Case Study

Collaboration for Product Takeback

Getting products back from the consumer after use to fully close the loop is a barrier to making the economy more circular.

Manufacturers are unable to extract and reuse raw materials without having access to old products. Achieving this will require new forms of collaboration and transaction with companies along, and even outside, the value chain.

“Bold commitments by companies with strong name recognition, to show what is possible, will be key to advancing the circular economy. We also need more alliances across the value chain to solve challenges that no one company can tackle in isolation, and increasing use of tools such as Life Cycle Assessment to understand trade-offs in the use of various materials.”
Kathleen Sellers, Technical Director, ERM

Privately-owned recycling firm TerraCycle partners with a number of high-profile retailers and brands, including Walkers, Hovis, Ella’s Kitchen, Schwarzkopf and Gillette, to recycle hard-to-recover materials. Meanwhile in the automotive value chain, Audi and materials expert Umicore successfully completed the test phase of their strategic partnership to recover the cobalt and nickel from the high-voltage batteries of the Audi e-tron®, with more than 90% of materials recovered. In 2020, the partners will jointly test a truly closed cycle for cobalt and nickel, with the recovered raw materials reused in new battery cells.

Moving beyond industry collaboration, a select number of companies are also starting to understand how their waste and expertise could benefit firms in other sectors. One example is the recent announcement from Ford and McDonald’s that they would soon be collaborating to convert coffee bean skins into car parts. Elsewhere, companies are making packaging from food industry waste streams such as potatoes, shellfish and fruit.

System-level collaboration will be necessary for the circular economy, and ultimately businesses may need to rethink competitive advantage. The increasing sophistication of new technologies such as the Internet of Things and blockchain could improve the potential for such system-wide collaboration.

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