Manufacturing a circular economy - the hot topic of 2019

Power Control
31 Oct 2019

How and Why the Industry is Shifting toward a Circular Economy

Circular economy is one of the hottest global topics of 2019. Having evolved from the world’s focus on improving efficiencies to meet the demands of an ever environmentally conscious population, the ethos behind a circular economy extends far beyond standard efficiency practices. It addresses the lifecycle of resources and looks to extend these as far as possible through recycling, reusing and redeploying.

This philosophy, to some is an idealistic fantasy that delivers impractical obligations and potentially financially crippling outcomes. To others it is a critical step towards achieving a sustainable ‘green’ future. The real questions though, are how financially viable is a circular economy and can this truly be adopted across all industries?

For years living in a disposable economy has been acceptable, where organisations collect raw materials, manufacture them into products that are used and then disposed of as waste once the maximum value has been extracted. This ‘take-make-dispose’ industrial process, known as a linear economy is created by selling as many products as possible.

Environmental activists have consistently highlighted the impact that a linear economy has on the supply of already dwindling natural resources. Further negative ramifications are evident in the ‘cradle to grave’ business model, with vast amounts of unwanted landfill waste being pumped into rivers and canals and ultimately ending up in the world’s oceans.

Whilst the environmental impacts of a linear economy are clear, there are a number of economic disadvantages that will be felt by companies who do not move away from this model. The continued uncertainties around Brexit have raised fears over the raw material prices and the growing reliance on interdependence could jeopardise the supply of materials.

Some believe that the pressures to embrace a circular economy are impractical as the fundamental principles do not support aggressive sales cycles. The fashion sector has been one of the most impacted. An industry which has become synonymous for its frivolous use of materials. ‘Throwaway fashion’ has received its fair share of negative press, where entire supply chains coming under scrutiny not just from the media but also the government and its legislative fair practice regulations. Ironically though, being ‘green’ has become a fashion a statement and the industry is stoically embracing the challenge.

The less cynical, and arguably the more progressive demographic, appreciate that the adoption of a circular economy mitigates the economic risks and offers a considerably more sustainable structure for generations to come, both economically and environmentally. The forward thinking understand that a circular economy influences a shift to the ‘cradle to cradle’ approach by keeping resources in use for longer and at the end of the products useful life, recovers and reuses those resources. This therefore aims to minimise resource inputs and the creation of waste, which will ultimately lessen the pressure on the country’s natural resources.

Of particular interest to organisations that have committed their operations to more efficient processes, recyclable materials, reusable materials and all other manner of operation towards achieving a greater sustainable future, is the industry 4.0 concept.

Industry 4.0, a concept whereby factories use production lines and processes that are augmented with wireless connectivity and sensors is making the shift to a circular economy seamless. With an integration of industry 4.0 and the circular economy paradigm, it is believed that sustainable solutions will be achieved and reduce the emission and resource from the industrial system to meet future carbon neutral targets.

The industry 4.0 model ties in naturally with the UK’s target is to reduce carbon emissions by 100% of 1990 levels, the deadline of which is to be 2050. This figure not only requires individuals and businesses to reduce their carbon emissions.

After energy production and agriculture, the industrial sector is the third largest producer of carbon dioxide, producing as much as 21%1. This is mainly due to manufacturing processes which use and combust fossil fuels in various steps of the manufacturing and industry process and any waste goes to landfill.

In a shift to a circular economy manufacturing companies would increase the reuse of resources and decrease waste by treating an end of life product as a new resource. This follows the three R’s model, reduce, reuse and recycle.

This process does not need to be a closed loop within each organisation. As a supplier of uninterruptible power supplies, Power Control Ltd understand that a key aspect of a circular economy is that it requires collaboration and moves beyond working in silos. Which is why Power Control only partner with UPS manufacturers who share the same environmental values working in industrial symbiosis.

Uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) have a clearly defined life expectancy which is largely dictated by the internal batteries and components. One of the main challenges is to create value from the UPS system once it has reached the end of its useful life.

As outlined in Power Control’s Corporate Social Responsibility document, when replacing a UPS that is considered at the end of its usable life, it is stripped unit for all its recyclable material. For example, once the batteries in a UPS reach their end of life, rather than disposing of them in landfill, Power Control comply with WEEE regulation and promote recycling. This minimises waste and stimulates the development of more environmentally friendly products for the future.

Reinforcing its commitment to environmental sustainability, Power Control closely monitors the impacts that both on and offsite activities has on the environment and include returning onsite waste generated by Power Control back to the head office to be collected by an approved waste carrier to be recycled appropriately.

Another angle of a circular economy is by using the waste produced by one manufacturer for the raw materials of another, therefore alleviating the reliance on sourcing raw materials for one manufacturer and reducing the amount of waste entering landfill from the other.

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