circular economy...DEMAND.

I grow ever more frustrated with Sustainability pronouncements on Twitter which have more in common with a sappy old 'inspirational' Athena poster than hard economics. Recently I challenged a tweet which said that the 'circular economy' was being held back by a lack of public awareness. I couldn't disagree more (the tweet and tweeter have since disappeared, strangely).

Joe/Jo Public generally wants to know "what should I put in each bin?" They get frustrated that they can't recycle, say, expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging. This is technologically possible, but there's little or no demand so there is no point in collecting it. Once you create demand, the supply chains, technology and awareness will all mature rapidly and the stickers on recycling bins will change to say they can take EPS.

A great example of how demand works is how M&S went about building a supply chain for high-grade recycled polyester. They increased demand for low grade polyester fibre for bulk uses such as stuffing cushions. This brought economies of scale to the shared elements of the supply chain and helped bring the cost of high-grade fibres down to a reasonable level, so recycled fabrics became feasible. As they ramp up the number of products made from high-grade material, that unit cost will drop further and quality will improve.

You can't push material through a circular economy, you have to pull it through. That must be the fundamental principle for all policy, design and awareness developments.

 

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