It may be a hard pill to swallow, but it is also an uncomfortable truth we must accept – when it comes to the way we treat the planet, we have been doing things wrong for centuries. And, despite all of our attempts to envision a better future, our race is slowly but certainly rushing forward towards its own demise.

In fact, according to the UN, we waste one-third of all food produced worldwide (over 1.3 billion tons) and may require the equivalent of three planets in natural resources to cover our needs by 2050.

It is a sad reality that, for all our advancements in our economic and technological endeavors over the recent decades, it has come at a cost – we are using more energy, depleting more resources, and polluting more air, water, and land than ever before (especially in developing countries, which are only now catching up, industrially speaking).

For this reason, it is essential that, alongside the growth of our global economy, we must look towards the reduction of our waste, regardless of its origin: electronics, batteries, vehicles, packaging and plastics, food and agriculture, textiles, and construction materials are all industries among the most essential in transitioning away from the current linear model of our economy, and more towards a circular economy, where recycling and reusing materials is not just encouraged but required.

However, to reach this desired business model in the manufacturing industry, we must compromise and accept that there will not only have to be a change in our methods, but in our philosophies. It must come not only from regulations, such as those set by the European Union, but also from our own personal motivations towards making a difference.

Transitioning away from centuries of linear manufacturing towards a circular economy

The main obstacle in accomplishing the goal of changing our path towards a more environmentally-friendly one is the current mentality ingrained into our minds: for centuries, it has been perfectly acceptable to work with a “take-make-use-dispose” system, in which an immense proportion of the goods we make are single-use, non-recyclable, and which reach a state of obsolescence (technological or otherwise) within a few years. It has been a reality that has universally been accepted, regardless of the negative side-effects it has caused the planet over the decades.

With this model in place, waste has accumulated immensely, causing the word “pollute” to be added to the end of the “take-make-use-dispose” cycle, with the EU reporting an annual waste generation of 2.5 billion tons (5 tons per capita a year). The United States and Asia, more focused on production and disposal than on ecological solutions, have not fared any better, with the added problems of a much higher population in the latter region producing significantly more waste per capita.

Despite this, there is a growing shift in the mindset and methods being applied in industrial manufacturing, thanks to the initiatives being made across the world among ecological regulatory bodies and green-minded companies, such as Environmental Fluids, Inc.

The main objectives which bring us closer to the implementation of a circular economy business model are based on the optimization of resource use, allowing for the creation of materials that are not only reusable, but also created in conditions and processes which generate the least waste possible. Among these, the main goals are to:

 

  • Restrict the single-use nature of products and extend life cycles by eliminating premature obsolescence
  • Increase the durability, reusability, and reparability of materials, allowing them to be upgraded if possible
  • Boost energy efficiency (including batteries, which can easily become pollutants when discarded at landfills and sources of water)
  • Invest in remanufacturing and recycling across manufacturing plants for better use of raw materials
  • Implement cleaner processes with a lower carbon footprint and eliminating VOC’s from manufactured products
  • Introduce the tools and methods of Industry 4.0 to production plants, allowing for the creation of tailor-made products and components, while optimizing the use of raw materials.

 

By applying these changes, while regulatory bodies enforce them with smart incentives and tracking of data, we can approach a manufacturing industry that will be eco-friendlier and more sustainable than our current economic model.

The industries most urgently in need of a circular business model – and the proposed solutions

Now, based on the aforementioned objectives, which potential solutions do we have at hand? What industries are most urgently in need of these changes? These are questions already being asked – and answered – and it is clear that there is already an outline for reaching the circular economy that is so urgently needed.

For instance, one of the biggest challenges humanity has to deal with on a daily basis is the immense waste of food, both in the agriculture and service industries. Extensive studies have also demonstrated that agriculture is among one of the most significant contributors to pollution, and the need for a transition towards sustainability has been needed for many decades.

Thankfully, initiatives such as the EU’s “Farm to Fork Strategy” are excellent first steps toward reaching the desired objectives, allowing for the sustainable practice of food production, processing, distribution, and consumption. By working on improving the accessibility and security of food for populations across the continent, the EU can also mitigate the effects of climate change, and reduce pollution generated by farming.

Another industry that is much in need of change is that of electronics. E-waste, as it is known, represents a serious risk for the environment, due to the growing amount of cell phones, televisions, computers, and other devices that are increasingly being disposed of due to obsolete software and technologies, damage to irreplaceable batteries, and incompatibility of accessories with new versions (chargers, for example, represent a huge amount of e-waste).

