Reduce, reuse, recycle can help manufacturers gain efficiencies and positively impact profits
Does your business break down packing materials for recycling? Do you reuse wastewater or repurpose old equipment? If so, you are already participating in the circular economy, a new term for an old concept that can boost the bottom line while also shoring up the supply chain, helping to ensure national security, and promoting independence from a reliance on overseas materials.
The circular economy, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is a system based on the principle of reduce, reuse, recycle. Products and materials remain in use through longer periods of time thanks to maintenance, refurbishment, recycling, or composting. The circular economy removes economic activity from the consumption of natural and finite resources, making it more resilient and good for the environment while ensuring a positive impact on a business’s bottom line.
For manufacturers, incorporating circular economic principles into a lean manufacturing context can increase efficiency by eliminating waste. When the by-product or waste from one manufacturing process can be used by another, that not only extends the life of that equipment or waste, but also contributes to economic growth, resource independence and domestic supply chain security, and helps protect the environment.
The more familiar economic model, known as a linear economy or take-make-waste, involves the use of a new supply of natural resources to create a product and the removal of all waste produced through manufacturing as well as the actual product following its initial use, to the landfill. With this model, manufacturers need a continuous supply of raw materials that are often sourced abroad. This approach further drives our dependency on economic, geopolitical, or national security issues, as well as natural disasters and climate change challenges not just in the U.S., but around the world.
The shift from a linear to a circular model has already started and is gaining momentum globally in industries such as construction, automotive, logistics, agriculture, and plastics waste management. Circular economy strategies can be applied on the individual product and services level up to entire industries and cities.
For example, industrial symbiosis is a strategy where waste from one industry becomes an input for another, creating a network of resource exchange while reducing waste, pollution, and consumption. Since 2020, the European Union (EU) has been focused on design and production in line with a circular economy. U.S. businesses that partner with or are owned by EU companies, particularly those in the Netherlands, Germany, France, or Denmark, recognize the elements of a circular economy in their sustainability projects. Canada, Brazil, China, and Japan are also leading the circular concept.
In the U.S., the circular economy approach stimulates innovation, and supports decarbonization, net-zero goals, economic growth, environmental justice, supply chain security, and other important priorities for our country. Efforts such as utilizing artificial intelligence-assisted robots for sorting recyclable materials and recycling critical materials in batteries, magnets, and electronics are examples that increase domestic supply chain security and are critical to elevating process efficiency, economic growth, and resource independence and helping to protect the environment.
In Georgia, many manufacturers, particularly those owned by European-based companies, are required to incorporate energy efficiency and zero-waste goals into day-to-day processes and sustainability programs.
Advancing sustainability efforts and implementing the circular economy model begins with a review and evaluation of processes, electric and water usage, landfill use, and raw material sourcing. The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech energy and sustainability team can help businesses review and identify ways to move into a circular economy. These strategies might include the use of recycled material, the reuse of the bulk packaging, and other landfill waste, or developing relationships with other companies that could use the waste.
For example, wax disks used by textile companies can get a second life when they are reused by the candle industry. Georgia breweries embrace sustainability by donating spent grain and hops from the brewing process to feed livestock, diverting that waste from landfills.
GaMEP sustainability experts help to identify risks within your plant, create customized plans to take corrective action, and train you and your team on how to recognize future areas of improvement. All of which will deliver a more resilient planet, strengthened national security, business efficiency and innovation, and a boost to the bottom line. In addition, GaMEP can connect companies with a network to support similar sustainability goals, cost savings, and economic growth in Georgia.
If you are interested in learning more about how GaMEP can support your sustainability efforts and help you join the circular economy, contact your region manager.
By: Bogna Grabicka, GaMEP Sustainability Project Manager