Big Companies Turn Trash to Treasure in the Circular Economy

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Big Companies Turn Trash to Treasure in the Circular Economy

When participating in the circular economy, businesses use leftover materials and byproducts from their own manufacturing – or from other companies, obtained in an increasingly popular process called "materials matching."
Plastic transmission case caps are collected for recycling at the General Motors transmission plant in Warren, Michigan. Photograph: Wieck
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Monday, May 2, 2016 - 11:45am

CAMPAIGN: GM Waste Reduction

CONTENT: Article

To understand the circular economy, think of the old saying: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Only imagine that idea scaled up – way up – to apply to big businesses.

When taking part in the circular economy, large companies use leftover materials and byproducts from their own manufacturing – or from other businesses, obtained in a process called “materials matching”. Thanks to a greater demand for climate change solutions spurred by the Paris agreement and the evolution of intelligent software, the need for materials matching is greater than ever, according to Andrew Mangan, executive director of the US Business Council for Sustainable Development.

The Materials Marketplace is one example of how cloud-based data and software is enabling the waste-sharing economy. This online database lists unwanted products ready to find second uses. Companies can view and purchase scrap materials like textile scraps or off-spec wood flooring. Ultimately, businesses save money and byproducts are diverted from landfills.

The project, which won a World Economic Forum Circulars award, is a joint effort among three organizations: the US Business Council for Sustainable Development (US BCSD), the Corporate Eco Forum (CEF) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

“The Materials Marketplace is an amazing example of what companies can do when they collaborate,” says CEF founder MR Rangaswami. “The pioneering companies that sparked this initiative have paved the way for hopefully hundreds more companies to reduce their footprints and move toward more circular business models.”

Peter Bakker, president and CEO of the WBCSD, believes that new business models based on the principles of the circular economy will accelerate the shift to a more sustainable and thriving economy. “The Materials Marketplace is a clear demonstration of this potential as it turns waste into an engine for creating value,” he says.

Reuse networks are popping up in communities throughout the US. Reuse Opportunity Collaboratory (ROC) Detroit is made up of companies, academic institutions, nonprofits and government agencies that are all interested in creating environmental, societal and economic opportunities from the Motor City’s underused materials. Its first meeting included a discovery session in which participants discussed their top resource challenges and shared ideas for collaboration.

More companies are seeking to reuse their materials. Closed-loop recycling, in which waste gets plugged back into operations as raw material, is one way to achieve that. “We like to think of waste as just a resource out of place,” says John Bradburn, global manager of waste reduction at GM. “We encourage employees to see things not as they are but what they can be. The end result is transformative and leads to good projects and unique collaborations.”

GM partners with a supplier to turn used cardboard from one of its assembly plants into acoustical padding in the roof of two Buick sedan models. It also mixes plastic caps that protect vehicle parts during shipment with other post-consumer plastics like bottle caps to make air deflectors for Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks.

True, the company benefits from waste reduction – but so does the environment. Recycling and reusing materials reduce the emissions that come from extracting and transporting virgin raw materials. The 2.5m metric tons of waste that GM recycled in 2014 avoided 10m metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions ­– an amount that’s more than the emissions generated globally from its 171 factories.

The GM team communicates recycling and reuse solutions internally and formalizes them. This enables GM’s landfill-free program – now totaling 131 facilities around the world that send no waste to landfills – to continue to expand and encourage creative recycling.

Reposted from with permission.

Keywords: Environment & Climate Change | Business & Trade | Business Ethics | Carbon Footprint | Chevrolet Silverado | Climate Change / Global Warming | Conservation | Corporate Eco Forum | Corporate Social Responsibility | Ethical Production & Consumption | GMC Sierra

CAMPAIGN: GM Waste Reduction

CONTENT: Article