By applying the idea of “one man’s trash is another’s treasure”, we can change the course of the economic model entirely. This is a philosophy that is attempting to be applied in three other problem industries – plastics, packaging, and construction. By repurposing used food packaging for other non-food industries (and thus keeping consumers safe), for example, there will be an immense reduction of the waste production in urban areas, especially those in developed nations.

The science of synthetic biology can also help by utilizing biopolymers in place of petroleum plastics, similarly to how petroleum-based fuels have been slowly phased out in favor of biofuels (bioethanol) created by plant biomass. Biopolymers also allow for the reduction of VOC’s, which directly impact human health, and are mildly carcinogenic.

As in any massive transformation, this will not be a process that takes a few years – even the most hopeful estimates expect preliminary objectives to be met within the next 5 years, and others expect a decade to pass before results are observed.

However, the importance of setting long-term goals is that there are companies already investing in these waste management and waste minimization strategies…

Accomplishing our goals – activating the five engines of the circular economy

Credit must be given where it is due, and there is plenty of credit owed to the companies, startups, and organizations which are already working hard on help humanity achieve the circular economy business model sooner rather than later, all of them using the unlimited power of innovation to attain promising new alternatives in the ecology space.

One excellent project being spearheaded in the textiles industry is that of dyeing cloth without using water, allowing for the reduction of toxic and energetic waste during the dyeing process. By using supercritical carbon dioxide, more of the dye is absorbed by the cloth, the drying process is completely eliminated, and manufacturing costs are lowered. A victory in all areas.

Meanwhile, a U.S. company with nine plants across the nation, has designed a fascinating wastewater treatment technology that creates clean biogas from effluents, while simultaneously treating the water for future use.

However, the efforts don’t end there: at Environmental Fluids, we have been working closely with students and staff at the Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability to further advance technologies which will lead to a quicker, easier transition towards a circular economy. Our cooperation will ensure that students are closer to the industry of green chemistry and renewable materials and can gain both experience and proximity to the concepts behind these fields.

By focusing on implementing the five driving forces of a circular economy, we will be able to catalyze a transition towards the business models required for the shift from a linear economy. These are:

 

  1. Circular supplies: depleting our resources is a quick way of distancing ourselves from the circular economic model. Instead, by using renewable resources that are recyclable and biodegradable, we can achieve sustainability in manufacturing and service-based industries.

 

  1. Recovery of resources: again, it is important to remember that waste can also be raw material if adequately reconverted, allowing certain products to be used for the synthesis of others. The creation of biofuel from plant biomass and biogas from organic waste (food) are good examples of this.

 

  1. Product life extension: making goods more durable is one aspect of extending a product’s lifespan, but creating it with future processes of remanufacturing, repair, and upgrading in mind is even more effective. Adding the elimination of premature obsolescence in electronics and vehicles, a product can continue to exist on the market for longer than in a linear economy.

 

  1. Platforms for sharing: by creating a system in which the economy is openly aimed at sharing assets with low use rates, such as vehicles and properties, value can be produced in the hospitality and transport industries, as car-sharing and lodging companies have already demonstrated.

 

  1. Products as a service: if the economy encourages short-term use of products instead of ownership, such as renting electronics, consumers will produce less waste due to not having to replace their assets frequently (every few years), and instead focus on renewing their contracts for modern options when advancements are made.

“The introduction of a feasible, sustainable, circular economy is an obligation that all companies should adhere to. Our goal is business is not just to make money, but also to build a positive future for humanity.

By introducing a circular economy, this is something we can guarantee for upcoming generations.”

— Ryan Esner, Environmental Fluids CEO

With the activation of these engines, we may accelerate a necessary transition towards the desired result. The era of the circular economy has begun, and this time it is more of an obligation for companies and organizations to join it than an option. Our planet needs it of us, and the proof is in climate change. We either accept this inevitable change and get to work on producing the next generation of green materials and eco-friendly technologies or lose the world as we know it.

Environmental Fluids is helping clients and commercial allies as they make the transition from a linear to a circular business model – as green chemical and bio-based material producers, we are at the forefront of these efforts.

If you are a company looking to improve your waste management and minimization technologies, optimize your recycling processes, and eliminate deadly VOC’s from your products, we can help.

Contact us here – we will work alongside you in joining the new era of circular manufacturing.