Lets talk circular economies and closed loop design.
They are the latest buzzwords in manufacturing and for good reason – now more than ever it is crucial to consider the entire lifecycle of a product (or industry) and specify based on its sustainable ‘loop’.
First, lets cover definitions.
Closed loop design: Closing the loop means moving from traditional design, which looked at the linear model for design and production – make, use and dispose – to how the disposal stage could be fed back into the creation of a new product.
Circular economy: A circular economy is one that exchanges the typical cycle of make, use, dispose in favour of as much re-use and recycling as possible. The longer materials and resources are in use, the more value is extracted from them.
What we’ve learnt is that closed loop design and circular economies are fundamentally the same.
Why circular economies are so important
A circular economy eliminates waste and maximises value through the optimal design of products.
This economic model promotes:
- Waste becoming a main resource
- Second use/life for products
- Reuse of products or parts in manufacturing
- Recycled materials
- Energy from waste
A circular economy also encourages the process of using outputs from one manufacturer for another’s inputs, and in doing so, reducing unnecessary waste. For example, a percentage of the wood shavings from ASH’s manufacturing is used as bedding for the chicken industry and as an energy source to power ASH’s kilns (output = input).
The Timber Industry’s Circular Economy
The Australian timber industry is privy to a circular economy. In fact, we’ve been doing it for decades.
The forest and wood products industry in Australia has one of the best circular economies available, which is reflected in the many Environment Product Declarations (found here).
So what does the industry’s circular economy look like?
Resource efficiency is an important aspect of the timber industry’s circular economy. Once trees are harvested, they’re re-planted and regenerated to ensure the best possible resource for future generations.
Not only is the timber re-planted, but 100% of each log is used for products like furniture, flooring, framing, mass-timber column and beams, wood chips for bedding, sawdust for green energy, etc.
After decades (or centuries), the product is then recycled, up-cycled or once again turned into green energy.
And it doesn’t end there. Timber is also biodegradable and can be used for soil improvement and plant growth.
The process then starts over, creating that all important closed loop.
Circular economies have the potential to impact current economic, social and environmental conditions. It is imperative that specifiers and consumers consider them when making purchasing decisions and even more important for manufacturers to ensure their product is a part of a closed loop design.