A Circular Future
Designing a sustainable future
Words by Pippa Corry, Sustainable Brand & Packaging Consultant
“The circular economy is a transformative approach that systemically re-defines the process of material use and ensures the design, use and end of life goods are thoroughly considered."
At Frost*collective, we value and actively seek to better define the opportunities the circular economy can bring to our business and the brands we work with. We are working to design smarter packaging through closed loop principles and responsible material sourcing, while helping brands spring sustainability into action through our impact molecule strategy. Without these approaches to creative thinking, we believe there simply won’t be growth opportunities in the long term.
To date, our economies have been built and expanded globally on a ‘take, make, waste’ use of materials, in other words, we extract (often finite) materials from our planet, make them into goods, and throw them away when we’re done. It’s estimated that in the plastic industry alone that US$80-120 billion annually* is lost through waste. How can discarding so many valuable materials, particularly in consumable goods after a short life span make economic sense? Not to mention the near irreversible environmental implications and now social impacts waste has on us.
It was recently reported by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that the production of goods (clothes, food, cars, and all our everyday consumables) accounts for up to 45% of global emissions. We’ve seen first hand the catastrophic consequences of our nations rising temperatures with November’s unprecedented bush fires across NSW and Queensland. So, it begs what if we designed products and their packaging differently? What if we decoupled economic growth from material use? What if we broke away from tradition and defined new systems and infrastructures that re-think our whole outlook on material use, and our relationship with natural resources?
The good news is…we can do all these things. Through design, we can responsibly produce goods and packaging through the adoption of the circular economy. The circular economy is a transformative approach that systemically re-defines the process of material use and ensures the design, use and end of life goods are thoroughly considered (commonly through life cycle analysis (LCA)). It’s estimated 80% of a product or services’ environmental impacts are defined in the early stages of design** and this is where we need to innovate and really shake things up, at the source. With growing populations and a global economy built on an unsustainable reliance on finite resources, we will never recycle our way out of our global waste crisis and the climate crisis it’s contributing to. We need to be brave, collaborative and resilient to define smarter systems.
So what can our industry do to help businesses make the all-important transition to a circular economy? Here are the key principles we can put into action:
#1: Design Out Waste and Pollution. Waste is a consequence of design therefore we need to innovate and design to reinvent how materials are used for the better. Swapping one single use for another is not the long term solution.
# 2: Close the loops. Design and communicate products and packaging in a way that enables them to be used with reduction, re-use, repair and recycle in mind thus keeping products and materials in use. Think systemically across a product and packaging supply chains.
# 3: Regenerate. There is no concept of waste in nature. The circular economy mimics natural processes whereby waste= food for the next process. Our creative goals should focus around net positivity instead of marginal impact reductions to the environment with our energy and material use and encourage the use of renewable energy.
We can’t leave this to the next packaging renovation, or for the next FY. We need to start ideating, planning and putting clearly defined targets and measures in place for businesses to work to. The environmental and economic consequences of inaction are too great to ignore now. Within the branding space, there is a huge amount of traction happening around the circular economy, and the opportunities this is creating for consumable goods.
Here are three of our favourite circular success stories that are pushing innovation, and sustainability across the consumer goods space:
ECOVER ‘TOO GOOD TO WASTE’:
The homecare brand has identified opportunities to harness ‘waste’ products from a beer brewery to provide 25% of their active ingredients (ethanol and water). The washing up liquid is housed in 100% post consumer plastic and produced within a zero waste certified factory. The brand utilises it’s front packaging label to tell a compelling story to consumers in an effort to help generate awareness around waste, and bring it front of mind when purchasing what is often perceived as a cheap, every day commodity.
This initiative, driven by Terracycle, is pursuing zero waste consumerism through its re-usable packaging model. They’ve partnered with leading FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) giants, such as P&G and Unilever, to re-design their packaging solutions. The business model means that the businesses retain ownership of the packaging, and once used by customers is returned to be cleaned and reused. Each product is estimated to prevent over 100 single use packaging items being discarded and is built around using existing ecommerce infrastructures. Loop exhibits the power of collaboration and the how re-design can ensure we phase out single use and get the most out of the materials we use everyday. Loop will be landing in Australia in 2021 through their partnership with Woolworths to drive the circular ecomony and tackle plastic waste.