Saving, recycling, reuse: these are the three ways to circular economy. Liz Wilks, explains this concept for us.
We have finally got over the wild and unscrupulous era of consumerism, and we have entered a new historical period, in which the human kind is realizing how bad the reality he himself created is, a situation that our planet shows us every single day. Climate changing, seas rising, air getting unbreathable: these are just a few warning signals that Earth sends us every day, managing to move even the most skeptic ones these days. In this post-consumerist era, the concept of consumption itself seems to be changing most incisively: the past prevailing approach was the disposable system, while nowadays we are trying to get back to the origins of the product, discussing of its disposal even during the design phase. It is a brand new way to intend all the production chain, which we call “circular economy”.
The concept of circular economy is essentially based on three pillars: a general reduction of consumptions; recycling; reuse. The founding principle is that, just like a circle, consumption must not generate a useless waste, but rather a result, which could be again elaborated into something else, returning into the circle of production and consumption, without having any waste. It is a recent approach, even if this idea had yet been introduced in the 70s of the past century. It does not seem to be a simple process: circularity must be included in the designing phase of the product, which has to take into account the end-of-life, still maintaining its usability and functionality characteristics.
The benefits of circular economy are undeniable: a research by Ellen McArthur Foundation and McKinsey for Business and Environment affirms that circular economy could contribute 7% to European GDP within next fifteen years, with 3% annual increase in productivity and advantages for the economy of the Old Continent for 1.8 billion of euros.
It is not a surprise that the European Union has early understood the importance of this new attitude: it has produced an agenda for circular economy in Europe by proposing the revision of five different directives, concerning waste, packaging waste, garbage dumps, waste electronic equipment and batteries, usage of organic fertilizers. A real action plan, providing new objectives for waste reduction and materials reuse, which raises the bar to 65% urban waste recycling and 75% packaging waste recycling, for example. From this point of view, Italy is cutting edge, even without knowing it: five years in advance, nine Italian regions have already reached the European Community objectives for 2020. What most surveys certificate is that Italians lack a “green self-esteem”, and this is caused by serious and integrated policies of institutional communication and consciousness campaigns regarding these topics missing.
Recycling is quite a renowned concept both in Italy and in Europe, but less frequent and used seems to be the reuse principle: finished products that remain the same, but that are used with new scopes. Particularly virtuous in this sense is the Swedish clothing company H&M: since 2013, they provide an in-store pick-up service of clothing no longer worn, which owns the evoking slogan “Fashion is far too precious to end up in landfills”.
They collect all unwanted garment – no matter what brand and what condition – but also home textiles that are no longer wanted or needed. The consumer is incentivized to reuse: for every shopper of clothes, he gets a discount voucher to spend in-store. For each kilogram of textiles that H&M collects, 0.02 euros will be donated to a local charity organization promoted by Charity Star (Save the Children in Italy). In three years, H&M has gathered more than 32,000 tonnes of garments, containing more fabric than in 100 million t-shirts.
Apart from recycling and reuse, the other way to circular economy is consumption reduction, also intended as reduction of the necessary resources for production and, so, reduction of raw materials. This is the way, which Asia Pulp & Paper has chosen in its conscious path towards environmental sustainability.
FLEGT license for APP
In late November 2016, Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP) received the first Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) license in Indonesia for the Pindo Deli Pulp and Paper Mills. FLEGT licensing will increase trade between Indonesia and EU by automatically demonstrating proof of legal origin and compliance with the European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR). APP is the first pulp and paper group to obtain FLEGT licensing. It shows the world that Indonesia is serious about supporting its timber industry to help tackle illegal logging: a precious natural resource, which requires particular cares.
APP does even more than this, with the production of Extra Print, the wood-free paper. It is a luxury offset printing paper designed with higher quality smoothness. It delivers excellent image reproduction and extra white and sharp color images. Its optimized paper structure increases compatibility with the latest printing machine, which creates excellent run ability when using this paper. The advanced technology applied in Extra Print provides quick ink drying time, which means higher throughput and saved press time. An example of how product design can lead to creating innovative solutions as to sustainability, still maintaining quality and excellence features.
It is clear that improvement margins for circular economy are notable. Above all things for a country like Italy: the recent research ‘Unemployment and the circular economy in Europe: a study of opportunities in Italy, Poland and Germany’ by Green Alliance demonstrates that a real transformation of national economy in a circular sense could bring solutions to the most ancient problems attaining Italy. Leveraging on bio-economy and on large process manufacturing sector in fields, such as the food, beverage, chemical, pharmaceutical, consumer packaged goods and biotechnology industries, Italy could get great opportunities. It has been estimated that a real transformation could bring to the creation of 521,000 new jobs, in respect of the 220,000 ones of the current development rate and of 35,000 ones of a no-new-initiatives scenario. The most important advantage would be reducing regional inequality, with a drop of unemployment rate above all in Southern Italy and with a saving in unemployment costs of 1.69 billion euros.
There is still a lot to do in order to make circular economy a concrete everyday reality, and not just a virtuous goal to reach. It is a revolution that must come from the bottom, from the population, from common people. On business side, a great leap forward would be the transposition by all member states of the EU directive 95/2014. It will introduce the compulsoriness of a sustainability balance sheet. It will become compulsory from 2017 for all companies with 500 employees and over, and for public bodies, to relate from where their products come, what are their policies related to environment and to animals, how they treat their employees and the community in which they are active. 250 companies will be involved in the matter in Italy. It is a first step towards a real shared sustainability culture in the country.
After all, 2017 is going to be a real “green” year: actually, the next year color of the year according to Pantone will be Greenery, a green shade that meets yellow to evoke vitality, peace, tranquility and reconnection with nature. These are all values indissolubly linked to environmental sustainability, which we hope could really lead in this newly begun year.
* Liz Wilks is Stakeholder e Sustainability Manager Europe – Asia Pulp & Paper