Essity B 255.4 (-1.2 SEK) on 29-Nov-2022 17:29

Staying Ahead of the Circle

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Though the concept of circularity is nothing new, today’s businesses are adopting new circular models to improve sustainability and ensure a healthier planet. Beyond the societal benefits, there is also a significant opportunity.

Consumers are also demanding more sustainable solutions. Our own Global Hygiene and Health Survey 2022 revealed that 61% of respondents found themselves responsible for consuming more consciously, and that one in three are willing to pay nearly 13% more for sustainable hygiene and health products.

Over the last few decades, we’ve seen a much clearer picture of circularity emerge, but it's important to understand the definition, and what it looks like in practice. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which Essity has partnered with since 2010, outlines the three characteristics of a circular economy that place human well-being at the core:

  1. Designing out waste and pollution from the production process

  2. Keeping products and materials in use longer

  3. Regenerating natural systems and resources

The need to transform businesses and product life cycles to be circular is greater than ever, so let’s take a look at what progress has been made in the pillars of circularity, and what opportunities lie ahead.

Designing out waste and pollution

By conservative estimates, the world generates over 2 billion tonnes of solid waste annually. But that waste represents a massive opportunity: nearly €500 billion in additional revenue could be gained by reintegrating waste into the product life cycle.

So how do you design out waste as an enterprise? One effective way is to integrate recyclable or compostable materials into the production process. One example of a ground-up initiative is the startup Ecovative, which has designed compostable packaging from agricultural byproducts and mushroom roots. 

For larger organizations however, improving recovery rates is job number one. At Essity, we have accelerated efforts to reclaim waste from the production process, resulting in a 64% recovery rate in 2021. Through innovations like Tork PaperCircle, the world’s first paper hand towel recycling service, individual businesses can reduce waste by up to 20% and carbon emissions by 40%. For an office of 800 employees, that’s a savings of 190kg of CO2e per month.

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Keeping products and materials in use

Before products can become waste, it’s important to extend their useful life with innovative solutions. Apparel companies such as Patagonia have adopted programs aimed at repairing existing garments for buyers and educating them on how to perform repairs at home.

Consumers are also quickly switching to reusable products instead of disposable ones, particularly in menstruation and incontinence care. Knix, ModiBodi, and TOM Organic recently joined the Essity family of brands, making us the market leader in leak-proof apparel, a segment expected to grow 20% in the next five years.

Some products must be disposed of for health and hygiene reasons, but it is still possible to extend their useful life. Our own TENA SmartCare Change Indicator allows caregivers to get more accurate indications of when absorbent products need to be changed through an app, reducing waste by over 35%.

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Regenerating natural systems and resources

The third pillar of circularity begins just before the product life cycle. By protecting and replenishing natural systems and finding new and innovative ways to use alternative materials from production that would otherwise be discarded, we can ensure these systems will continue to sustain us.

At Essity, we’ve continuously collaborated with government and nonprofit organizations for responsible forest operations worldwide, ensuring our impact on these ecosystems is sustainable. We also source wood fiber exclusively from certified suppliers from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®) or Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC™).

And even beyond responsible sourcing, it’s paramount that we think outside the box to innovate new material solutions that are more sustainable. That’s why we’ve built the world’s first plant to repurpose waste from local wheat straw farmers in Germany, as half of all global straw goes unused. The new cellulose made from this straw is as soft, tear-resistant, and absorbent as wood fiber and is used in our Zewa products.

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Leading the way

The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. There are still obstacles in implementing circular economies, but they are becoming easier to overcome all the time. New businesses are constantly emerging, and major global organizations are transforming in innovative ways to become sustainable at the core.

At Essity, our commitment to providing sustainable hygiene and health innovations allows us to stay ahead of the curve, introducing new technologies and transforming the business to become circular to improve the health of the planet and everyone on it. 

For more information on how Essity is driving circularity and our journey to net zero.

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