You may have heard the term ‘closed loop recycling’ but do you know what it really means? Well let’s take a look and you may be surprised that you may have already recycled in a closed loop system!
First let’s look at open loop recycling, this is what you will probably imagine when you think of recycling, it’s what you do when you take your recycling out to be picked up by the council. If you do this regularly and check packaging to see if it is recyclable you will probably know how problematic this could be, are all the items you see in the recycle bins actually recyclable and one council may accept certain items where others do not based on the local recycling capabilities. With an open loop system a product is recycled into a different product, for example a plastic drinks bottle may be recycled into shoes, sleeping bags or jackets.
This is great as it is taking out an item which could potentially take hundreds of years to degrade and on the way end up as tiny microplastic particles which can make it into the food chain. It does however mean the materials are only recycled once. It may be possible to recycle the secondary item but there is no guarantee with this.
We have all heard stories of recycled items being shipped around the world to be recycled which is clearly the way to go. There are many issues around what can be recycled and how much of the items you put in the recycling bin actually do get recycled and can be used.
Some products do come with a closed system, where the product can go back to the manufacturer and Is then recycled. A good example of this is LiveCoco who produce heads for electric toothbrushes. Normally these cannot be recycled and will end up in landfill, however LiveCoco have a closed system so the customer can send these back to them and they will be broken down into their individual parts and be recycled into walking sticks for the NHS!
The next step is to have a closed loop system, this means that the products or packaging being used are either reused by someone else or recycled back into the original product. Closed loop systems are growing in popularity, but they actually aren’t a new thing! Probably the most well known was glass milk bottles, this was done on a huge scale across the country . Back in 1975 94% of milk was delivered in glass bottles however this had fallen to just 2.6% in glass bottles now. In the 1990s the British milk industry was deregulated and the supermarkets decided to sell milk cheaply in plastic containers. Leaving out the empties represents many people’s first understanding of the concept of recycling. There are signs that milk deliveries are coming back in popularity in the same was as weigh shops are once again becoming more popular as people begin to realize sometimes the old ways were best and a lot more eco friendly!
Creating more closed loop systems could potentially dramatically increase recycling as a lot of the problem is the sheer variety of products on sale now making it very difficult to recycle much of it as the composition of the materials is not known. It will never be the complete solution but the more companies that adopt a closed loop system the better. Using a closed loop system has a number of benefits:
Reduces the use of virgin materials, preserving natural resources. – As the same items are either being reused or recycled into the same product it reduces the need to take virgin materials and add them into production, instead re-using the same materials.
Simplifies the recycling process – As the materials are going back to the manufacturer their composition is known so it is much easier to use these to create new products or recreate the same or simply reuse them. The recycling process is likely to be much more carbon efficient as less has to be done to process and repurpose the materials.
Reduces pollution — creating materials from virgin resources is far more labour intensive and therefore produces far more emission.
Saves space in landfill for non-recyclables – As the materials coming back are known there will be far less that cannot be recycled and therefore end up in landfill.
Who is currently running a closed loop system?
Miniml – Miniml are based in Yorkshire and founded by Emma and Scott who want to make the world a cleaner, greener place to live through their lovely range of eco refillable cleaning, laundry and personal care products.
Miniml have a really simple closed loop system where you can buy from us and then return the containers back to Miniml who will then reuse or recycle them so they can be used again. Their 500ml glass bottles can be returned directly to them or you can keep them and purchase the 5L containers so you can keep topping up the glass bottle for easy use and then return the 5L container to Miniml who will reuse it!