We want to operate in cycles
Circular, not linear – changing the global economic system is easy to describe, difficult to implement and a necessary transformation process. In a linear economy, also known as a throw-away economy, raw materials are exploited and products are produced, sold, consumed and thrown away. This creates raw material shortages, waste and environmental pollution. One might say we are living on borrowed raw materials. The earth has and produces billions of tonnes of new natural resources every year. But if we do not change our linear system, at some point in the not too distant future this stock of raw materials will run out. In light of this, we need to think of a new way of doing things, especially in terms of how we produce and what we throw away. Resources can no longer be allowed to go to waste. We have to move away from a linear economy and towards a circular one, from a throw-away society to a sustainable circular economy. This aims to create a system where resources are not thrown out and are instead kept in the cycle, and thus continue to be used, for as long as possible and at the highest possible value. Stepping up our focus on the end of products’ and goods’ life cycle is the order of the day.
Alongside the key topics of climate and people, at Greiner we have put the circular economy pillar at the heart of our Blue Plan sustainability strategy. Establishing a functioning circular economy is certainly the most challenging of the three pillars. Especially for the packaging industry, the transition to a circular economy is not a foregone conclusion. This because a functioning circular economy requires answers to questions like how can we change the design so that products can be recycled? Where do we get secondary materials that meet the highest standards of quality? What role can technology play in improving recycling? Our responses to these questions have a coal: To systematically evaluate the interplay of nature, people and the economy to create circular products and services and strike a balance between the needs of mankind and natural resources.
The end has to be different
The end of life of products that we produce and sell impacts the environment. We affect this impact, both directly and indirectly. Reducing it is our responsibility. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol estimates that about 90 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions stem from company supply chains. Key drivers include the production of commodities and materials, as well as the disposal of products after they have been used. As most of our products are single-use products – some with shorter, others with multi-year use-phases – the end of our products’ life cycle presents a particular challenge for us.
Regardless of their useful life, at the end of their life most of our products have been incinerated or, unfortunately, sent to landfill in some countries. Essentially, this inefficient use of resources is because the envisaged transformation to a circular business model is still in its infancy. Neither plastics nor foams can usually be reused or recycled. As part of our Blue Plan strategy, we are therefore aiming to transition to a sustainable circular economy. We can achieve this by ensuring we use materials in a way that conserves resources, thereby reducing the negative impact on the environment (e.g. emissions from end of life). Our goal is to make sure that our products can be disposed or and/or reused sustainably. No matter whether these are food packaging, mattresses or anything else, they all have to be incorporated into the cycle and recycled so that they can become a part of further life cycles.
“Only by building an economy that uses things, rather than using them up, can we ensure a sustainable future.”
Working together with skilled partners
Dividing, reusing, repairing, reprocessing and – as a last resort – recycling extend the life cycle of materials and products and ensures circularity along the entire value chain, from extracting the raw materials to taking back products to reusing or reprocessing them. Achieving this goal also requires new forms of collaboration and ways of thinking by everyone involved. At the moment, we still have to acknowledge that we have a massive disposal problem, i.e. we are experiencing a crisis in the disposal of plastics. One of the main reasons for this is a lack of infrastructure for plastic packaging disposal. Given the global scale of this problem, as a global community we must dispose of our waste properly. This calls for a focus on developing and emerging markets in Africa and Asia, but we must not forget that a lot is still going badly wrong in Europe and North America, too. Our products are used across the world. As a result, we are involved in numerous initiatives and project to promote education, research and infrastructure for efficient waste prevention and disposal. Greiner has been a partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a British foundation named after the English sailor known for sailing around the world that champions a global transition to a circular economy, since 2016. “When you sail around the world on a boat, you take the absolute minimum of resources with you and waste nothing,” said Ellen MacArthur, drawing a comparison between her past profession as a professional sailor and the circular economy advocated by her foundation: “Only by building an economy that uses things, rather than using them up, can we create a sustainable future.”
In October 2018, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, working with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), launched the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. This commitment brings together over 500 companies, representing almost 20 percent of all plastic packaging produced globally. Numerous governments, NGOs, universities, industry associations, investors, and other organizations have also backed the joint vision of tackling plastic waste and environmental pollution at its source. The Global Commitment 2020 Progress Report shows that the signatories have made progress in reaching the defined goals but that efforts need to be stepped up considerably in the years ahead.
By signing this commitment, Greiner Packaging agreed to uphold a series of specific targets. These include eliminating necessary plastic parts in our production processes by 2025 and coming up with innovative solutions to ensuring that all plastics can be reused, recycled or composted in order to keep our plastics in the value chain.
According to Global Commitment 2020 Reporting, almost one third of our plastic packaging is currently reusable, recyclable or compostable. We are committed to making this 100 percent by 2025. To achieve this, we will put all product groups to the test. This also includes working even harder on sustainable product design than we are already. The design process for products shapes how they are disposed of. To put it another way, the start is vital in determining the end. Crucial materials decisions are made in the design development stage that have a significant impact on the lifetime and end of life of our goods. At Greiner Packaging, we have therefore prepared Design-Guidelines that show what design aspects, materials and packaging concepts we need to achieve our goal of a circular economy. As early as during the product development stage, the guidelines help us make sure that only products that can really be recycled are brought to market.