The increasing generation of waste derived from human activity is one of the main problems facing society and the environment. This problem is a direct consequence of the linear economic model that is currently used, based on the extraction, production, consumption and elimination of resources.

Today, we bring you this blog about the circular economy, a real alternative that aims to redefine the current model to reduce the consumption of primary resources, maximice the reuse of materials and raise awareness in society. Then, we detail what it consists of, what is it for and the benefits that this circular economy model brings us.

What is the Circular Economy?

As we advanced, the circular economy is the main alternative to the linear “use and throw” model that is currently used. This circular model, increasingly common in our vocabulary, aims to minimize the environmental cost of production processes and products as much as possible during their life cycle. In other words, it seeks that both, industrial sector and society, be more efficient in the use of resources. Of course, this objective must be achieved without reducing the technological growth of our society.

To reduce the environmental cost of current processes, the circular economy aims to optimize the use of raw materials , extending its useful life through second and third opportunities. For this reason, it will be very important, at the design stage of a product, before carrying out its manufacture, to take into account the use of reusable materials and prepare them for new opportunities. This step will be of great help so materials of any manufactured product can be reincorporated into new production processes, extending the useful life of each one of them, minimizing the generation of waste and reducing the processes of extracting new resources from the planet.  

Similarly, the circular economy can be applied to industrial processes. Every industrial process must be designed taking into account the by-products and the waste generated in it. If these by-products and waste can be incorporated into new production processes, not only the impact will be reduced, but also the cost associated with their management will be avoided and it will not be necessary to extract new resources. We leave you a practical case where we have reused a by-product generated during an industrial process as raw material for a totally different process.

As you can see, the circular economy model is not based only on recycling. This model search to attack the problem from the beginning, promoting the design of reusable processes and products, using recyclable materials or facilitating the repair of them without the need to replace them with new ones.

An example of problems generated by the linear economy is mobile telephony. In this sector, more and more people change their mobile phone every year because a new model appears with better benefits than the previous one. Applying the circular economy, this would not be necessary, since the phone would have been designed to replace parts (camera, processor, battery, etc.). In this way, by replacing small parts of the phone, we would considerably extend its useful life without having to replace it entirely.
But, within this change proposes by circular economy, it is not only necessary to improve the production processes or the materials used, there are very important actions outside the industrial field. For this reason, this model also aims to make society aware of responsible consumption, since it plays a fundamental role in achieving the proposed objectives.

For this reason, everyone, from the consumer to the largest companies has a crucial role in the transition to a circular economy. The smallest movements can trigger major initiatives to accelerate this new economy model.

Basic principles of Circular Economy

Then, we present the basic principles on which the circular economy model is based to improve efficiency in the use of resources:

  • Eco-design of product and process: consider, during the design stage, all the possible environmental impacts of the product and the process throughout its life cycle.
    In other words, prepare the product to be reused, repaired, and recycled.
  • Encourage second use: many products may have new opportunities before being recycled. The circular economy objective is that a product, or material, has a second chance in the economic circuit before being reprocessed.
  • Repair before replacement: any product or material that can be repaired will mean less consumption of raw materials and resources.
  • Substitution of components instead of products. If a component of a product is damaged, it is always better to replace that part, than the complete product. Therefore, the products must be prepared for it.
  • Recycling. If a product cannot be reused or repaired, recycling its components will be a great solution to reuse materials.
  • Valorization. If a product cannot be reused, repaired or recycled, the recovery of its by-products is a final alternative.
  • Social awareness: in addition to all the principles mentioned above, instilling the philosophy of the circular economy in society is a fundamental principle for this great initiative to continue growing.

Why is a change to the Circular Economy necessary?

As we all know, the world population is growing at a very quick rate, which means an increase in the demand of products on the market. In other words, to satisfy the needs of all of us, companies need to produce more every day, which triggers the consumption of raw materials. This fact, in the long run, generates a shortage of primary resources, which are, for the most part, limited.

The linear economy model is not capable of assuming this increase in the needs of the population, which is why the appearance of a new circular economy model is necessary, which does not need the extraction of so many new resources and reduces the environmental impact that society generates on our planet.

On the other hand, in addition to reducing the impact on the environment, the establishment of a circular economy will reduce dependency between countries and companies, since, in many cases, some raw materials are only found in very specific locations.

What is the Circular Economy for in the company?

