By Giulio Bonazzi
After 25 years in the manufacturing industry, I have become a true believer in the social and economic power of the circular economy. With the world’s population expected to reach 9 billion by 2030, it has become clear that our disposable culture and one-time use model for consumer products is no longer viable.
It’s obvious that the key to meeting future demand will be to move beyond a traditional linear economy where we produce, consume and then simply dispose of products. However, with a population so engrained in the convenience of disposables, this could be easier said than done.
As the world’s population increases, so does demand – which is great for business but bad for the environment. There is not a never-ending supply of raw materials from which to draw, so the manufacturing industry will need to adapt to meet growing demand for synthetic consumer products.
Fortunately, there is a solution in the most unlikely of places – waste. Landfills and other waste streams are goldmines when it comes to creative materials sourcing, and with the appropriate reverse supply chain programs in place, end-use products never have to see a landfill again – they can instead be returned and upcycled into new raw materials.
As environmental consciousness becomes more widespread, consumers are voting with their dollars, further encouraging the sustainable manufacturing trend. And where the consumer dollar goes, the rest of the industry soon follows. In particular, within the carpet, textile and apparel industries, there has been an upswing toward the use of recycled materials in product manufacturing.
However, end-use companies are increasingly looking to move beyond minimal levels of post-consumer recycled content and are starting to shift toward suppliers that take a more forward-thinking approach to production.
As a supplier, Aquafil has proven that it’s possible to remain profitable while promoting environmental and social responsibility through the use of upcycled waste materials. It turns out that waste is an abundant and incredibly useful manufacturing material. Aquafil’s ECONYL Regeneration System was first developed as a sustainable nylon-6 material sourcing solution for carpet and apparel manufacturers and has since scaled into a worldwide operation. The process redirects post-consumer nylon waste from around the world that would otherwise end up in landfills, incinerators and oceans, and upcycles it back to the same quality of the original virgin raw material. The result is nylon-6 fibers made from 100 percent regenerated nylon, such as threadbare carpets and old fishing nets diverted from global waste streams.
An important step in creating a closed-loop manufacturing system is to identify avenues for waste collection and recovery. Reclaiming programs provide a virtually endless supply of waste materials and help to better optimize recovery and reuse by allowing companies in the carpet industry to return their end-of-life products to be regenerated into new virgin material. Several non-profit organizations also exist to aid in waste recovery – such as the Healthy Seas Initiative, a program aimed at recovering and recycling abandoned nylon fishing nets from oceans. Healthy Seas promotes marine protection and reduces ocean debris and is a prime example of how taking a circular approach to business practices and partnerships can yield new opportunities and further drive a company’s sustainability goals.
In order to sustain forward momentum toward a circular economy, there is a need to promote this emerging movement through discourse and collaboration. From a corporate reputation standpoint, it’s crucial for companies to demonstrate their commitment and efforts to promote a sustainable future, and to continue to drive sustainability strategy by adhering to the triple bottom line approach: investing in business practices that promote social, environmental and economic sustainability.
If implemented on a large scale, the waste diversion and reverse supply chain model will encourage a global closed-loop manufacturing economy, completely changing the way companies source manufacturing materials, and providing choices that empower consumers to finally move away from the tired linear one-time use model.
Image credit: Aquafil
Giulio Bonazzi is the chairman and CEO of Aquafil SpA and an expert in the circular economy. As an entrepreneur, Mr. Bonazzi is not afraid to take risks to see his company evolve and grow. Under his fierce dedication and leadership vision, Aquafil SpA has become an important sustainability leader and a key driver within the synthetic textile industry, with 15 plants in eight countries across three continents. Giulio has been President of CIRFS (European man-made Fibers Association) from 2011 to 2014.