Closing the circle

The weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

As we all know, process control is fundamental to every aspect of the circular economy. But publishers, printers and all other players in media supply chains can only benefit, if they can work out a solid business model and make money from it. In order to do this several structural elements must be in place. The first is widespread consumer awareness, a societal norm that encourages end users to only buy products which can be recycled or reused within a zero waste model. But this is an enormous ask.

Getting consumers to invest in products based on environmental considerations takes investment into an intangible goal, but not all global brands are keen to stump up the readies for this. Take Coca-Cola as an example. The company boasts of its commitment to recycling PET beverage bottles and recently announced a new packaging plan whereby it will increase the amount of recycled content in its bottles by 50% by 2020. This is just too low an ambition, but it is in line with the tepid commitments of Coca-Cola’s competitors. Greenpeace says that Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Suntory, Danone, Dr Pepper Snapple and Nestlé have a combined average of a mere 6.6% of recycled PET in their bottles. This figure is based on data provided by the top six, excluding Coca-Cola which means the combined average might be a bit higher. So step one has to be ambitious commitment from brands working with consumers to jointly support the reuse and recycling of PET.

The next thing that’s vital is validation of the processes involved, certification on a scale that allows consumers to trust what brands claim so that end users can have a clear conscience. Process control and management must start at the design stage, so certifications must also start there, working through the processes and tracking each step of production, use and end of life. This is another huge ask, and one that depends on governmental support to make it happen. 

Certification programmes, environmental awareness, commercial gain for brands and governmental support all need to be in place if we are to make progress towards circular economies within the many sectors of the graphics industry. It’s a start that the paper industry has made such progress towards improving print’s environmental impact. But bolder steps and engagement are required by each of the many links in media supply chains, especially the behemoths. We know that we must come up with new models to encourage reentry of printed matter into production cycles as new raw materials. We also know that we need some big ideas and investment from major players in our industry to capitalise on the economic as well as the environmental gains. 

– Laurel Brunner

This article was produced by the Verdigris project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. This weekly commentary helps printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa GraphicsEFIFespaHPKodakKornitRicohSpindrift, Splash PRUnity Publishing and Xeikon.

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