Got open loop recycling? We hear about companies developing closed loop recycling systems, many sustainability professionals consider to be the holy grail of turning trash into treasure. But open loop recycling – also known as downcycling – is still going strong and can become a lucrative value-added proposition especially for companies that generate heaps of plastic throughout their operations.
Many materials are able to be recycled in a closed loop fashion indefinitely: glass bottles can become new glass bottles and aluminium cans can be turned into new aluminium cans. Plastic, however, will degrade with each iteration.
The biggest argument against open loop recycling is that the materials do degrade over time – plastic bottles can be turned into fleece jackets – but what happens when the fleece reaches the end of its natural life? Open loop recycling may delay the landfill, but it does not eliminate it.
For carbon counters, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, open loop recycling does not account for the avoided greenhouse gases from processing the original materials because the amassed recycled materials’ emissions do not simply cancel out the manufacturing of the original material.
But for some companies, open loop recycling is the best option and can be a gold mine–not to mention the fact any recycling is a better alternative than having waste end up in land fill. And the perfect bottle-to-same-exact-bottle system, while ideal, is not always possible.
So what are some of the more compelling open loop recycling projects going on currently?
The iconic Silicon Valley giant certainly does an impressive job of recycling its printing cartridges. The company has done well with postage paid envelopes into which customers could drop off their expired cartridges; now most of the cartridge returns happen through partnerships with retailers such as Walmart and Staples. In addition to the over half billion items HP has kept from a landfill, the company sources plastic PET bottles that help comprise the next generation of printer cartridges. About half a PET billion bottles, in fact, have ended up in HP printer cartridges and other projects.
The millions of tons of plastics ending up in the world’s oceans, especially in the Pacific have a devastating impact on our food and wildlife. Since last fall, however, Method has sold a line of dish soap at Whole Foods and other retailers which aims to mitigate the problem. Working with Envision Plastics, Method has organized volunteers and clean-up groups to collect plastic debris on Hawaii’s beaches. In turn, Method incorporates that plastic into its 100 percent post consumer plastic resin. A small step indeed, but one succeeding because of the awareness it raises about the effects plastic has on our oceans.
Recycling glass or plastic is child’s play compared to witnessing what goes on within an appliance recycling facility. In Japan, Panasonic’s PETEC facility outside of Osaka, washing machines, refrigerators and HVAC units that have seen better days all come to PETEC to be recycled into new appliances. But Panasonic does not just recycle its own appliances. Machines and gadgets from other makes saunter into this cutting edge facility–and everything from refrigeration gases to rare earth minerals are extracted and either recycled or sold. The recycling rate of various products varies, but Panasonic’s efforts on this front makes it a leader within the electronics industry.
What are some other open loop recycling examples that come to mind? Please share them with 3p’s staff in the comments section below.
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. He will speak at San Francisco State University on climate change, the media and business on Wednesday, April 3. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
[Image Credit: Leon Kaye]