Waste - a tremendous wellspring of resources

Posted on 23 May 2017.

The circular economy is driven by a waste-to-resource model. Companies then rethink their design and production processes.

What were you doing on August 8, 2016? It was the day - "Earth Overshoot Day" – humanity had already consumed all the natural resources theoretically available for the year. Calculated by the NGO Global Footprint Network, the date sounds an alarm bell: with the increase in the global population and the rise in consumption, we are taking more raw materials than the planet is capable of providing.

These raw materials (minerals, oil, gas, metals, etc.) are an essential ingredient in our economy. If it is to continue to function into the future, we have to learn how to obtain alternative sources of supplies.

One solution is to upgrade our waste and so produce new resources. Many companies and municipalities have already adopted this model.

Transforming waste into energy

Waste can for example be used as a source of energy, thereby avoiding the use of non-renewable resources. In the Netherlands, the Jacobs Douwe Egberts’ Joure coffee plant makes use of the waste left after roasting coffee beans... as fuel for the plant boiler, which provides steam to produce coffee - a closed loop that avoids the need for gas.

In Arras, in the north of France, the calories in wastewater are recovered to heat the water in an aquatic center, thus avoiding the use of gas and reducing CO2 emissions.

Ecodesign products

More and more companies are incorporating waste materials into their production processes. It means they have to take an ecodesign approach, giving special consideration to the environmental impact of a product throughout its life cycle - from raw materials to disposal.

The first step is to incorporate recycled or re-used materials into the product. The Tribord brand has developed a surf boot made with recycled oyster shells, and Adidas has launched its first pair of sneakers made from plastic waste recovered from the sea.

Ecodesign also means designing products so they can be reused at the end of their lives - either by being remanufactured or by recovering their component materials. For example, Desso sells carpet, which it then recovers when customers want a change, reincorporating into its production system. The SEB Group makes some of its home appliances with recycled plastic.

The circular economy not only means companies are able to secure their supply of raw materials, but also encourages them to rethink their manufacturing processes. It paves the way for more sustainable business and invents the economic models of the future.