For decades the world now has been working in a linear business model. We dig resources out of the soil, convert them into something useful and valuable to enrich people’s lives. A key problem is that after this useful and valuable something is used, it is disposed of and considered “waste”, whether it’s a mobile phone, clothing, a pack to keep medicine to save us from diseases, a pack to keep food clean and hygienic, a sports shoe, a car, shower gel construction material for housing… - many fundamental necessities for human beings, that allowed humans to significantly increase life expectancy and life quality.
There have been many positive developments with the way we have been operating, whilst as recently as the late 1970s, 30 percent of China’s population was undernourished until Deng Xiaoping led the conversion to a market economy. The same applies to many other parts of the world: Humans live longer, humans starve less. With humans living longer and the world population having increased from 1 billion in 1804 to 2 billion in 1927 and 3 billion in 1960 to almost 8 billion today and growing further rapidly, the way we have been operating our economy cannot be held up, it is simply not sustainable on a finite planet. In my view the positive aspects of the market economy have distributed wealth into an international division of labor, with each contributing what they are best at is not talked about enough.
As with anything in this world, all has upsides and downsides. Whilst this enabled mankind to starve less and live healthier, longer, the linear business model is causing a massive issue. Our oceans are finite, our resources are limited. The earth doesn’t get bigger. We need to change our behavior to cope with this and for that education and technology are key. The packaging industry is one important player in this, so are other industries. But the packaging industry alone cannot solve it, it is closely linked to people’s behavior enabled through a complete change into circularity.
Any of these products (phones, clothes, medical packs, food packs, cars, hygiene products, housing construction material, etc) is designed by humans who make a decision on what the product is made of, how it is applied and used and how it is being run upstream to downstream through value adding supply chains. Things need to be thought through end to end, thinking from the initial planning of the product all the way down the chain beyond the use of the product. To successfully change our business model to a fully circular model, products require designing for circularity, which refers to packaging, but also any other product.
Today we – together with entrepreneurs and designers – are working to create the circular economy, changing the business model from linear to circular. As mentioned in the first paragraph above, we dig resources out of the soil, convert them into something useful and valuable to enrich people’s lives, but after using, humans simply throw these things away as “waste”. I am not a fan of the word “waste”, as in my view today’s waste is valuable raw material and feedstock as a basis to convert and create again.
Some groundbreaking fundament for this was laid in the early 1990’s, when Germany's Conservative Environment Minister Klaus Töpfer created the Green Dot. Ground-breaking environmental regulations including the law on the life-cycle economy and the “green dot” packaging recycling system were introduced by him. 30 years down the road, recycling is deeply embedded, but it needs to be refreshed by the fully circular model and a review of the collection systems, which apply to packaging, but also any other product. Re-collection of used products & packages is one key item, converting them back into raw material/feedstock and – equally important to re-think and re-design the entire end to end supply chain for circularity.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust – everything returns to where it came from. A dying tree or any other being will lay the fundamentals of a new tree or other being. Whilst some believe, life is linear, many believe, lives are circular and every end is a new beginning. Let’s work together to ensure our business model and our supply chains follow the same principle.