That’s the technical definition. But more to the point, what is circularity in terms of sustainability? When it comes to sustainability, most everyone talks about a “circular economy.”
“A circular economy (often referred to as circularity) is an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources.” That’s it in a nutshell. Here are two examples:
• Spent liner goes back into base stock, cellulose or polymer, and is used as a raw material alone, or with virgin pulp and/or resin. This can get a bit complicated, but our supply chain is complicated. Focusing only on spent liner being generated by a brand owner using pressure sensitive roll labels, circularity occurs when the spent liner flows to a company that either makes base stock for roll label applications or a company making pulp for base stock that is used in roll label applications. The base stock, assuming it now has a percentage of spent liner, is sold to a laminator, Wausau Coated, Avery, Spinnaker, etc. The laminator makes their laminate with base stock that has a percentage of spent liner. The laminate is sold to a converter who prints the label and sells their product to the brand owner who generates the spent liner. Voila, you have circularity. Obviously, you can have iterations of this “circle,” but circularity only occurs if the spent liner comes back to the brand owner a second, third and fourth time. It looks something like this:
As you have read, this is not simple, and all the pieces have to work seamlessly; synchronize, if you will. Frankly, creating circularity with spent liner is virtually impossible. There are no base stock manufacturers here in the US, who have much interest in using spent liner in their furnish.
Lots of reasons, but it ain’t happening in America. There is a major manufacturer in Europe who is going through trials – for the second or third time – but it is still in a trial stage. To create circularity with silicone coated release liner we will need a commitment by the laminating industry, demanding a percentage of spent liner in their base stock. Further, the base stock can’t be more expensive, and it must meet technical performance criteria.
The real question with liner is whether circularity is necessary. If the liner is collected, kept out of our waste stream, isn’t that acceptable? I think so, and this, it seems to me is where our industry should focus: developing markets for spent liner, number one, and number two, working on packaging and logistics solutions.
• The second example of circularity is, of course, matrix. Take a look at this:
Very simply, instead of landfilling non-recyclable matrix, it is diverted to an alternative fuel manufacturer (there are plenty of them out there). A fuel product is manufactured and sold to an energy producer. The energy provider sells the “renewable” energy to an OEM, who uses the energy to make more substrate for his customer, the converter. This is circularity.
Is it happening? No! Can it happen? You betcha! There is no question that in both of these examples, the OEM, the laminator, the manufacturer of the substrate, is the key. They hold the power. They can buy renewable energy made from matrix. They can demand that their base stock supplier provide them with base stock with a percentage of spent liner.
Circularity, or a circular economy, can work, but our industry is a long way off from pure circularity. In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with hybrid circularity, particularly if it helps us collect and use spent liner and divert matrix from the landfill.
Our industry’s efforts to create a circular economy remind me of what Dr. Seuss said: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, no it’s not.” This also rings true when you think about the sequel on 60 Minutes several weeks ago. It wasn’t an original, as I had seen it before. It must have been from their archives. It was about climate change. I will come back to this in a future column, but one of those interviewed, James Hansen, echoed the message from Dr. Seuss. Hansen was the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Now, he’s 79 and runs the program on climate science at Columbia University.
In 1988, in a paper on carbon and climate, Hansen predicted temperatures through the year 2020. That’s about 38 years ago, and his predictions were accurate. What he expected, however, is that our government, and governments throughout the world, would adopt practices that would reduce the effects of climate change. When asked about his forecast for the next 30 years, he said:
“Well, if we don’t change anything, then we’re going to continue to see more and more of these extreme regional events because the physics is quite simple. As you add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, you increase the heating of the surface. So, at the times and places where it’s dry you get more extreme droughts. The fire seasons become longer. The fires burn hotter. But at the times and places where it’s wet, you get more evaporation of the water. And you get warmer, moist air, which provides greater rainfall. And it’s the fuel for storms.”
This summer, the Atlantic Basin has soaked beneath 23 tropical storms or hurricanes, double the usual number. Death Valley, CA, hit 130 degrees – now being evaluated as a world record. And Los Angeles reached 120.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.”
Circularity won’t occur unless we care enough to make changes with our by-product. Climate change will continue to create catastrophic hurricanes, floods and fires unless we work together to make change.
And change will occur because my prediction is that Joe Biden will beat Donald Trump and become our next President. My prediction is that we will rejoin the Paris Accord. My prediction is that the Trump era of environmental irresponsibility will change and once again we will begin to care.
Another Letter from the Earth
Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.