Unipetrol | Fuelling Innovations | Articles
Circular Economy - what is it?
Maybe you’ve never seen these two words placed next to each other to form one term. Or maybe you have a bit of an idea that it has to do with environmental protection- one of today’s hottest topics. And no wonder that it is. Pollution has become a huge problem in desperate need of a solution. The solution could come to us in the shape of a circle.
What is it all about and how does it work?
Industrial manufacturing generates a tremendous amount of waste material from the initial production phase or the emissions created during product transportation to the packaging and leftovers that remain once the product starts being used. Furthermore, the end of the product’s life also marks the beginning of a new pile of waste and trying to find a way to deal with the leftover material. This is where circular economy comes in. It proposes bettering our environment and our standard of living by the use of circulation. This circulation model is split into two rudimentary circles. The first one contains organic materials which break down easily and can easily be returned into nature. The second circle deals with synthetic materials, which should not be returned to nature under any circumstances, but should be eligible for reuse. The core lies in learning how to produce and process everything in such a way that waste essentially ceases to exist.
How to do it?
Circular economy places an emphasis on both responsible production and consumption. The basic principle of responsible consumption is eliminating unnecessary wastefulness and avoiding mindless consumerism. It means asking ourselves whether we truly need the item we are buying or if it will just be another thing that collects dust and gets in the way. If we decide to go ahead with the purchase, we should select quality products that will serve us for a long time and are made from easily recyclable materials. Such a selection will guarantee that once our relationship with said product ends, we can send it back out into the world and trust that its journey will continue. At this moment, production and consumption meet and amiably shake hands.
What stands in the way?
Though it’s true that the majority Europeans sort their trash, there are still a number of obstacles in our way to a circular economy. One of these is the presence of materials with a complicated composition.
New materials are constantly being introduced into our lives. Their recyclability tends to be questionable and more difficult than that of classic ones. Unfortunately, the sustainability and ecological consumption trend brings with it materials that are marketed as ecologically friendly but in reality can be even harder on our environment. Their presence only complicates the whole circular economy system. For example, for many of us the term “compostable” plastic may sound like a dream come true. Compostable plastic means that I can continue enjoying the convenience plastic materials bring and be environmentally friendly at the same time, right? Once I finish using products, I can simply add them to the compost pile and be done with it. If only it were so easy. In reality, this idea begins to crumble once we learn that while this plastic really is compostable, it is so only at the extremely high temperatures of professional composters. Furthermore, it is impossible to recycle this material traditionally, meaning that what was originally intended to be a “green” purchase will just end up on a landfill.
If we feel responsible for our planet and wish to make the correct decisions, how should we behave?
In certain respects, it’s actually quite simple. A circular economy approach toward our possessions bears a striking resemblance to that of our predecessors, who fixed broken items and used them again instead of immediately discarding and replacing them. It’s also about trying to use things repeatedly, whether for their intended use or something completely different. It can be as simple as reusing the pouch we used for bringing home vegetables from yesterday’s shopping trip to pack today’s snack for work, or using it a few more times to bring apples or radishes home from the store. Once it really reaches the end of its life, we facilitate its introduction to other plastic materials by depositing it into a yellow container.
Evaluating material quality gets a bit more complicated. As has already been mentioned, a large amount of manufacturing materials complicate the circular economy model. In terms of products made out of plastic materials it’s the already stated compostable plastics, biodegradable plastics, which leave plastic micro particles in the environment and also goods which mix multiple kinds of plastic together. Mixed composition materials present somewhat of a recycling conundrum. Even if it’s possible to separate the individual ingredients, it takes an unnecessary amount of effort, time and money to do so. A successful circular economy model relies on use of materials with the simplest possible composition.
Tips for a responsible consumer:
- Don’t buy unnecessary stuff/ Buy only things I truly need
- When shopping, buy quality goods with a long life made from recyclable materials
- Avoid single use products as much as possible
- Use things repeatedly and try to come up with new ways to use them
- Once my things have finished serving me, take them to the appropriate place for subsequent recycling
As responsible consumers, we might have sacrifice a bit of time and convenience, but we can rest assured it’s a worthy investment toward our planet’s future.
- Life in the Polymer Age - An interview with Dr. Michael Londesborough
- The deal with hybrids- do you know the difference?
- Hydrogen- the Fuel of the Future?
- Fashion Revolution: 3D printing shoes and clothing