Finding the Circular Economy in unique places

Estelle Brachlianoff, Senior Executive Vice-President of Veolia UK & Ireland, shares innovative examples of sustainable innovation

Closed-loop thinking is becoming more central in business, as more and more corporate leaders start to recognise both the environmental and financial benefits of implementing the circular economy. In fact, the World Economic Forum has forecast that the circular economy will contribute $1 trillion per annum globally by 2025 and in the UK alone adopting a circular economy could equate to £29 billion (1.8 per cent) of GDP.

The circular economy is a business model that enables economic growth, whilst minimising the amount of raw materials that are extracted. Put simply, it means ensuring the resources we use – like paper, water and plastic – are kept in use for as long as possible by giving them a second, third or fourth life to ensure the maximum value is extracted.

Here are a few innovative and unusual examples of how businesses can derive value from their ‘waste’ materials:

  • Ice cream power – an example that many people seem to enjoy is how an ice cream manufacturer is turning inedible ice cream waste into biogas for the National Grid. The sugary sludge consisting of sugar, fat and protein – which is left behind after production line cleansing – is transformed into biomethane to heat UK homes using Anaerobic Digestion (AD) processes to breakdown the organic material. This sludge would otherwise be discarded and sent to landfill but now it is not only avoiding landfill but powering local homes.

  • Message in a milk bottle – this is our latest venture and enables us to manage more of the plastic milk bottle recycling supply chain. Our Dagenham Plastic Facility takes in the used plastic bottles from people’s homes or from businesses, recycles them and re-manufactures them back into food-grade HDPE plastic pellets ready to be made into new plastic milk bottles. Recycling this plastic saves 75 per cent energy compared to manufacturing plastic bottles from ‘virgin’ materials, which is a saving equivalent to the energy consumption of almost 20,000 homes per year and will also reduce carbon emissions by 10,000 tonnes annually too.

  • Truck wash for fleets – my final example started as an idea in our very own Innovation Den and has resulted in a new truck wash called ‘Cyclone TRF’ (Traffic Film Remover). We developed an idea to utilise unusable detergent – that hasn’t deteriorated in quality – into a high-performance and environmentally friendly truck wash. Our remanufactured cleaning solution is made from over 80 per cent of the active ingredients from the original washing up liquid and we’ve tested it on our own fleet with very positive results.

These examples are just a few cases of the vast refuse possibilities within the circular economy. What we need more businesses to realise is that in what they currently throw away there is value and opportunities to create new products and / or low carbon energy. This is the mindset we must change and why our doors are always open to discussing the value in ‘waste’.

Whatever business you’re in thinking circular can directly save money via materials and/or energy with no compromise on quality.I can think of 29 billion reasons why the UK needs to adopt the circular economy – from helping to boost the UK economy and creating more jobs, I urge businesses to realise this is our Galileo moment. The world is round and the circular economy is no longer just a theory, it’s happening here and now, and it should be top of the agenda in every boardroom in the country.

Veolia was Business in the Community’s ‘Responsible Business of the Year’ 2016/17′ for its commitment to the circular economy. For more sustainable solution examples to inspire your business check out Veolia’s ‘Leading the Circular Economy: Sustainable solitons for a solution world’ brochure. Find out more about Business in the Community’s own Circular Office campaign.

Image source: Animation by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCRKvDyyHmI&t=14s

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