The competitiveness between brands and companies is increasing, not only at the economic level (product prices), but also at the media level. The image of companies is an important factor for end consumers. For this reason, more and more companies are carrying out circular economy campaigns in order to bring their environmental commitment closer to all end consumers. This commitment to the environment may be the key in an increasingly tight and competitive market, where every detail counts for buying one product or another.

Beyond commitment to the environment, the philosophy of converting waste into a resource can considerably reduce costs associated with the acquisition of new raw materials, manufacturing new products from scratch or managing of said waste in landfills. For this reason, for companies, the implementation of actions related to the circular economy can mean a substantial improvement in the final profitability of their products and processes.

Circular Economy benefits

By improving the efficiency of our production processes, using easily recyclable materials or redesigning products, they will have second chances and we could achieve important benefits. Here are some of the most important:

  • Reduction of the number of waste generated and, therefore, its environmental impact.
  • Reduction of the emission of greenhouse gases.
  • Increased economic profitability of production processes.
  • Generate net savings, both for companies and governments.
  • Increased business volume.
  • Greater security in the supply of raw materials.
  • Greater technological competitiveness.
  • Greater innovation.
  • Employment generation.
  • More innovative and durable products that allow end users savings.

Types of Circular Economy

Actually, there are no different types of circular economy, but in our case, it is very useful to differentiate the circular economy applied to the improvement of industrial processes, where waste and by-products are generated, and the circular economy applied to improve products, where the product itself ends up being a waste.

In the first case, the circular economy applied to industrial processes, where large amounts of by-products or waste are usually generated during the production process. These, in many cases are taken to landfills, so they cannot be reused or recycled. To address this problem, the circular economy proposes the following measures:

  • Design of efficient processes to minimize the generated by-products.
  • Study the second opportunities for by-products, or waste, generated during the production process, you can see an example here.
  • Replace dangerous or difficult-to-manage chemicals with others that perform the same function, but respect the environment. We leave you an example of this.

On the other hand, the circular economy applied to a product has as its main objective the reduction of the impact that products have throughout their life cycle. For this, the following actions are proposed:

  • Ecodesign. Minimize product impact at the design stage.
  • Versatile products, suitable for different uses.
  • Repairable products, which do not need to be replaced in their entirety.
  • Using the least amount of material possible, to save energy and resources.
  • Use of easily reusable or recyclable materials. Second chances always.

In general, the circular economy does not distinguish between sectors or companies, it can be applied to any type of process, including our day-to-day actions. For this reason, it is applicable both to large sectors such as automotive, construction, chemical and food, among others, and to the design of new products or materials.

Types of waste to which the Circular Economy can be applied

Depending on the origin of the waste, or its composition, we can classify them into different groups. Thinking about the circular economy, it is interesting to classify the waste in the following two groups:

  • Industrial waste. All waste from any industrial activity that is not agri-food. Within this group we include the waste generated by products that have finished their life cycle and must be managed. Some examples of materials we have worked with are ash, sulfur, polymers or textiles. A clear example of applying a circular economy to this type of waste is the reuse of electronic waste.
  • Agri-food waste. It is important to separate the agro-food waste from the rest, since many of them contain compounds of great added value. Within this large group, we have worked, for example, with fruit remains, from the production of juices, algae, slurry or washing water. The potential of these residues is very great, a great example of this is the extraction of pectin and limonene from the orange peel, by-product of juice production. 

Steps to carry out a Circular Economy Project

Depending on the type of process or product, there are different ways of applying the concept of circular economy. At ATRIA, we study each case to help our clients find new business opportunities starting at circular economy. Here are some of the key stages:

  • Characterization of the residue or by-product . To determine the possibilities of a waste or by-product, it is essential to know its composition.
  • Study of the process . In a production process, all possible actions can be taken to reduce its efficiency and reduce the impact of process.
  • Selection of the most suitable opportunity for each case . We will look for the best ways of reuse and recovery in order to reintroduce the residue or product in the value chain.
  • Tests and prototypes . If an idea needs to be validated, we manufacture prototypes in our laboratory and carry out concept tests, validations and demonstrations.
  • Industrialization . All the projects we carry out have to make industrial sense, so this stage is present throughout all the phases. Once the validation is completed, our team of engineers will be in charge of industrializing the idea.

Do you want to know how to apply the circular economy in any of your processes or products? Contact us!

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