While the concept of a circular economy is still relatively new, it is perhaps one of the most critical concepts for businesses to build upon in today’s world.
In the past, few companies have considered what happens to their products after they’re purchased or where they end up when they’ve reached their end-of-life. This has led to unmanageable waste streams that are having devastating effects on our planet.
In the promotional product industry, use of a product is key to a great promotion. But unfortunately, nothing lasts forever or is useable forever. A pen eventually runs out of ink, a mug will get chipped, or a t-shirt gets over-washed. Most of these items will eventually find their way to a landfill. But do they have to?
A circular economy focuses on designing products so that resources can be reused and reinvested into new products. Reusing materials becomes part of the design and manufacturing process.
In a linear economy, products are primarily designed and manufactured based on what is the most economical and convenient, with little or no regard for waste and resources. This has been referred to as the ’take, make, dispose' model.
When products are developed with circular-economy principles, the end-of-life can become a critical part of the manufacturing process. For example, Timberland & Omni United teamed up to create a line of tires that are meant to be recycled into footwear outsoles once the tires are no longer usable. This is a prime example of turning what would have been waste into a valuable resource and revenue.
Collaboration is key
When it comes to incorporating circular-economy principles into a business, few can do it alone. Collaboration is key for companies when developing circular-economy products.
At Botanical PaperWorks, we’ve teamed up with local businesses and schools to recycle post-consumer and post-industrial materials into seed paper products for businesses and individuals. These plantable paper products also further help to reduce waste by being an alternative to traditional paper and plastic products. Because the paper is biodegradable and embedded with seeds, there isn’t any waste left behind, just wildflowers, herbs, or vegetables.
Businesses can also collaborate to transform the waste of one product into material for another product in a completely different industry. For example, discarded clothing is being transformed into things such as insulation for buildings, cushioning material and new fibers for clothing.
Businesses might also incorporate circular-economy principles by teaming up with recycling programs and initiatives to develop a process for returning end-of-life parts so they can be reused or refurbished for resale.
When it comes to circular-economy products, the design should incorporate reuse, repairing and/or recycling.
Manufacturing & The Promotional Products Industry
In the promotional products industry, the companies involved in each stage of the sales process are known - products are purchased from suppliers, sold by distributors, dispersed by end-users, and used by consumers. The manufacturers of the products though are a bit of a mystery because they aren’t always the supplier.
Quite often, suppliers will order inventory from manufacturers, so they aren’t necessarily involved in the production of the products. There are however, some suppliers such as Botanical PaperWorks that own the manufacturing process of the products they offer, but this is an exception rather than the rule.
So, how can buyers purchase from companies that support the circular-economy process when they aren’t sure who the manufacturer is? And what can the industry do to grow circular-economy product lines if they rely on outside manufacturers? The answer comes down to supply and demand. By increasing the demand for circular-economy products, the supply chain will grow.
Distributors and suppliers can impact manufacturing processes by really looking at the products they are selling and asking questions such as:
Where are the products you are selling being made?
How are they being made?
What are they made from?
What kind of facility are they made in?
Where will the products (and their compontents such as packaging) end up at the end of their life cycle?
The last question is perhaps the most important because in order to reduce waste streams, products must either be recycled into new products or leave no waste behind by biodegrading or composting away.
To build a more sustainable industry, promotional product professionals can support a circular economy by building their business with more circular-economy products and informing clients about the value of them. Together we can change the face of the industry and make it more sustainable than ever.
ABOUT BOTANICAL PAPERWORKS
Botanical PaperWorks is the world-leading producer of eco-friendly seed paper and winner of multiple 'Best In Green' Image Awards. We produce promotional products, wedding, memorial products and sustainable packaging for more than 35 countries.
The Botanical PaperWorks team is led by CEO Heidi Reimer-Epp who founded Botanical PaperWorks over 20 years ago. Heidi is the chairperson of the PPPC board, Canada's promotional product industry association. Heidi is a papermaking expert and is the author of three books, including The Encyclopedia of Papermaking and Bookbinding.