Design4Recycling and Circular Economy – for the sake of our world
With the linear economy, we are driving our (still) beautiful planet against the wall sooner rather than later. It is high time to turn the lever and go new ways. We have known this for a long time – and yet goal-oriented countermovements have not really gained momentum for a long time. Fortunately, things are now looking a bit better – thanks to the concepts of Design4Recycling and the overarching Circular Economy as the antagonist of the throwaway economy. Although regenerative systems are still relatively far at the beginning of their development and, above all, dissemination and implementation, the potential to save our (environmental) world via them is undoubtedly there.
But what exactly do Design4Recycling and Circular Economy have in mind? Both sustainability projects aim to gradually reduce the use of resources and the production of waste. To this end, the aim is to make non-food products and packaging recyclable and thus sustainable. This in turn requires, among other things, the use of recyclable materials, but logically these must first be made available in large quantities and on fair terms for all those involved. Basically, the final realization of the closed-loop concepts also requires an all-around functioning closed-loop system itself. After all, if good options are available, they will most likely be well received by decision-makers in both the corporate and private sectors. After all, everyone is keen to keep the earth livable for their descendants, not to mention livable. Until then, we still have a lot to do, no question. But sensible ideas are a start that will put us on course. And that is something we sorely need.
As a reminder, let’s take a quick look at the principles and consequences of the linear economy, which – it’s sad to say – still dominates commerce despite efforts at sustainability. Most products are manufactured and shipped in such a way that they are as low-cost as possible for the companies in all aspects from the manufacturing process to the use of employees to the specific material costs in order to maximize profit. For the most part, environmental compatibility (still) plays a subordinate role. Now, when a product has fulfilled its purpose, it is usually either burned or dumped on the already far too large landfills in the middle of our precious nature. This pollutes the air with CO2 and destroys the ecosystems of the oceans and seas in particular. Animals die in agony from eaten plastic parts. Via the food chain, the health of us humans is also at risk – due to the tiny, not infrequently polluted plastic particles in the fish or seafood we consume.
Over time, the circular economy – Circular Economy – wants to and should displace the unfathomably destructive linear economy as much as possible. Here’s a brief overview of the system’s key principles:
– Construction with a focus on durability
– Reuse (second-hand principle)
– Refurbishing (extending the life of products through repair, overhaul and reconditioning)
– Remanufacturing (bringing a used device up to the quality standard of a new device)
In the packaging sector, Design4Recycling is an emerging approach. The idea is to ensure the best possible recycling through sustainable packaging design. Simply put, packaging should ideally be able to be completely recycled after use and transformed into something new, whether once again into a protective shell or into another product. From the selection of materials for packaging to the fabrics used and techniques for their design, manufacturers need to consider all the details – with an eye toward recyclability. Take cardboard boxes, for example: they are actually recyclable due to the material, but if the printing is done with environmentally harmful inks, the recycling process is made even more difficult. So it really depends on every little detail. Of course, plastic packaging is the most critical. Among other things, these become (more) recyclable if they have a light color, are made of monoplastic and not a mix of materials, and have label and closure solutions that are optimized for their properties.
Of course, the measures associated with Circular Economy and Design4Recycling are immensely costly. But one should look at it this way: The increased time, financial and human resources invested in the Circular Economy are saved elsewhere, since the new production and also the “disposal” (if you want to call it disposal…) of large mountains of waste take up less of it. In the end, a compensation could possibly be achieved – one with immeasurable added value, because it would ultimately entail nothing less than the salvation of our (surrounding) world.