The Circular Economy: Driving a New Wave of Growth
In 2017, most consumers used plastic straws without a second thought. This changed in 2018, after a marine biologist posted a video of herself removing a plastic straw painfully stuck in a sea turtle’s nose.
The video struck a chord with consumers and quickly went viral. The public response was so immediate and so strong that, within the year, major outlets such as Starbucks announced bans on plastic straws in favor of reusable metal or recyclable paper options.
This is one very recent and very powerful example that’s indicative of much larger environmental and sustainability issues facing every segment of the consumer products industry today.
For example, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, roughly one third of all food produced for human consumption annually — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted, equating to losses of roughly $680 billion in industrialized countries and $310 billion in developing countries. What’s more, food loss also drives waste in water consumption, soil degradation, excess energy use and carbon emissions, and lost labor and capital.
Elsewhere in 2017, when fashion retailer H&M was accused of regularly incinerating tens of millions of dollars’ worth of unsold inventory, it exposed a pervasive practice in Fast Fashion: destroying excess inventory to maintain brand exclusivity rather than donating or liquidating at discount prices. Public outcry led 94 major fashion brands to sign the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitmentat the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in May 2017, and more have joined since.
Examples like these demonstrate how rapidly evolving consumer awareness of environmental and sustainability issues are leading an increasing number of consumer product companies to break from the current “take-make-waste” model of industrial production and focus instead on three core objectives of the Circular Economy: designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.