product returns

Where should transition to a Circular Economy start?

This week I attended the first World Circular Economy Forum in Helsinki. The journey has started with 1,500 representatives from over 90 countries

This week I attended the first World Circular Economy Forum in Helsinki. It has been confirmed that the 2019 version of the forum will be held in Finland again. The journey has started with 1,500 representatives from over 90 countries.

What change is needed?

The Circular Economy movement drives the efficient use of natural resources and the reduction of landfill and footprint. The current linear economy should become circular to have materials flow in the production system. With these objectives, the Circular Economy contributes to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

How to achieve this change?

To do so, avoiding waste is often mentioned as the key objective of the Circular Economy. To avoid waste, product reuse and recycling are often mentioned as key instruments. To enable reuse and recycling, products need to be designed in such a way that recycling is technically and biological possible and economically viable. Product design is often mentioned as the starting point for the Circular Economy.

To summarize, the Circular Economy is focused on reducing waste through recycling of products that are designed for recycling.

Who should drive the change towards the Circular Economy?

There are many stakeholders that have a leading role in changing the linear economy to a circular economy. Governments, policymakers, businesses, and consumers need to contribute to driving the required change. But who should take the lead in this ecosystem of stakeholders? In many cases, the finger is pointed at governments and policy makers. In many cases, the roadmap to change is described to start with the big global picture.

Start small and collaborate

The WCEF2017 in Helsinki concluded that the only way to drive change is a small start. A small start by all stakeholders in the ecosystem. Small individual starts that can lead to a big change through collaboration between all stakeholders. The Forum in Helsinki has been a great motivator to start small and collaborate in the bigger picture.

Alignment with the bigger picture

Are there any critical notes for the Circular Economy movement? Yes, there are. A critical note was placed on the alignment with other initiatives such as the Green Economy and the Blue Economy. Too many agenda’s leads to confusion and potentially to not achieving goals.

A personal reflection

Personally, I strongly believe in the importance of the Circular Economy. With 12Return, I build a returns management platform for companies to deal with product returns. We see product returns as the necessary fuel for the Circular Economy. Product returns are reused or turned into new products or materials. Product returns directly contribute to avoiding waste and efficient use of resources. The Reverse Supply Chain (reverse distribution) is a key enabler for the Circular Economy.

Still, I believe that the Circular Economy lacks focus on another important aspect. With so much focus on the design of recyclable products, the movement lacks focus on driving sustainable consumption by consumers. As long consumers like you and me don’t change our behavior of buying more, faster and cheaper in the current linear consumption and disposal economy, there is a big chance that these consumers will not embrace the consumption of reusable or recycled products that is made possible by the Circular Economy.

In that respect, the rise of E-commerce, another not to be underestimated movement, might even jeopardize the Circular Economy as E-commerce is making it even more easy to buy more, faster and cheaper.

That makes consumers the most important stakeholder in the Circular Economy ecosystem. And, too often, the involvement of consumption behavior is a missing focus.

Balance between production, distribution, and consumption

To successfully drive change, the Circular Economy should change its focus from product(ion) focused to a balanced focus on production, distribution, and consumption. Like in any economic system.

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