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How Closed-Loop Systems Contribute to a Sustainable Future

How Closed-Loop Systems Contribute to a Sustainable Future

Last October 2016, I wrote about the circular economy model, its importance for a sustainable future and how ethical businesses can work towards its implementation.

As a follow up to that piece, this time I'm discussing the significance of the closed loop system approach which serve as the foundation of the circular economy model.

What is the closed-loop system?

A closed-loop system is technically the production process of circular economy – allowing for the recycling of products and packaging into new ones.1

Instead of dumping waste or used materials into the bin or in landfills, these are processed and made into the same type of materials or repurposed as new products. For example, used paper can be recycled or made into coffee cups, clothing into new t-shirts or jeans or even bags and plastics into toys.

The closed-loop system is aptly represented by the chasing arrows recycling symbol. According to Earth 9112, each of the arrows represent a step in the system made up of the following:

How Closed-Loop Systems Positively Impact on Sustainability - Recycling Symbol

Step 1: Collection

This refers to the process of collecting recyclable materials from consumers and recycling facilities.

Step 2: Manufacturing

This is the process of creating new products from recycled materials.

Step 3: Purchasing

This is when consumers “close the loop” by purchasing the newly-recycled materials.

It must be noted that the important elements of this system are the manufacturers and the consumers. The manufacturers are the ones processing recyclables into new products and the consumers are involved from the first step of the process – turning in recyclables – and the last step – purchasing recycled products.

The World Economic Forum underscores that the closed-loop system is vital as 90 percent of consumer products ultimately ends up as waste within a six-month period.3

Related Post: Food for Thought: How to Tackle the Food Waste Problem

Fortunately, big businesses have already started adopting the closed-loop system approach. PUMA has started an InCycle range made up of compostable t-shirts, a backpack that can be reused into a new one and a jacket made from recycled plastic bottles.4

Clothing giant H&M has a Recycle Your Clothes program that encourages customers to bring their old and used clothing, no matter the condition, so that it can be repurposed.5

FREITAG compostable denim range

FREITAG compostable denim range.

FREITAG Compostable Denim Collection

Moving towards a sustainable business approach

In order to ensure the sustainability of a business, it is recommended that ethical business owners consider the closed-loop system with the cradle-to-cradle design and the circular economy model.

Related Post: Why the World Needs Social Entrepreneurs

The cradle-to-cradle design is complementary to the closed-loop system. It works towards “designing with the next life in mind.”

Tish Tablan of the McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry explains, “We look at safe and healthy materials which stay in closed-loop cycles; we don’t want to recycle toxic materials. We want to start with a healthy product. If it is healthy from the start then it can go back to soil safely or when it goes back to industry it will not be releasing those toxic chemicals in that process again.6

Cradle to Cradle- Remaking the Way We Make Things by Michael Braungart

'Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things' by Michael Braungart

These processes are integrated within the circular economy model, a business approach that is defined by the Ellen McArthur Foundation as "restorative and regenerative by design, and which aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times, distinguishing between technical and biological cycles."7

The circular economy model, with the closed-loop system and cradle-to-cradle design, is the future of sustainable businesses.

Related Post: Creating a Sustainable World: The Shift to a Circular Economy

How Closed-Loop Systems Positively Impact on Sustainability

For ethical business owners looking to improve their business systems or entrepreneurs starting out on their own, it is important to keep the following in mind:

  1. The business goal and vision must be concerned not just with the bottomline, but most importantly, with ensuring maximum efficiency and utility of products and services, with the least impact to the environment and the community.
  2. Put in place a system that allows for the recycling and/or repurposing of all products and packaging. While investments for these systems may sometimes be considerable at the beginning, it proves to be cost-effective in the long-term.
  3. Do not be afraid to experiment and innovate in terms of sustainable business processes. The environment and the next generation will surely thank you for it.
  4. Always look for best practices, precedents and models. This will point the way towards a model that you can adopt for your ethical business.   
  5. This quote by Thomas Sigsgaard: "The most sustainable way is to not make things. The second most sustainable way is to make something very useful, to solve a problem that hasn’t been solved."

Quote about sustainability Thomas Sigsgaard

Do you have ideas and stories on closed-loop systems and sustainability? Share them with us. We’d love to know your thoughts. 

Show 7 footnotes

  1.  Makower, J. 2011. Cradle to Cradle: Companies Learn to Close the Loop. GreenBiz, 16 February 2011. Available at: https://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2011/02/16/companies-learn-close-loop.
  2.  Mazzoni, M. 2012. What Does Close the Loop Really Mean? Earth911, 24 August 2012. Available at: http://earth911.com/general/close-the-loop-primer/.
  3.  World Economic Forum. 2009. Driving Sustainable Consumption: Closed Loop Systems. WEF, 2009. Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_CI_DrivingSustainableConsumption_ClosedLoopSystem_OverviewBreifing_2009.pdf.
  4.  ClimateHome. 2013. PUMA Goes Green With “Closed Loop” Clothing Range. Climate Change News, 13 February 2013. Available at: http://www.climatechangenews.com/2013/02/13/puma-goes-green-with-closed-loop-clothing-range/.
  5.  H&M Group. No date. Recycle Your Clothes. H&M. Available at: https://about.hm.com/en/sustainability/get-involved/recycle-your-clothes.html.
  6.  Smith, T. 2012. Closing the Loop: Designing for a Sustainable Future. Climate Change News, 28 February 2012. Available at: http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/02/28/closing-the-loop-designing-for-a-sustainable-future/.
  7.  McArthur Foundation. No date. In: Cunanan, P. Creating a Sustainable World: The Shift to a Circular Economy. EcoWarriorPrincess, 09 October 2016. Available at: http://ecowarriorprincess.net/2016/10/creating-sustainable-world-shift-circular-economy/.

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About the author

Polly Michelle Cunanan

Polly Michelle Cunanan

Polly Michelle Cunanan is a results-driven media and communication expert with over 15 years of experience and proven track record in working with the Philippine Government and donor agencies such as the USAID, World Bank, UN-FAO, ADB, European Union (EU) and media. Political and strategic communication, messaging and campaigns are among her expertise. She spearheaded the communication program on the Bangsamoro peace process which led to a conducive environment for the signing of the historic Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. She is a graduate of BA Broadcast Communication from the University of the Philippines and has completed the academic requirements for MA Communication Research from the same university. She is a UK Chevening scholar currently studying MA International Public Relations and Global Communications Management at Cardiff University.

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