Circular economy

Trends and innovations

  The global population is increasing at a steep rate, far outpacing available resources in the traditional “take-makewaste” approach of the linear economy. This is why there is a shift towards a circular economy. Solutions that aim to reduce waste and the use of new raw materials enable establishing a closed-loop economy.
    Thus, circular economy solutions turn waste into resources and extend the life of products and materials. While recycling, reusing, and repairing have been around for a long time, turning to technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain to advance the circular economy.

Impact Of Circular Economy Trends
    With the alarming rise of waste and carbon emissions, effective waste management is critical to reducing the impact of economic activities on the environment. Solutions include generating resources from waste, optimised waste collection with the internet of things (IoT), and AI-powered waste sorting.
    Using AI to predict demand for reducing the wastage of perishable products and food items. Keeping products in the loop for as long as possible is another major principle of the circular economy. Hence, working on sustainable practices like reusing, repairing, and remanufacturing products. Blockchain too supports circularity by allowing traceability of products and helping reward positive behavior like disposing of waste in the correct bins.

    The world generates tonne's of waste annually, most of which end up in landfills. The circular economy retains the value of products or resources by putting them back into the product cycle after use. Besides mechanical recycling, one of the biggest circular economy trends is to upcycle this waste to energy by incineration, gasification, anaerobic digestion, and pyrolysis. This allows waste management companies to get rid of the waste effectively, as well as provides an additional stream of clean energy for power utility companies. While every industry produces waste, some industries like energy, food, agriculture, and fashion are larger contributors than others. Working on waste upcycling solutions that focus on waste from such polluting industries. For instance, the fashion industry is now upcycling textile waste to produce new apparel, shoes, and accessories. This reduces the cost of raw materials and makes companies more sustainable.
    Offering solutions to generate on-site energy from waste. The containerised anaerobic digester, Muckbuster, turns slurry and farm waste into electricity and heat, generating fertilizer as a by-product. The digester converts slurry into biogas which then fuels a combined heat & power (CHP) engine. Similarly, another digester, Flexibuster, turns organic waste like food waste into energy by utilising the same mechanism.

    Reusing products extends their lifecycle while reducing waste and the use of new raw materials, thus, making it one of the top circular economy trends. However, there is often a lack of information about the products available for reuse. As a result, various types of sharing platforms are on the rise. For instance, asset sharing platforms allow businesses to earn revenue by lending materials or machines that otherwise mostly remain unused. Similarly, food sharing applications help reduce food waste while preventing losses from unsold food. Apart from reusing materials, there is a shift away from single-use packaging to reusable packaging. The latter is made with durable materials to survive multiple lifecycles. Reusable packaging is also gaining traction in the manufacturing, automotive, and consumer goods industries. It helps brands and companies significantly reduce packaging purchase and disposal costs. Additionally, they reduce the carbon footprint by sending less waste to landfills.
    A business-to-business (B2B) digital matching platform for reusing materials or waste products. It assigns a digital identity to the materials or products with barcodes, QR codes, and RFID chips. The digital identity provides an overview of the composition, origin, toxicity, and safety of releasing such materials. The platform then identifies reuse options for the materials based on their financial, environmental, and social value.

Internet of Waste
    In traditional waste management systems, municipalities and waste management companies often end up spending a lot of money and effort to collect waste. The collection system usually works on fixed schedules, without considering the trash capacities of dumpsters. As a result, garbage trucks often visit dumpsters that are not yet full or those which overflow with garbage.     Therefore, developing IoT-based smart waste management solutions to reduce the inefficiencies in trash collection. Such solutions leverage sensors, IoT platforms, and mobile applications. Smart bins, for example, transmit real-time fill level information to waste collectors. This streamlines the pickup process and eliminates inefficient visits to near-empty trash bins, saving time, fuel, and labor.
    Offering an IoT-enabled smart bin that automatically segregates dry waste like paper, plastics, and cans. Besides having a fill level sensor for trash, it also offers route optimization for waste collection. The dashboard enables the supervisors to monitor assigned devices. The platform also analyzes the waste and generates reports on usage patterns, types and amount of waste collected, and time spent on collecting waste in each area.

