The Circular Economy

Jim Thompson, CEO

If you haven't heard of this already, you will. The latest bureaucratic imposition to which we will likely be subjected, either because we think it will help our business or because customers demand it of us, is the "Circular Economy."

This is a step beyond recycling. Recycling is out, it is part of the linear economy, where we make, use and discard (either to landfill or the recycling stream).

The Circular Economy idea is that we use things over and over until they are totally useless.

Our friend the corrugated container makes a great illustrative example. We have been patting ourselves on the back, thinking we are doing a great job recycling this recycling friendly object. That's not good enough for the Circular Economy.

In the Circular Economy, we'll take that box and repurpose it, for example, to hold our Christmas decorations instead of going out and buying red and green plastic bins to hold these items between uses. We'll use that box for the next ten or twenty years until you can see through its sides and it no longer functions as a box--then we will recycle it.

What I have just described is what we did when I was a kid, raised by thrifty parents who had grown up in the Depression.

Notice what the Circular Economy does, however. It is not a zero-sum game. It puts some people out of business or at least slows their growth. The recycled stream, for instance, has a transient period where it slows down for a while until the worn-out boxes have no useful life left in them and they must end up being recycled (when it will then return to steady-state conditions). The plastic bin maker goes out of business.

This cuts across all aspects of the economy, not just our good old paper industry. With proper societal pressure, you'll not buy a new car, you'll repair your TV, you'll wear your pants until the seat falls out of them. It will be a badge of pride that you are doing these things and you'll be in a shunned hall of shame if you do not. Economies will shrink.

Old Jim predicts we'll see an ISO standard for this behavior soon and companies will dutifully line up to become certified that they are, indeed, doing all they can to promote the Circular Economy. In fact, the British appear to be out first with a standard on this subject--BS8001:2017.

Not quite a circular economy issue, but a breakthrough in recycling, perhaps, we should note in, so to speak the same breath, that Procter & Gamble is making a liquid detergent bottle from 100% post-consumer waste which includes 10% "Ocean Plastic."

Jim Thompson is CEO of Paperitalo Publications.
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