Facilitating Circular Economies: When Being an Enabler is a Great Thing

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Is your organization moving toward a circular economy or stuck in the old linear way of thinking? Linear economies have a straight-forward, easy-to-understand model of production: acquire resources, make something out of them, and dispose of the waste generated as a by-product of the process. Circular economies are more nuanced.

By keeping resources in use for as long as possible, circular processes aim to maximize the value of those resources, then recover and regenerate materials at the end of a product’s useful life. In an ideal circular economy, we eliminate waste, maximize resource productivity, minimize pollution and negative environmental impacts, restore and regenerate — all in a closed system.

A sustainable supply chain is a key element of a circular economy. The two concepts go together like milk and cookies, Christmas and mistletoe, and peanut butter and jelly. Phillips EU Affairs recently tweeted that a successful circular economy relies on four key “enablers,” including: business models, design, collaboration and reverse logistics.

In the September members’ newsletter of the Reusable Packaging Association, President and CEO Tim Debus explains how reusable packaging supports all four enablers. Debus notes that “reusable packaging is perfectly suited to thrive in the circular economy,” and analyzes how reusable packaging embodies the four enablers.

The RPC and circular economies connection

Reusable plastic containers (RPCs) are a perfect example of a type of reusable packaging that brings all four enablers together in harmony.

RPCs’ business models are founded on the idea of a closed supply chain that maximizes the reuse of plastic containers, incorporates eco-aware cleaning processes, and strategically maximizes supply chain efficiencies. These processes ensure every RPC will be reused as often as possible, and, when it’s no longer viable for supply chain use, will be reclaimed as a renewed resource.

The design of RPCs is inherently circular. Made from recycled plastic that is continuously recyclable, RPCs’ sturdy construction ensures their longevity. Their durability and strength also ensures maximum protection for the products shipped in RPCs, a key factor in reducing waste from damaged product. Their design also maximizes supply chain efficiency by allowing users to optimize cube utilization and reduce freight.

Collaboration is Key

Collaboration among all supply chain participants, including suppliers, distribution centers, retailers, sort and wash centers, ensures the RPCs remain in the network and actively working for as long as possible. Finally, when RPCs have reached the end of their usable life, the RPC providers recycle the containers so they can be used for new applications. Tosca has in place processes and relationships to help ensure we reclaim and reuse the highest possible number of RPCs.

Debus points out that a fifth enabler is foundational to the other four: technology. RPC suppliers like Tosca rely on leading-edge technology to help design, create, track, clean and reclaim our products. The impact of technology is significant, growing and transformational, Debus notes:

“Rapid advancements in digital data generation, access and connectivity will fuel participation and performance in each of the four enablers, empowering companies to pursue circular solutions for their materials management. This means adopting reusable packaging today, and moving into the future when intelligent packaging assets and smart cycles excel in the circular economy.”

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