Artificial Intelligence
    Separating or sorting garbage is as important as an effective waste collection to ensure that the right materials are sent for recycling. Unfortunately, this process is still a bottleneck for many waste management facilities as the majority of them follow a single-sort system in which all the recyclables end up in the same box. But the recyclables like plastic and cardboard need to be separated. AI-powered sensors differentiate among items made from different materials as well as nuances among the ones of the same materials. It also detects chemical contamination in the items. This is why the use of AI in waste management is one of the emerging circular economy trends. Moreover, AI-driven machines sort recyclables much faster than humans using computer vision and deep learning algorithms. AI enables waste management companies to reduce the need for manual labor, thus, cutting costs and maximising efficiency.
    RECYCLEYE offers automated waste management solutions that utilise AI and robotics. The solution’ algorithms replicate the power of human vision to identify items in waste streams. Recycleye engages in waste sorting with the help of the AI vision system that identifies and classifies all items on waste streams – by material, object, and even brand. WasteNet, the visual database of labeled waste items, identifies waste at the brand level. Leveraging AI to power Recycleye’s robotic picker, it adapts to changing waste compositions without any need for retrofit.

Bio-Based Materials
    Products made from non-renewable resources largely contribute to environmental pollution and reach the end of their lifecycle very quickly. Therefore, companies are producing new bio-based materials obtained from renewable resources, making it an important circular economy trend. Bio-based materials are generally compostable, as well as are also easier to recycle, helping companies and consumers reduce their carbon footprints. They find applications in packaging, construction, healthcare, and automotive sectors. For the packaging industry, developing sustainable packaging solutions such as compostable packaging and edible cutlery. Additionally, to reduce the usage of fossil-based plastic, there is a shift towards bioplastics and other materials derived from biomass sources like wood chips, sawdust, recycled food waste, and fungi.
    Mycelium-based materials for interior design. MOGU grows strains of mycelium on pre-engineered substrates from agro-industrial residues. By tuning the matrix configuration, it harvests different materials for use in wall panels and floor tiles. Fungal mycelium acts as a reinforcement to the matrix structure, creating a plastic-free and coherent material composite. At the end of production, an inertisation process slowly dries mycelium materials to reduce energy consumption.

    Both recycling and remanufacturing reduce solid and hazardous waste, but the former uses more energy to dismantle a product. Moreover, recycling implies breaking down a product to convert it into raw materials that are used for making new products. But remanufacturing involves rebuilding a product to its original condition with reused, repaired, and some new parts, making it as good as new. Advanced technologies like laser metal deposition (LMD), an additive manufacturing process, not only restore a component but also add extra features for improved performance. This allows original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to cut down their capital investment expenditures while also reducing their carbon footprint.
    Offering remanufactured screw compressors, reciprocating compressors, and air-cooled chillers. Resolute Industrial engineers inspect each part of the returned compressors to determine suitability for reconditioning and reuse. It reuses compressor parts that pass the inspection process, as well uses new parts to make up for the missing components. The remanufactured compressors undergo a bench testing procedure to assure they are ready for service. They offers the same warranties, including extended warranties, for remanufactured compressors as new ones.

    Blockchain secures its position as a top emerging trend by enabling two important functions in the circular economy — providing transparency and traceability, and incentivising circular behavior. Using blockchain’s immutability to verify the origin of products, assuring that they meet their sustainability claims. For example, The World Economic Forum’s Mining and Metals Blockchain Initiative’s (MMBI) Carbon Tracing Platform (COT) — a unique proof of concept, traces carbon emissions across the supply chain. This helps mining companies to meet Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) demands. Additionally, rewarding circular consumption and disposal motivate people beyond the obvious but abstract necessity to protect the planet. For instance, compensating people with a sum or reward points for further purchases on returning packages like empty bottles.
    An Ethereum blockchain platform with a proof-of-stake (POS) consensus algorithm. The decentralised reward system finds smart bins and users worldwide. NatureCoin provides an e-wallet through which users accumulate points every time they deposit recyclable products in the smart bins. These points are redeemable to purchase goods or services. They stores all the transactions and recycling data on a public ledger that tracks environmental impact and provides insights on the amount of carbon footprint reduced. This data has the potential to help governments make more evidence-based environmental policies.

    Reusing products extends their lifecycle, but products often become unfit for reuse. Repair solutions address this, extending the life of products. Moreover, it also helps reduce waste and the use of new raw materials. Take for example the tonnes of electronic waste globally. Repair solutions hold the potential to bring much of it back to the cycle. This is why repair solutions are an important circular economy trend and companies are adopting them to reduce their carbon footprint and save costs on raw materials. Also, often, direct replacement is not possible for expensive industrial machines due to the unavailability of specific spare parts and high costs of new equipment. Repair solutions offer a much cheaper alternative for the companies while also contributing to circularity.
    FixFirst develops software that digitises repair and maintenance services. They also offer platform services that help customers use their devices for longer. It helps service providers, device manufacturers, electronics retailers, and insurance companies provide repair and maintenance services to their end customers. It leverages automatic lead qualification, integration with external partners, mobile order processing, and video inspection and remote assistance to achieve this.