Danny Molhoek, general manager of Lexmark UK & Ireland, explains how Lexmark is applying circular economy principles to reduce the environmental impact of its printers
You have probably heard the term ‘circular economy’, but what exactly does it mean for businesses?
Although we may not know it, we are all part of the traditional ‘linear’ economy where materials are made, used and thrown away. However, as pressure on the environment grows, linear economics is reaching the end of the line. In its place is the circular economy, which aims to keep the extraction of raw materials to a minimum, while ensuring they stay in circulation longer and can be reused at the end of their lives.
There is a common belief that the circular economy is just another term for recycling. This is simply not true. Although recycling is an important part of sustainability, the circular economy means designing products for longevity so that materials last longer and can be repaired easily as well as reused. It also includes trade-ins, sharing models and service packages.
So why isn’t everyone doing it?
Often, executives will cite cost as a factor preventing their company from adopting a sustainable business model. But in actual fact cost is a major reason to bring sustainability into the boardroom.
The circular economy prioritises longer-lasting products, which in turn encourages customer loyalty and new business opportunities for repair and maintenance services. Research has shown that resource effiiency measures could add $2.9 trillion to the economy by 2030 – with returns on investment of more than 10%. There are also major job opportunities. By 2030, the circular economy could create over 200,000 jobs if businesses continue to integrate it into their long-term strategies.
Bad habits are hard to break
For the time being, however, the problem of waste continues to rise. Plastic production has increased 20 times over the past 50 years, from 15 million tons in 1964 to 311 million tons in 2014. In the EU, less than 25% of plastic waste is recycled – with about 50% ending up in landfil.
Almost every manufacturer uses plastic in some form, but some need more of it than others. With an estimated 50,000 tons of printer cartridges being sent to landfil in Europe each year, reducing waste has become a pressing issue for the printer industry. If you want to envisage what this much waste looks like, imagine over 34,000 fully-loaded dump trucks unloading at once. That is why many companies are now looking for better ways to manage this challenge.
One such is Lexmark, which has prioritised long-life, reliability and sustainability in its products. Between 2004 and 2014, Lexmark increased the amount of cartridge material it reuses by 400%. This material goes straight back into its products. The CS72x printer, for example, is made of 53% recycled plastics. It also has a longer lasting toner cartridge with a 67% higher yield. Thanks to a zero-landfil policy for the used cartridges it collects, 100% of the empty cartridges returned to Lexmark are either reused or recycled.
There are other innovative steps companies can take to cut out waste. For example, Lexmark converts its waste paper to make moulded pulp cushions for packaging toner cartridges. This alone saves the equivalent of more than 12,000 trees a year.
The circular economy can help companies retain more value from the material, energy and labour that goes into their products. Integrating sustainable thinking into your product strategy can optimise the manufacturing process, reduce environmental impact and ultimately eliminate waste. Although right now no one has all the solutions, the circular economy is undoubtedly one of them.