CE and COVID-19

By Alexandra Kekkonen – Tondo’s associate

What have we learned about Circular Economy from COVID crisis?

The massive disruption of the global value chains in the result of the measures taken by the governments to address the Covid-19 crisis has revealed the fragility of our lineal global economy model and productive arrangements linked to a single geographic location and a single supplier, high degree of dissolution of our innovation, production, supply and consumption systems. (Serada, 2020) It has raised the concerns about the resilience of our economies and led to intensification of such trends as diversification of sourcing and supplies, reshoring, developing strategic autonomy in the critical sectors, intensifying automation, transforming supply chains into more simple, digital, regional more transparent, facilitated by the new delivery modes and contactless innovations. The experiences obtained during the COVID 19 crisis have reaffirmed – there is a need of the great reset and building a more resilient, just, responsive and sustainable economies. Circular Economy is increasingly considered a valuable option allowing to collectively reimagine and redesign our systems to ensure an ecologically safe and socially just space for all. The circular economy also now has the opportunity and duty to further incorporate equality and resilience into this model.  Product design and product policy factors such as repairability, reusability and potential for remanufacturing offer considerable opportunities to enhance stock availability and, therefore, resilience. Rethinking business models in terms of the circular economy presents many opportunities to improve competitiveness, efficiency, innovation and sustainability including through facilitating an access to and shared use of underutilized products.  Circular supplies represent a model for developing components that are reusable and recyclable at the end of a product’s life.  Product life extension prolongs the useful life of a product through improved product design and long-term maintenance.   Resource recovery captures byproducts and waste in manufacturing such that they can be used in other production processes. 

During the COVID breakdown a few businesses have been applying innovative circular-economy principles to reduce waste and address short-term supply shortages, deployed localised 3D printing will primarily help make existing supply chains less brittle. The role of the digital technologies has become indispensable in supporting circular economy. “Digital” increases resilience, facilitates creating and maintaining the value locally. Local supply chains, facilitated by digital technologies, allow local circulation of materials and resources and developing small resource-efficient local micro-industries.  During the pandemic Philips engineers have been working around the clock to refurbish CT scanners, which have been in high demand for diagnosing Covid-19 .

Nike is another example of firms using this principle to full effect in the fight against the pandemic. The prominent shoe manufacturer has redirected recycled material, earmarked for the production of new Nike Air soles, into the production of personal protective gear. Batelle, a non-profit institute engaged in scientific research, developed a way to decontaminate N95 masks using vaporized hydrogen peroxide. The technology received authorization for use from the US Food and Drug Administration last March. It is now being used in several hospitals in the United States. Through this novel method, masks can be decontaminated for use 20 times over before their quality and safety is compromised, and thus it provides a longer-lasting alternative to single-use products.

As the circular economy hinges on processes that require more labour than in the linear economy—where resources are often wasted or incinerated rather than repaired and reused. We can see that many circular economy framework strategies were implemented in one or another way: e.g. Phillips applied both Rethink, Refurbish and Recycle principles, using modular design, and platform design is choosing different materials and so forth and the business model around it,” such as offering MRI scanning as a service rather than selling scanners alongside with increasing recycled content in products, enabling remanufacturing and high-quality recycling, and incentivising product-as-a-service models.

Abovementioned examples of lessons from economy-COVID crisis also shows implementation of Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Repurpose principles as well. Some producers of protective and medical equipment used machines developed by Precious Plastic, an open-source hardware plastic recycling initiative, to turn recycled plastic into face shields and masks. Principles of CE – designing out waste, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems could be are just what the world could do “to build back better”: for plastics eliminate what we don’t need, innovate towards new business models and materials, and circulate all the plastic we do use – keeping it in the economy and out of the environment; for fashion ensure clothes are used more, are made to be made again, and are made from safe and renewable materials; for food redesign products and supply chains to regenerate nature, eliminate the concept of waste, and connect local production and consumption where appropriate; for finance support companies in their transition to circular business models, and mobilise capital towards circular solutions.

Social Share Buttons and Icons powered by Ultimatelysocial