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How can you tell if a product is part of a circular economy?

This is a guest post by Ramon Arratia, European Sustainability Director at modular carpet company InterfaceFLOR

Over the last few weeks I’ve been discussing with colleagues how to measure circularity in a circular economy. Here are some very early thoughts to start the conversation.

1. Does it contain recycled materials?
If you want to measure circularity at product level the easiest thing is to measure the post-consumer recycled content of products.

A product with more post-consumer recycled content assures you that someone has bothered to recycle something into a valuable product. This figure can be calculated by weight (easier) but that doesn’t necessarily give you a sense of value of the circularity (low value stuff weighs quite a lot). It’s more interesting to recycle nylon than cement, and recycling a mobile phone into a brick is not very clever…

2. How much CO2 was needed to make it?
Another metric to consider is the CO2 (kgCOeq) of a new product. This is interesting because post-consumer recycled stuff is mostly less carbon intensive than virgin (and if not, then the recycling process is badly designed anyway). This takes into account value indirectly because more complex materials (more valuable) normally have a bigger carbon footprint. This metric would favour recycling entire components over chucking them into recycled materials to make new components. As well as CO2, other indicators such as abiotic depletion could be utilised.

3. Will it last?
How about measuring durability and recyclability? Durability is straighforward, you can measure both warranty and real life time of product. Recyclability is more tricky. At product level you could measure the parts of a product that can be dismantled, and again a focus on value is key. We should, and will, investigate this further.

4. Stuff per unit of GDP
At macro (national and regional) level we also need metrics to measure circularity, but more important than circularity itself is dematerialisation. For example, GDP/kg of stuff (and per kg of CO2 eq, and per kg of Sb eq). This way we also take into account the impact of a service economy cannibalising product sales e.g. more gyms, hairdressers, etc and less stuff.

Would love to hear your thoughts…

This post first appeared on Interface’s sustainability blog

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Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership and increased political support for environmental solutions in the UK. This blog provides space for commentary and analysis around environmental politics and policy issues as they affect the UK. The views of external contributors do not necessarily represent those of Green Alliance.

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