 
 
Don’t Just Recycle – Re-use or Re-purpose 
 
A common approach is to view something that is no longer needed as a waste product – only suitable for recycling. 
 
However it can often be possible to make use of that product for other purposes. 
 
Instead of seeing it as a waste product, can it be a raw material or useable for a different or similar function? 
 
Sometimes this may need some expert advice, but that is often available: 
 
If damaged, can it be repaired and re-used? Or can it be adapted so it has a similar use? 
If worn out, or at end of life, can it be re-scaled and used as another product? 
If just unused or surplus to requirements, does it have a second-hand value, or can it be adapted to something you do need? 
In the case of laser printers, there’s a strong business case for refilling the cartridges, as mechanically, they have a fair bit of life left in them, plus the remaining toner inside the cartridge (and there can be a substantial amount that might be discarded). There are suppliers who research the method and test the quality extensively – one of which is U Refill Toner, who we’ve used frequently with excellent results
So with a little ingenuity, an understanding of what your internal processes are and the ability to challenge what you normally do, it is quite possible to find a home or destination for surplus that actually adds positive value rather than reduces your bottom line. 
 
Sentimentality can get in the way of this circular approach, though. If something that was built for a purpose, no longer has that purpose, but can be used in another way, leaving it intact because it has an emotional attachment runs the risk of turning it into a piece of art, which may or may not be of value to you – and that is something to consider. Maybe that sentimentality can survive onto a new form. 
 
Generate Your Own Returns 
 
So the key to creating your own circular economies is to understand what you do in detail and why you do it. You can find plenty of ongoing methods of reusing and regenerating within your business model, and there are often ways of “decluttering” assets. 
 
Start questioning “Do we need to waste this?” and “Why are we keeping that?” and challenge your business to create some circular economies in-house. 
 
All it takes is a little imagination and sometimes an independent eye. 
MAT Ltd takes the headache out of making changes or process improvements. We help businesses to define the change clearly, to bring them in within budget and with the buy-in of their workforce and specialise in processes that involve transformation or movement. 
 
By ensuring that your people are at the centre and encouraging leadership principles you get the best out of the inherent assets you already have to hand. 
 
To contact: Peter Francis: [email protected] or 01905 888174 
Matthew Humphreys: [email protected] or 01905 888174. 
 
 
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