Making the world go round
Our current linear economic model is not working for the planet. Otherwise known as the ‘take, make, dispose’ approach, it relies on the heavy use of fossil fuels – a non-renewable energy source. The plastics industry is a classic example of a linear economic model.
The problem of plastic bottles
Take, for instance, the lifecycle of a water bottle. Usually made from a mineral oil, the plastic bottle will be used and then hopefully reused and recycled, until the bottle is not fit for purpose. Then, it will either be incinerated – releasing carbon dioxide into the environment – or it will go to a landfill, where more potent greenhouse gases, like methane, will be released as it degrades.
As the original oil resources are not replenished during this lifecycle, the water bottle example is a linear model. Recycling alone is not enough. In terms of the scale of the problem, the figures speak for themselves: 20,000 bottles are currently bought every second globally, which clearly highlights the need for change. (Circle Economy, ‘The circularity gap report’, January 2018.)
Closing the loop
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy is ‘one where we restore and regenerate our natural resources’. At Corbion, we agree. You need to connect the materials cycle with the biological cycle – where biologically-based materials are designed to feed back into the system – in order to replenish the carbon cycle with renewable carbon. However, only 9.1% of our world economy is non-linear – leaving a huge gap in our sustainability efforts.
We can do better. That’s why we are always searching for new ways to create a more circular economy for our business operations and our customers. Not only are we trying to reuse and recycle materials where we can to eliminate loss, but we are also aiming to put back what we take.
By starting the production process with renewable resources, biomass or alternative feedstock, such as wood chips and wheat straw, from plants, we can transform a linear stream into a circular one. As the carbon dioxide released by incineration is absorbed back into plants via photosynthesis, the loop is closed back again.
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