How Tech Can Change the Way We Think About Circular Economy

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The circular economy has been gaining momentum in recent years. The urgency created by the impact of consumerism on the planet’s environment has created urgency in governments and consumers to support and make the necessary infrastructure available.

So far, the development of tech has been focused on supporting and improving the traditional solutions that already exist and enable circular economy: waste collection, sorting, and recycling.

However, new developments and advanced technologies can and will bring the next level of innovative solutions to enable an (almost) complete circular economy.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality can be useful to in several levels of the circle. This tech can help several activities performed become more efficient, reducing its costs. It’s also useful in the prototyping processes by visualizing design prototypes in 3D, and testing and redesigning manufacturing processes, reducing or eliminating entirely the use of some raw materials.

In real life:

Scope, a Canadian firm specializing in AR solutions for industry, has developed a software tool called WorkLink that can transform traditional paper-based work instructions into Smart instructions, It uses animated, intuitive, 3D computer-generated imagery that overlays on top of the real world.

Internet of Things

Internet of Things (IoT) systems can be an enabler of circularity, offering assistance in the process of resource recovery. Smart objects can give info about their location, status or need for upgrade. IoT can also be used in predictive maintenance (determining the condition of in-service equipment or machinery in order to predict when maintenance/servicing should be performed) to maximize product life span and reduce costs.

In real life:

San Francisco and London have installed solar-powered automated waste bins that alert local authorities to when they are full; creating ideal routes for trash collection and reducing operational costs by 70 percent.

Big Data

Big data play a big role in making industries and supply chains more efficient. It can be very useful for route optimizations, reducing risk, streamlining manufacturing and making supply chains more transparent, by enabling businesses to make decisions based on accurate data-driven insights.

In real life:

DHL has a Big Data Business Platform that supports all its activities. It uses data collected by sensors, on top of getting data from the financial industry, public authorities, retailers, SMEs, and its own research. DHL uses the technology for route optimization, strategic network planning, operational capacity planning, risk evaluation and resilience planning, customer loyalty management, and environmental intelligence (statistics on pollution, traffic density, noise, parking spot utilization, etc.)

Platform Economy

Platform Economy refers to digital marketplaces. Amazon, Alibaba, etc, already changed the way consumers buy industrial products. It’s a concept that can be applied to help implement what is called ”Industrial Ecology” – the concept that the waste of one industry can be the input of another one.

In real life:

Organix an online marketplace for organic waste. It links organic waste producers with biogas operators to facilitate energy recovery from such waste.

Product as a Service

This is a business model in which manufacturers retain control of the product throughout their lifecycles – instead of selling the products, they lease them to costumers. This means that the responsibility of disposing of the product at the end of its lifecycle shifts from the consumer to the manufacturer. It also opens the possibility of recycling or refurbishing the product to give it a longer life span.

In real life:

DriveNow is a sharing service that offers a fleet of the latest BMW and Mini vehicle models. Users can locate a car and unlock it using an app, use it, then park it again.

Blockchain

Famous for its use in Fintech, Blockchain represents trust in transactions, since there is no third-party intervention. It can be leveraged by the circular economy too: blockchain technology can be used to make supply chains more transparent by tracking products from the manufacturers to the shelf. This access to information can help customers be informed about how the products were made and shipped, empowering them to make environmentally friendly decisions.

In real life:

Provenance uses blockchain to make supply chains more transparent, It builds a traceability system for materials and products. It gives consumers information about suppliers by tracing the origins and histories of products.

Upcycling

Circular Economy is all about closing the loop, but unfortunately, not everything can be recycled back to a raw material state to be re-used. Upcycling enables creative re-use of products for different purposes (without breaking them down). Companies can find alternative inputs for their products, and customers can find ways to re-use their products once they’ve reached the end of their lifecycles.

In Real Life:

Samsung has introduced Galaxy Upcycling, which is a program that enables the embedding of IoT in old smartphones to be used in households. On their website, they suggest ideas for using the phones, and they offer the software and the hardware (sensors). For example, the device could be used to monitor fish tasks, check conditions, and give food to fish while the owner is away.

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