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Making your business circular: life-cycle analyses as a first step

Written by Mathieu Xhonneux

Every year, an average European citizen produces 4.8 tons of waste. Regrettably, only 40% of this waste is recycled [1]. The rest is either landfilled, burned for energy recovery, or sometimes even dumped in developing countries. This month, the European Parliament voted in favour of a law banning all waste shipments destined for disposal outside the EU [2]. In essence, the EU thereby re-emphasizes our responsibility to manage and recycle the waste that we produce, both as consumers and as producers. For European companies, this translates into a concrete call to action to transition their activities into a more circular economy.

As opposed to our current “take-make-dispose” linear model, the founding idea of circular economy is to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times [3]. Circular economies avoid generating excessive waste and strive for a “restorative use” of resources. Used materials should not be burned or landfilled, but re-integrated into the value chains of new products. Goods should be designed to achieve longer lifetimes, thanks to strategies such as reuse, repair, remanufacture or recycling. Simply put, the concept of circular economy encourages all participants of an economy to engage in a more environmentally friendly use of natural resources.

Nevertheless, transitioning existing businesses and activities to sustainable circular strategies remains easier said than done. Many challenges directly come to mind: entire value chains have to be redesigned, different stakeholders (suppliers, clients, regulators, …) need to be aligned, innovative recycling technologies should be deployed, competitivity must be ensured, … On top of all these issues, when designing circular strategies, one must also pay attention not to fall into a naïve understanding of what “closing the loop” implies [4]. In particular, an optimal circular strategy should not focus solely on specific physical resources (such as plastics), but should rather follow a holistic perspective that encompasses all relevant resources and possible kinds of environmental impacts.

At BrightWolves, we firmly believe that every company committed to sustainability should engage in a life-cycle analysis (LCA) of its activities. LCA is a science-based method for assessing the environmental impacts associated with a given product, over its entire life cycle. To obtain an accurate impact assessment, LCA practitioners create an inventory of the resources used and pollutants generated during the manufacturing, usage and end-of-life stages of a product. Thanks to its holistic approach, LCA provides various environmental insights over the entire value chain (GHG emissions, water usage, ecotoxicity, land use, ...). Instead of narrowly targeting the circularity of a specific resource, LCA yields a complete diagnosis and allows decision-makers to focus on the main environmental hotspots inside their operations.

For a client active in the agri-food sect