The environmental benefits of utilising and recirculating renewables should have a more prominent role in the circular economy. This is highlighted by the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute in a report for the companies Essity, Ikea, Tetra Pak and Royal DSM.
The report has compiled several examples of life cycle assessment (LCA) that show that renewable materials such as wood, paper and textiles can reduce environmental impact, both when used as raw materials instead of non-renewable materials and when reused or recycled. The report also highlights the need to integrate the concepts of circular economy and bioeconomy – both of which are crucial to the global economy.
– The Circular Economy concept distinguishes between “technical” and “biological” cycles, but tends to focus on biodegradability for renewables. It misses the fundamental role renewable materials can have as feedstocks with lower environmental impacts and in improving circularity. Renewable materials can be reused, refurbished and remanufactured just like other materials” says Steve Harris, the report’s main author and project manager at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.
It's not that the circular economy has completely forgotten renewable materials, but there is a risk that the focus will be on less sustainable raw materials, said Steve Harris.
In a circular economy, which aims to minimise the use of new materials and reduce waste volumes, material is kept in circulation for a longer period than in a linear economy. This means that products must be able to be dismantled, repaired and upgraded to make them more durable and have a longer service life.
For many renewable materials, it is more sustainable to reuse or recycle instead of biodegradation.
– Collecting and recycling renewable materials usually requires less energy than producing comparable renewable materials from new products, with typical reductions of 0.5 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent per kg of product, such as paper or cardboard, says Tomas Rydberg, LCA expert at IVL.
The emissions of greenhouse gases that lead to climate impact are linked to energy use throughout the product lifecycle.
– Our four companies are committed to reduce the impact of climate change and increase the circularity of our products and solutions. This report contributes to the much-needed dialogue on the value of renewable materials that are responsibly sourced and reused, refurbished or recycled is key to achieve a low-carbon and circular future" said Susan Iliefski Janols, responsible for Product Sustainability at Essity in a joint commentary with Ikea, Tetra Pak and Royal DSM.