A circular economy takes its waste products and recycles them back into new products. One classic example of a circular economy is the newspaper business. Old papers from today are fed back into the system to make clean newsprint for the newspaper presses tomorrow.
Tires used to be an example of an economic model that is definitely not circular because the production process creates chemical changes that make recycling difficult. By 1990, there were more than a billion of old tires in landfills in the United States alone and billions more thrown away around the world. The tire industry was not a sustainable business model.
The key to a sustainable business is creating a circular economy in which waste products are fed back into the production process as raw material. “Zero waste to landfill” is now a primary goal of leading companies in every industry as they search for new ways to recycle and re-purpose their waste and make products more recyclable. This focus is known as “product stewardship.” General Motors now has 122 production facilities around the world that put no waste into local landfills.
Often, government incentives and research grants are needed to identify how to recycle and repurpose. According to Slate.com, entrepreneurial opportunities are created wherever there is a breakdown between waste products and raw materials. It recommends that those seeking new business opportunities look at the waste cycle of any product, find the weak links in its production circle, and identify cost-effective solutions.
That sort of dynamic has totally changed the tire industry. Today, many of those old tires are being reprocessed into tire-derived fuel, a substitute for coal and other fuels commonly used in cement kilns, pulp and paper mills, and for electricity generation. Others are used for ground rubber applications like rubberized asphalt, artificial turf fields and playground surfaces. Rubberized asphalt lasts longer than ordinary asphalt and has enhanced properties such as better noise control. It also erodes more slowly and has better drainage.
As a result of such innovative thinking, the number of cast-off tires in the US has dropped by more than 90% since 1990. That’s good news for our economy and our environment.
Car manufacturers are pushing new ways to incorporate recycled products in their new vehicles. In the 2015 Nissan Leaf, for example, 25% of its content comes from recycled materials. Now when a new car is designed, engineers actively consider how it will be recycled at the end of its useful life. Thinking about what will happen to a product when its utility is exhausted is the essence of good “product stewardship.”
Are there any entrepreneurs who can make a profit recycling all those trillions of empty plastic bottles out there in the world?
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