Why We Need Circularity
According to recent European Commission estimates, half of total greenhouse gas emissions and more than 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress come from resource extraction and processing. Packaging waste in Europe reached a record 173 kg per inhabitant, the highest level ever, in 2017. Twenty percent of the total food produced is lost or wasted in the EU. Annual waste generation from all economic activities in the EU amounts to 2.5 billion tonnes, or 5 tonnes per capita a year, and each citizen produces on average nearly half a tonne of municipal waste. According to recent analysis, Americans recycle just 35% of their municipal waste, Germany, the most efficient country, recycles 68%.
One response to this inefficient reality is the Circular Economy. In short, the Circular Economy represents the idea that materials and products are never wasted but always reused and/or recycled, allowing us to decouple economic growth from resource use. This new degenerative growth model could actually give back to the planet more than it takes while still being profitable for businesses. No more “Take, Make, Dispose.”
A few schools of thought have emerged. One is “cradle to cradle,” a design philosophy that considers all material involved in industrial and commercial processes to be nutrients, of which there are two main categories: technical and biological. Another is “Improving performance,” which focuses on improving the life of products, making them reusable, or making it the responsibility of companies to own the product entirely, as opposed to releasing responsibility to consumers. A third is “Industrial Ecology,” which advocates for a closed-loop processes in which waste serves as an input, thus eliminating the notion of an undesirable by-product. This is the area Aprinnova is poised to lead in the cosmetics space by offering some of the worlds’ first circular economy cosmetic ingredients.
Inspiring Examples of Circularity
Inspiring examples of circularity are emerging. For instance, the Body Shop collaborated with Plastics for Change to give fair wages to waste pickers in India resulting in 3 million hair care bottles this year. TerraCycle launched its Loop platform: products are delivered to consumer households in refillable packaging. The packaging is returned, cleaned and re-used for the same products. Loop features many name brands – from Pantene to Hagen Daas. Lush cosmetics has opened ‘Naked’ stores offering an expanded set of packaging-free products that have been reformulated to reduce their water content, resulting in solid versions of products such as shampoo, shower gels, body lotions and toothpaste. Their efforts saved 19.4 million plastic bottles. Lush also launched its Lens App, a new digital label to eliminate the need for paper labels, and consumers can return empty hair care containers to get a free mask. The container material is pelletized, washed and remolded. Splosh is a subscription cleaning kit containing a range of simply designed bottles and sachet of concentrated liquid create DIY cleaning products. The film pouch that holds the fluid is PVOH (polyvinyl alcohol), a dissolvable material used in a variety of industries. In this case it was an especially useful design choice, as once dissolved, PVOH actually improves the product, adding viscosity and a mild cleaning action to the mixed solution. Luxury skin care brand Wildsmith Skin launched a gift set packaged in mycelium packaging, a mushroom-based biodegradable box. These innovations are driven by the private sector, can also be supported by the right policy environment.
Policy Can Drive Innovation
Policy support for industry can be an engine for rapid growth. For instance, the European Commission recently provided additional guidance through its Circular Economy Action Plan. The plan outlined a comprehensive framework. Key items include:
- Setting a goal to make sustainable products, services and business models the norm through a coherent policy framework
- Advocating for legislation to widen the mandate of Ecodesign Directive which oversees energy efficiency
- Supporting bio-based manufacturing and ensure sustainability of bio-based materials from renewable sources
- Establishing a target for food waste reduction
- Increasing consumers education at point of sale about the lifespan of a product and how it could be recycled or reused
- Encouraging the integration of sustainability criteria into business strategies
- Advocating for cross-region teamwork & common performance metrics
The impact may be significant: the EC aspires to create 700,000 circular economy jobs by 2030. This framework is allowing for innovation on a significant scale.
An Inclusive Circular Economy
The definition of “sustainability” means evaluating economic, environmental, and social factors so that future generations can enjoy what we enjoy today. The circular economy is a critical design tool through which we can achieve this goal. While we may consider these innovations to be purely product or design oriented, we have the opportunity consider the intersectionality of community involvement, impact and circularity. These were recently discussed on the Catalyst Creative Coffee Chat podcast with Aprinnova’s John Toner, Karla Ballard Williams of Ying, and Mollie Jensen of Biossance.
For example, at Aprinnova, we advocate for “clean beauty” from an industry perspective around 4 pillars: safety, transparency, performance and sustainability. All ingredients and products should align with these pillars. The definition of “sustainable” considers social, economic and environmental factors. Social factors necessarily include fair wages, equality and justice.
This could be one reason we’ve seen clean beauty brands take a never-before-seen public stand in recent days for racial justice. Racial equality and social justice are fundamental components of social sustainability.
Similarly, promoting the circular economy can engage with the most vulnerable communities impacted by excessive waste, allowing them to be the source of their own solutions instead of a top–down only approach, while investing in those solutions to lift them up.
Eighty percent of a products’ environmental impacts are determined at the design phase. Over the next decade it is more important than ever that brand leaders take into account how they can join and champion a circular economy for all – from start to finish.
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