Circular Economy, melody of the future

Time: Wed 2014-10-22 15.14

ResCoM is an EU financed project that aims to help manufacturing companies in transforming their businesses from linear to circular where products and materials are reused, remanufactured and recycled. The project is managed and coordinated by Dr Amir Rashid and his team of researchers in the department of Production Engineering at KTH.

In our current "take, make, dispose" economy products aren't designed to last, but to be replaced by new products after only a short time, or we produce articles that can be used for one single purpose only, thus forcing the consumer to buy many different products. All this to keep the economy going! You produce various articles, you sell them to the consumers, and when they are worn out they are disposed of mostly for incineration or in landfills. Then, new raw materials are needed in order to make new and more products. Obviously this type of manufacturing system is not sustainable in the long run as the resources of our planet are limited. ResCoM is a project that aims to help manufacturing companies in transforming their businesses from linear to circular where products and materials are designed and manufactured for servicing, reuse, remanufacturing and ultimately for material recovery, targeting zero landfills. Let’s ask Dr Rashid:

Dr Amir Rashid

-How can ResCoM influence manufacturers to change their current way of production?

- We are going to develop strategies and software that will give companies guidance and demonstrate the benefits of closed-loop production. Four large manufacturing companies from white goods, consumer electronics, automotive and lifestyle mobility sectors are taking part in the project. They will later serve as role models for other companies aspiring to align themselves with the ideals of a circular economy. We are going to show that developing business models and designing products for reusing, remanufacturing and recycling will make the manufacturing businesses both economically and environmentally sustainable, i.e. a win-win for both, the manufacturing companies and the society as a whole.

- What does a "circular economy" mean?

In a circular economy the goal is to rebuild and regenerate earth's resources while creating new economic opportunities. Products are designed to be reused and recycled, and become part of a technological or biological cycle. Using innovative business models aiming at selling services rather than products (for example selling the number of laundry cycles rather than a laundry machine or leasing the baby strollers for a time as long as parents need them rather than selling the strollers), the producers take control of used articles and reuse parts of them. Materials are recycled for continued use and those that are biodegradable are used as compost in order to return nutrients to the soil. Our economy still thrives but it does not depend on the availability of virgin materials; pressure on non-renewable resources and environment will reduce significantly.

- Could you give us some examples of how companies that use a circular production model might work?

- Keywords for these companies are servicing, reuse, remanufacturing, recycling, materials and energy saving. Emphasis is put on quality and durability. For instance, you should be able to use a baby stroller every day for several years and when your child no longer needs it, it should still be in good condition and have great resell value. That way you can create new business value but still produce fewer strollers and consequently save raw materials. Another way of saving raw materials is to design products that are adaptive to new requirements and products that can be used for more than one purpose. Let's return to the example of baby strollers. There is a company that makes strollers which easily can be converted to accommodate either one child or two, or to fit children of different ages. As a result, a growing family only needs to buy one stroller, not two or three. Another company, a carpet manufacturer, has a program by which it takes back used carpets, separates the yarn and sends it back to the supplier to be recycled. The backing of the carpet is sold to the road and roofing industry, and the parts that can't be recycled are used as fuel in the cement industry. Carpets that otherwise would have ended up in landfills are transformed into new raw materials, and no valuable are wasted.

Bugaboo, one of Rescom's partners. Photo: www.rescoms.eu

- What will ResCoM mean for the economy of tomorrow?

- If we use the circular production model that ResCoM suggests, we will be producing fewer articles but serving more people. Replacing "product ownership" with "access to service" will not only create new service industries but there will be a large number of new jobs and job opportunities in many different types of remanufacturing and recycling industries. As the world population grows, production and the need for raw materials will increase. This challenge can be met successfully if we can design our industrial systems to be regenerative, similar to our natural systems. This way we'll be taking care of the economic wellbeing of the people and planet earth so that there will still be resources available for our future generations.

For more information, contact Amir Rashid at amirr @ kth.se or +46 8 790 63 73

Read more about the Rescom Project  here