Today in manufacturing we follow a linear supply, distribution and consumption chain. This means it is a straight line from raw material, to consumption, and ultimately waste. In this linear economy raw materials are extracted in unsustainable and sometimes even damaging ways. This includes the creation of quarries, destruction of biodiversity and fertile soil, etc. Waste from the manufacturing process is also damaging, resulting in pollution such as water pollution, dangerous chemicals in waste then leaching into soil and groundwater, and release of methane into the atmosphere, to name a few.
Not only is waste damaging to the environment but it can also cost manufacturers financially. By creating waste, there is loss in resources as well as loss in the cost of transportation and disposal. Without a proper waste management plan, companies could lose thousands of dollars.
In a circular economy imagine a circle, where external materials are brought to it, but kept in a circular loop when possible evoking the reuse of all materials. In manufacturing this is a full cycle and includes design > manufacturing > distribution > etc., and then the cycle begins again. Each sector is essential in maintaining a closed loop as it feeds into the other. Designing a product must take into consideration the recyclability of the product, and so on. The idea of a circular economy approach is massively beneficial as it would bypass problems found in a linear economy, such as the overconsumption of resources and the overproduction of waste. With a large majority, if not all, of the product being reused, the cycle can be self-sufficient.
Circular economy and its principles are slowly making their way into manufacturing, especially in the EU, where strict law requires vehicle manufacturers that at least 85% of the weight of a vehicle must be recycled or reused. Investors and governments internationally are slowly but surely understanding the importance of these principles: not just because of their environmental nature but also through financial stability and savings.
According to Forbes Magazine, circular manufacturing enables companies to:
- retain and recapture the value inherent in the original equipment manufacturer’s existing products.
- reduce demand for new materials by 50 to 98%.
- reduce energy consumption over new manufacturing by 55 to 90%.
Where do I start?
The base principle is to consider the 4 R’s: Reduce, Refurbish/Reuse, Recycle, and Recover. Reduce refers to reducing resources and materials needed to manufacture a product without compromising the quality. Refurbishing or reusing is when a whole product or parts are made into new products, or their life cycle is extended. Refurbishing and reusing also decreases the need for excess raw materials. Recycling is when parts or a whole product are turned back into raw materials and fed back into the manufacturing chain of the initial product. Recover is used when reusing or recycling a product is not possible, which can happen with certain materials. In this case, some energy should be recovered and put back into the manufacturing process.
Implementing a circular approach to manufacturing can be challenging at first, but the easiest first step is to remanufacture existing products. Remanufacturing can occur when existing product’s lives are extended either for the existing customer or a new customer. Other core values include reusing, recycling, refurbishing and remanufacturing, which all fall under the Value Retention Processes (VRPs). Another important factor is visibility in the lifecycle of a product. By bringing people and information together, it becomes easier to find areas where scrap or waste can be used elsewhere in operations.
Examples of Circular Economy in Manufacturing
Introducing the circular economy approach may be difficult, but it is possible.
East Penn Manufacturing follows circular economy principles when possible, recycling all major parts of their lead batteries into new products with a closed-loop model. They even received an “Environment + Energy Leader” Award for Project of the Year in 2021 with their recycling partner Terrapure Environmental for their efforts. By partnering with Terrapure, they can refine the lead so that it can be returned to East Penn Manufacturing to be used in new batteries. With the hope of promising technology and applications, they are hoping to expand their expertise.
Circular Economy Manufacturing, a startup in New York, is completely built on circular economic principles. Their mission is “using a portable, renewably powered MicroFactory to locally produce well-designed products from sustainable material cycles for the Circular Economy”. This MicroFactory runs off solar energy from solar panels on their roof, with any excess stored in battery banks for use later. In this MicroFactory, they are able to clean collected post-consumer products, which are then shredded, weighed, and put into a mold to be made into a product. Current products offered are globes, decorations, and lights, with planters next on the list.
We can help you!
Is the circular approach something you would like to implement in your business? We can help you with that. We can offer you personal consulting and assistance in implementing a circular economy into your business. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started or if you have any questions.
Circular Economy Manufacturing. (2023). Circular Economy Manufacturing. https://www.circulareconomymfg.com/
Dassault Systemes. (2023). Circular Economy: From Manufacturing Waste to Resource Materials. https://www.3ds.com/manufacturing/sustainable-manufacturing/waste-management-circular-economy
East Penn Manufacturing. (2022). East Penn Sustainability Report 2022 [PDF]. https://www.eastpennmanufacturing.com/wp-content/uploads/Sustainability-Report-1811.pdf
Forbes. (2022). How Manufacturers Drive Real Value From The Circular Economy. https://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2022/10/07/how-manufacturers-drive-real-value-from-the-circular-economy/
Kutschera, H-J., Treis, S., Krubasik, G., & Haag, D. (2021, December 14). Importance of the Circular Economy for Manufacturing. strategy&. https://www.strategyand.pwc.com/de/en/industries/industrials/importance-of-the-circular-economy-for-manufacturing.html
Make UK. (2021). Manufacturing a Circular Economy. https://www.makeuk.org/insights/blogs/manufacturing-a-circular-economy