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The circular economy advances as companies adopt recycling | Business | Economic and financial news from a German perspective | DW

Recycling, an activity once associated with empty milk cartons and hippies, is getting a makeover.

The tire giant Continental announced last week that it would use recycled polyester from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles in its tire production from 2022.

The raw materials for the polyester – a type of plastic – which is traditionally used in tire manufacture, is obtained from crude oil and natural gas. More than 60 recycled PET bottles are used to manufacture a complete set of vehicle tires. In laboratory and road tests, polyester fiber tires made from bottles performed just as well as tires made from traditional fibers.

“With the use of recycled polyester yarn we are taking another important step towards a cross-product circular economy,” said Andreas Topp, Continental Head of Materials, Process Development and Industrialization for Tires, in a press release.

The circular economy is an economic system that aims to keep products and materials in use longer, thereby increasing their productivity and reducing waste. According to the World Economic Forum, a widespread introduction of the system could bring economic benefits of up to 4.5 trillion US dollars (3.8 trillion euros) by 2030.

The German company is only the latest in a series of companies around the world that are starting to take recycling more seriously.

  • A clever use for your milk cartons

    Everything you need

    You don’t need too much for that! Wait for your family to run out of juice or milk, then cross it out. You will also need some scrap. We used two different ways to mix it up: scissors (promise to get adult permission for this!), Some glue, a hole punch, and two paper clips.

  • Upcycling a milk carton

    A clever use for your milk cartons

    No more drink in this box

    Cut off the top of your cardboard first – don’t throw it away, you’ll need it later. Where you cut depends on how big you want your bag to be. It’s up to you, just make sure it’s definitely empty before you start – you don’t want to spill anything;) When you’ve done that, wipe the part you use for your bag with a damp cloth and then dry it.

  • Upcycling a milk carton

    A clever use for your milk cartons

    New clothes for the box

    Now is the time to give it a brand new look. Take a piece of fabric that is slightly longer and wider than your cardboard box. We chose blue and white polka dots because we think it’s pretty, but you can use any pattern or color you want. You could even take simple material and draw some nice pictures on it. Glue the cloth to the cardboard, leaving some material on both ends.

  • Upcycling a milk carton

    A clever use for your milk cartons

    taking form

    You’re halfway there – yey! Simply smear some glue on the top of the cardboard and stick the cloth that is still sticking up.

  • Upcycling a milk carton

    A clever use for your milk cartons

    A tidy floor

    Turn the cardboard upside down and glue the material in place as shown in the photo above. It’s like wrapping a gift!

  • Upcycling a milk carton

    A clever use for your milk cartons

    Don’t forget the top bit

    It’s time to use the top of the cardboard box that you didn’t throw away to make a handle for your super cute bag. Cut a long strip from the top of the cardboard …

  • Upcycling a milk carton

    A clever use for your milk cartons

    A colorful handle

    … and place it on your second piece of material. We took something flowery. Cut along the strip of cardboard, but make sure there is enough material left to cover everything when you’re done.

  • Upcycling a milk carton

    A clever use for your milk cartons

    Punch a hole

    Once everything is dry, punch a hole on either end of the handle. Now take care of your fingers;)

  • Upcycling a milk carton

    A clever use for your milk cartons

    Be careful with the scissors!

    Then use scissors to make a hole on each side of the bag. Be careful though. You might even ask an adult to help or supervise.

  • Upcycling a milk carton

    A clever use for your milk cartons

    Through the hole

    Attach the handle to the bag with the paper fasteners – easy peasy.

  • Upcycling a milk carton

    A clever use for your milk cartons

    Fit for a queen

    And … ta-da! You have your own homemade and super-stylish bag ready to store all of your treasures.

    Author: Tamsin Walker


Plastic poses carbon problems

Last month, a study by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) concluded that making and burning plastic releases worrying amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, thereby contributing to climate change.

Producing 1 ton of plastic creates nearly 2 tons of CO2, and burning this waste adds another 2.7 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, the study authors found.

“The climate targets of Germany and the rest of the EU will be missed if significant efforts are not made to strengthen the circular economy,” said co-author Frederik Lettow in a press release. “To be climate-neutral in the middle of the century, it is not enough to rely solely on low-emission production processes.”

The DIW, which also offers political advice, has called for a series of EU regulatory reforms that are intended to promote a stronger focus on recycling in the block. These include more effective price signals for CO2 emissions trading and legal standards that require the recyclable manufacture of plastic products and packaging.

So far, manufacturers of plastics and waste incineration companies have benefited from far-reaching exemptions from EU emissions trading, the report says. EU sustainability goals stipulate that 50% of plastic packaging waste should be recycled by 2025 and 55% by 2030.

Thinking forward

The recyclability dilemma goes beyond just plastic. And some market participants are already trying to counteract this.

Let’s stay with the topic of tires: In 2020, the American shoe and outdoor brand Timberland teamed up with the tire manufacturer Omni United to make shoes from used tires. But it’s not just any tires. These were specifically developed to be recycled in shoe soles.

“The easiest way to imagine our tire-to-sole program is to take off a pair of pants and cut them into shorts,” Timberland wrote on its website when it announced the partnership.

This is the kind of long-term thinking that is necessary, according to DIW, in order to reduce the plastic waste that contributes to CO2 emissions.

“In the consumer goods market, it is essential for manufacturers to make packaging recyclable in order to make recycling more effective,” writes the DIW. “But they have no incentive to do so.”

So far, the main drivers for companies to pursue more sustainable practices have been corporate social responsibility or the ability to market themselves as environmentally friendly to consumers who are increasingly aware of sustainability.

A trend is gaining momentum

For many, these reasons were good enough. Budding upcycling initiatives can be found in many markets.

The German shoe brands Puma and Adidas, among others, have launched shoe collections made from plastic waste from the environment. Building on a second service that sells carefully used items from its clothing brand, the outdoor company Patagonia is now also tailoring products with greater wear and tear to make new clothing items. Competitor The North Face also expanded its own second-hand e-commerce platform and launched an in-house design residence where its designers get to know the principles of the circular economy.

In the field of computers, technology company HP recently launched what is known as the “most sustainable PC portfolio in the world”, which includes a new laptop made from ocean-bound plastics. The company is committed to using ocean-bound plastics in all new desktop and laptop computers introduced in its Elite and Pro lines.

Wash green

However, these initiatives can mask the bigger picture, namely that most of the products manufactured and their by-products are still not recycled, and in many cases even cannot be recycled. Even flawless, unused products often end up in landfills.

In June, UK broadcaster ITV reported that Amazon was destroying millions of unsold inventory, including laptops, smart TVs and hairdryers, in just one of its UK warehouses. This week the e-commerce giant responded by announcing initiatives to facilitate the sale of returned or deferred items.

“An increased and higher quality recycling of plastic products cannot be achieved by individual market participants”, according to the DIW.

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