Businesses adapt to the circular economy and its practices, from how to design and manufacture products to their function for customers.
A circular economy is an alternative to the traditional linear economy, in which resources are kept for use as long as possible to maximise their value. When the product life ends, it is recovered and regenerated into new products and materials.
A circular economy is an alternative to the traditional linear economy, in which resources are kept for use as long as possible to maximise their value. When the product life ends, it is recovered and regenerated into new products and materials. While the recycling economy still produces some waste, the circular economy is an elevated approach that aims for zero waste and that’s why products need to be manufactured in a way that allows them to be easily disassembled or broken down by nature to then be returned to production or be transformed.
When adopting the circular economy and its practices, companies are forced to rethink everything, from how to design and manufacture products to their function for customers.
Despite the challenges that companies could be facing, this model creates new opportunities in production, energy and infrastructure. Various models help these companies embrace the circular economy, including:
Re-use and repair
Product life cycles are extended by maintenance and repair, so they remain in their original use for as long as possible.
Products are made using regenerative materials and modular design techniques to be longer-lasting and easier to disassemble and repair, and in this way, remain in a closed-loop system.
Products are separated into parts and materials, enabling use in new products, displacing the use of virgin raw materials;
The resale or buyback of products is encouraged, supporting the continuation of the functionality and increasing the usable life span.
Circular economy (CE) has been mentioned several times on the 2018 High-Level Political Forum as a concept that would help accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and, most importantly, as a key solution for the SDG 12 on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP). The business model would also contribute to other sustainable development goals such as SDGs 6 on energy, 8 on economic growth, 11 on sustainable cities, 12 on sustainable consumption and production, 14 on oceans, and 15 on life on land.
SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation
CE practices such as water purification, sustainable sanitisation and wastewater treatment can enable safe drinking water and equitable sanitation, reduce pollution and improve water quality.
SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth
There's a potential for new circular business models to increase economic growth as studies determined that the implementation of CE would be a multi-trillion Euro opportunity that would contribute to the increase in resource effectiveness, waste valorisation and more jobs in sustainable businesses.
SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
Implementing the circular economy would contribute to the reduction of cities’ resources, which would reduce investment in resources of material. The investment that was once been wasted on resources, would then be allocated to other areas that would make cities more sustainable such as affordable housing, green spaces and transportation.
SDG 12 – Sustainable Consumption and Production
Sustainable consumption and production are some of the SDGs that most benefit from the implementation of a circular economy, as the reduction of unsustainable products and safe management of toxic substances and waste would contribute to the improvement of resource efficiency and reduce the pressure on the natural environment.
SDG 14 – Life below Water
Land-based activities from businesses that follow the linear economy, create large amounts of waste generation and leakages that contaminate rivers and oceans. Implementing CE practices will directly reduce waste entering the oceans, and therefore, reduce ocean acidification. This would significantly improve the quality of life below water, preserve species, and improve the quality of the food people consume.
SDG 15 – Life on Land
At the core of CE, practices are the aim to restore natural capital. This involves adopting sustainable and regenerative agriculture and agroforestry practices that embrace and protect biodiversity and returning biological material to soils as nutrients – practices that are fundamental for restoring terrestrial ecosystems.
The circular economy is relevant to all sectors of the economy and, therefore, requires a joint effort by every stakeholder. Once all sectors participate in regional or even global partnerships, companies will be able to apply circular economy practices and implement product reuse, and recycling, and serve as trendsetters of innovative circular economy business models.
Examples of its successful implementation exist in different countries and sectors and below you'll find businesses that successfully follow the circular economy model.
Lahhentagge Distillery, founded in 2016, is situated on the west coast of the island of Saaremaa, in the middle of the Baltic Sea. The island is part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the country which already boasts the second cleanest air in the world.
Originally, the distillery's main product were gins, with their first one being the Lahhentagge Ösel Dry, launched in 2017. All the gins are made with Nordic juniper, which is a very abundant tree species in Saaremaa. In fact, there are so many of these trees that Saaremaa is referred to as Juniper Island.
Despite the success with the gin's sales, bars and restaurants were having some difficulty in pairing their unique gins with the current tonics in the market, so the company decided to produce their own tonic waters made specifically to pair with their gins. In early 2019, Lahhentagge started producing the Spruce tonic soda using second-hand Christmas trees.
Lahhentagge reached an agreement with the city to use the Christmas trees from the public squares for this plan. The branches are removed and pulped to extract the flavour that is then infused with cardamon and lemon, with Quinine being added and the tonic carbonated. One Kuressaare’s Christmas tree, which is 17 metres tall, makes around 40,000 and each of the 250 ml bottles carries a label of provenance, directly linking the tonic water to the tree from which it was sourced.
Other vintages include the Christmas trees of Helsinki and Loviisa in Finland, Pärnu on the Estonian mainland, and the Latvian seaside town of Jūrmala.
Lahhentagge products – which besides Estonia’s first craft gin now include the first non-alcoholic gin ever made in the Baltic region – are now exported to four or five countries and the tonic water is exported to seven.
UpCircle Beauty is a company that shows how a business can implement a circular economy. It all started when the founders and siblings Anna and William Brightman found out that more than 500,00 tonnes of coffee grounds would end up on the landfill, which was very environmentally damaging as degrading organic material releases methane, a greenhouse gas with more than 20 times the global warming capacity of carbon dioxide.
