Collaborating to drive the circular economy forward
Why collaboration matters
As the global economy slips into recession, as inflation spikes and interest rates rise, families and individuals around the world face the scary prospect of going into debt, as they start living beyond their means. Some households are already in financial distress.
Most of the people concerned are sadly powerless, unable to do anything significant to change their situation for the better — they are victims of a global economic crash.
In a parallel scenario that is worryingly similar, we are all also victims of a planetary environmental crash, that is both ongoing and worsening, as we recklessly overspend the Earth’s natural capital every year, depleting and exhausting resources.
However, the big difference here is that we can do something about it – if we collaborate…
Earth Overshoot Day (EOD) marks the date in the calendar year when humanity has used all the biological resources that the planet is able to regenerate during an entire twelve month cycle.
In other words, from that point on, society is running in the red every additional day, week and month of the year, effectively overdrawn at the natural bank.
In 2022, EOD will fall on July 28 — meaning we have consumed everything within less than seven months; and the cupboard is bare for the remaining five months of the year.
To make bad news worse, EOD is creeping forward year-on-year. Back in 1971, when the calculation was first made using UN statistics, the date was actually Christmas Day, December 25. So, the rate of overshoot is accelerating rapidly in the wrong direction. The problem is serious; the solution is the Circular Economy.
Circular innovation is part of the solution
Strictly speaking, the solution is two-fold — first cut consumption; then go circular. Over-consumption is not just an economic and an environmental issue, but a social one, too. The disparity between world regions, nations and communities in terms of the ‘have’s’ and ‘have-nots’ is so inequitable, it amounts to discrimination.
Each year, for example, roughly one third of all food produced ends up going to waste. This waste amounts to a staggering 1.3bn tons of food, worth around $1tn. The cost to people, profit and the planet is huge.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the first two (of 17) UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for No Poverty and Zero Hunger. SDG 12 targets Responsible Consumption and Production.
Addressing consumption is a challenge for behavior change, with complex political and cultural implications. Tackling production is primarily a matter for circular innovation.
A specific example of a production problem that circular innovation can fix is liner waste.
Production of 100,000 labels for the packaging industry can generate 100.12kg of liner waste. Market intelligence specialist AWA estimates the total pressure-sensitive release liner by-product in the European market to be a whooping 688,000 tons or 10,228 Million Sqm in 2021.
With paper shortages a growing concern, there is added pressure on the packaging industry to innovate around recycling, optimize resource-use and minimise waste. As a result, the state-of-play is evolving rapidly, with a circular mindset now emerging, says Niels Christian Schou, Director Marketing Programs at Avery Dennison:
“We are witnessing a significant increase in awareness across the entire ecosystem, with circularity moving from a nice-to-have to a must-have. The European Green Deal and Fit for 55 package are going to be game changers for the industry, leading to many brand owners realizing that it is now becoming mandatory to act, and act responsible.”
Policy and regulation are not the only drivers for brand owners, however, adds Schou: “Recent supply-chain disruption illustrated to all partners in the value chain that we have to recycle, reuse and reduce as much as possible. In addition, consumers and mainstream media are also now calling for solutions on the packaging waste topic.”
In response, the packaging industry needs to move forward at speed and scale — and the only way this can realistically happen is through collaboration. Therefore, Avery Dennison felt motivated and obligated to find innovative solutions that work — being easy, affordable and supplier neutral, so they can be rolled-out industry-wide.
Liner recycling and industry-wide collaboration
Launched to limit waste, AD Circular is the Avery Dennison program for recycling used paper and filmic label liners in countries across Europe. Its success will be built upon collaborations with innovation partners, explains Schou:
“We knew there had to be routes to utilize the good quality liner material, converting waste into resources. We are not recycling experts, though, nor do we have the relevant capabilities, so, as founding members of Circular Economy for Labels (CELAB) consortium, we have connected with specialist partners like ECOR to find solutions.”
The vision behind the collaboration is clear, says Roberto Reyes, COO, ECOR Global:
“There are two drivers creating this market breakthrough. First, is Avery Dennison’s deep commitment to extend the useful life of their labels as valuable fibers that often are landfilled, or incinerated. Second, ECOR’s mission is to create new and sustainable alternatives for end-of-life fibers that can enhance the circular economy.”
In terms of the process, AD Circular makes things easy, with liner recycling at the touch of a button, literally. The website can not only be used to schedule pick-up of used liners, but also to provide key data via regularly updated analytics and certificates on the volume of material recycled and total CO2 emissions saved. This level of transparency around sustainability metrics is clearly valuable not only to converters, but also to the likes of brand-owners, plus retail clients and customers upstream who are reporting on environmental impacts tracked by CSR and ESG.
When it comes to the recycling technology underpinning the innovation, this starts with the waste liner material glassine, which is a paper product originally made from wood pulp. The glassine is first re-pulped and cleaned from impurities — mainly silicon and pigments — and transformed into recycled fibers.
As well as being employed for new label materials and liners, the fiberscan then be used in new applications, such as envelopes, boxes and decorative papers, plus plywood.
Working together on the AD Circular program, ECOR found a way to extract value out of the used label release liners by converting these byproducts into FiberAlloyTM composite panels. These are made via a proprietary natural process that diverts valuable bio-based fibers away from traditional waste processing systems. The result is the world’s first non-toxic, fully recyclable panel.
Sustainability leadership on show
With non-toxic coatings to facilitate surface treatments including high-quality print, the applications for these panels made from upcycled liner waste are extensive. They were even seen on show as part of a display stand at the Label Expo, in Brussels.
Such a closed-loop, circular supply-chain solution is an industry first, says Reyes: “This collaboration represents the first time label release liners were activated into a new material suitable for a wide array of applications, including packaging, flooring and furniture. Our work together might have started small — with product testing and development for the trade-show booth project — but big things begin with baby steps.”
Ultimately, the circularity challenge calls on key players in the packaging economy to lead by example — and to do so by collaborating, creatively — concludes Schou: “If we do not put aside commercial priorities and set up cross-sector collaboration, our industry will fail in creating quality recycled material streams to satisfy the high and growing demand.
This is not a one-company responsibility; it is an industry imperative.”