Circular economy in industry: keys and challenges

14 de November de 2022

  • The waste management model proposed by the circular economy is one of the keys to tackling the climate challenges facing industry. Stifled by the delicate situation of the planet and at the current time of energy transition, the circular economy provides solutions in terms of sustainability, job creation and wealth.
  • According to Accenture’s Waste to Wealth report, by 2030, the implementation of a global circular economy could achieve an additional economic output of 4.5 trillion dollars. In addition, the European Commission estimates the creation of 700,000 jobs in Europe alone by 2030.

Impact of 4.0 technologies

  • The linear economy focuses on the extraction of raw materials to manufacture products, produce them, consume them and dispose of them, without taking into account the environmental footprint and its consequences.
  • The circular economy goes one step further with three fundamental axes: reduce, reuse and recycle.

The shift from a linear to a circular economy would not be possible without 4.0 technologies. Some of the technologies that offer the greatest opportunities are additive manufacturing and robotics. So-called 3D printing can be integrated in the same plant, reducing the need for transport and emissions, while robotics can facilitate waste management and treatment through robotic collection, transfer and sorting systems.

The Internet of Things (IoT) also offers interesting solutions, as it allows real-time monitoring of the entire production process, increasing the life cycle of products and generating new opportunities.

Finally, Big Data projects are also a novelty to try to have greater control of the entire waste sorting process. This technology helps to make waste collection and transformation even more efficient. It can determine trends in waste types based on consumption, analyse the level of eradication of multilayer polymers and track the life cycle of a product, from the time it is generated until it is recycled into a new product.

Industrial Symbiosis

Within this landscape, there is one concept that stands out for the collaboration between companies in harnessing underutilised resources: industrial symbiosis. It is not a technology as such, but it is linked to Industry 4.0. It is how a company or sector uses the by-products (including energy, water, logistics and materials) of others and how it reuses them.

This understanding of the circular economy pushes the sector to collaborate, to be stronger and to be able to meet sustainability targets.

Last days of chimneys in factories?

With international requirements for a more sustainable, energy and climate-efficient Industry 4.0, we may be saying goodbye to chimneys in factories.

The reuse and recycling of elements, as well as the use of renewable energy, means that the industry of the future will be designed entirely towards a circular economy, marking a turning point in the way industry treats its resources.

Where does industrial waste go?

In the meantime, until the circular economy is widely implemented in the industrial landscape, the question is clear: where does the waste from factories go?

In many cases, this waste ends up as environmental pollution, through dumping or incineration, producing CO2 gases that go directly into the atmosphere. But it has also been common practice to divert this waste to less developed countries.

Today, we are still faced with complex figures: only 12% of secondary materials and resources re-enter the economy, as stated by Frans Timmermans, head of the European Green Pact. A devastating figure that indicates the long way we still have to go.

If you want to learn more about circular economy or apply these techniques to your company, IDE-Asime has Seminars that will allow you to put them into practice.