To give another purpose to the amount of coffee ground wasted by cafes and coffee shops every day, UpCircle was born. While the brand’s initial products were coffee-based skincare, it has now evolved to use other ingredients such as powder from apricot seeds discarded by the agriculture industry in face balm; chai spices that remain after brand Henny & Joe’s brew chai tea syrups in soap, and olive pits dispensed of during olive oil production in a face mask.
The repurposing of these cast-off compounds in skincare products was an excellent way to incorporate sustainable innovation in the beauty industry. But the company does not stop at producing sustainable zero waste products, having developed as well sustainable packaging made of 100% recyclable materials such as glass bottles, aluminium tubes and cardboard cartoons.
UpCircle is a fully committed brand to the circular economy principles, being the fundamental foundation of the business and allowing it to be the pioneer of this model in the beauty industry. However, this year, the brand could close the zero-waste and circular economy loop by launching a refill scheme. This scheme started on Earth Day on the 22nd of April, allows customers to return their empties to the brand and receive a refill and, in this way, cut carbon footprint and consumer costs. After being returned, the package would be sterilised, refilled and returned to the original customer, showing a straightforward and streamlined process.
“As a brand designed entirely around circular economy principles and extending the life of by-product ingredients, it’s a no brainer for us to take the same approach with our packaging. Following the success of retailing our range in bulk packaging-free refill stores across the country, a packaging return scheme for our own online store was always the next tick box for us to check off.” – Anna Brightman, co-founder of UpCircle.
The Brussels Beer Project is a collaborative brewery based in Brussels and was founded in 2013 by Olivier de Brouwer and Sébastien Morvan. The project started when the founders wanted to create a brewery that would produce original beers in limited series. Today the company brews four types of beers throughout the year, and every month a special is added. As part of the core range, Brussels Beer Project produces an exceptional beer made out of unsold bread.
The founders adopted the idea after discussing the food waste problem present in Brussels, with 12% of the food waste being bread. During Mesopotamia times, the primary source of grain for ancient beers was bread, and although it’s not a common practice nowadays to use bread to produce beer, Morvan decided to inspire himself on this ancient tradition and create the beer. In partnership with a local project called Atelier Groot Eiland, Brussels Beer Project gathered unsold bread from the local markets and after a year of perfecting the recipe, Babylon was born.
"The idea was to try and use bread as an integral ingredient of the beer as they used to do in the past. Unfortunately, bread is a huge problem when it comes to waste. Unsold bread accounts for the largest percentage of food that goes to waste. Every bakery, supermarket and household generates such waste” – Sébastien Morvan, Co-founder of the Brussels Beer Project.
Replacing 20% of the malt with unsold fresh bread, Babylon aims to impact the current wasteful practices while implementing circular economy practices such as a sustainable supply of materials and recycling. This new concept contributes to environmental, economic and social benefits such as its zero waste impact on sustainable development; the bread is bought at lower prices; and creation of full-time employment for young people in reintegration.
Silo London is the world's first zero-waste restaurant. Based in Brighton, London, the owner, founder and head chef Douglas McMaster refers to the restaurant as "a pre-industrial food system that generates zero waste."
To achieve this status, McMaster uses various techniques and practices that allow him to be indeed zero-waste. These include having a flour miller to avoid purchasing flour and having to reuse or recycle the bags; using an anaerobic digester that condenses uneaten and unused food into compost in 24 hours, and even a soap-free hand washing system that reuses all the water produced in the restaurant and it has zero carbon footprint.
When it comes to food, Silo offers creative dishes where the chef can use every vegetable's skin and animal's part, and because the type and quantity of ingredients changes often, no meal is done the same way as the first time and the menu is constantly changing.
The restaurant interior reflects the brand concept by featuring sustainable furniture designed by studio Nina+Co. Recycled plastic packaging was used to make the bar countertop and the top of the dining tables, and the pendant lamps were made using Mycelium, which is the vegetative part of fungi.
"By applying circular thinking, utilising sustainable materials and considering how they will either biodegrade or be disassembled for repurposing in the future, we created a thoughtful interior that lives up to the elegance and integrity of the food." – Nina Woodcroft, founder of studio Nina+Co
Haeckels is an environmentally friendly Margate-based brand that is shaping the future of sustainable skincare through its packaging.
The 100% biodegradable packaging is made from Mycelium, which is s the vegetative part of a fungus or fungus-like bacterial colony, mostly found underground in the root system of mushrooms, and it looks like white threads that weave together.
Mycelium is lightweight but very resistant to impact and fire, and what makes it the perfect sustainable material for packaging is that it can be reused, composted or planted in a garden to help improve the soil quality. In this way, customers would take care of both their skin and their garden.
Besides the Mycelium, Haeckels also uses seed paper made from recycled paper pulp and mixed with wildflower seeds. Once again, customers can use it for gardening when placed on top of a pot, compost to grow wildflowers.
The goal of implementing this sustainable packaging is to help the ocean crisis. One of the main reasons why this crisis is happening is because the oceans are getting polluted with materials from a linear economy. The constant waste and lack of sustainable practices in many industries lead to this crisis. Businesses across all industries must change their business models and incorporate the circular economy. This way, waste is reduced and restoring and conservation of the oceans and the overall environment will be easier to accomplish.
"One of our goals is to make all of our packaging plastic-free within the next two years and we are passionate and dedicated to making a necessary change to protect the future of our planet" – Haeckels