By Nathan Nayagar, Managing Director, Lexmark – South Africa & English Speaking Africa

Responsible business and sustainability are not necessarily terms that inspire excitement – but they should. By thinking outside the box, companies are using increasingly innovative approaches to get involved in recycling and become a part of the circular economy. We have uncovered a few examples how practical sustainability challenges can be tackled with a level of innovation that is forward-looking, effective and, most of all, exciting.

Closing the circle

With the rise of fast fashion, the circular economy is a practical way to prevent clothing from ending up in landfill and give it a new life. The textile industry can be surprisingly wasteful. UK consumers now discard more than one million tons of clothing each year. And producing one kilogram of cotton fabric uses more than 20,000 litres of water – enough to fill several swimming pools. As material extraction costs are also on the rise, it is more important than ever to reuse clothes and reduce the amount of textiles currently being wasted.

British department store Marks & Spencer’s adopted a circular economy approach, teaming up with charity Oxfam to encourage its customers to donate, rather than discard, their unwanted clothes. Under the Oxfam Clothes Exchange, customers who donated M&S clothes in one of Oxfam’s stores received a voucher to use with their next purchase of £35 or more on clothing, home or beauty products at M&S. The donated clothes were then sold or recycled by Oxfam to raise money to help tackle poverty. Since the scheme was launched, more than 6.5m items of clothing have been donated, raising more than £3m for Oxfam.

Good for the sole

One of the world’s biggest landfills isn’t on land but undersea. The ocean floor is home to a vast accumulation of plastic bags, bottles and other detritus which can ensnare and harm marine life and which generally pollutes the water. A recent study has estimated that by 2025, up to 28 million tons of plastic will be discarded into the ocean each year.

A collaboration between sportswear brand Adidas and marine preservation non-profit organization Parley for the Oceans aims to repurpose this waste.

Constructed using 3D printing, the shoe consists of an upper made with ocean plastic content and a midsole constructed with recycled polyamide and plastic filaments from discarded deep-sea nets. The trainers are not solely a prototype but will go on sale to the public later this year.

Calling time on e-waste

In an increasingly fast-moving world, consumers are often in a hurry to upgrade their tech hardware to keep up with the latest trends. However brands need to make sure that this haste doesn’t translate into electronic waste. Extending the life cycle of products and equipment – particularly through re-use, and optimising end-of-life processing – is one way to keep levels of wastage down. Telecoms company Orange has set up a permanent mobile phone buyback scheme called Orange Reprise, which allows mobile phone handsets to be resold and unsaleable phones to be transferred to a green recycling system. The company is an example of how brands can go beyond reducing their direct environmental impact to promoting the circular economy model and embracing more efficient resource management.

Paving the way forward

The rate of global deforestation is slowing, thanks partly to the increased use of recycled paper. Lexmark has gone one step further and is re-using the paper used to print test pages to help meet a growing demand for product packaging. Over the past decade, the demand for packaging has accelerated, with global packaging sales estimated to reach $975 billion by 2018. Lexmark devised a scheme to turn its used paper into product packaging. Instead of recycling test pages, the company converts them into molded pulp cushions which are then used to protect its cartridges during shipping.

Cost-effective and practical, these cushions can also be recycled as they are made from 100 percent waste.

And the company’s sustainability efforts are, quite literally, laying the groundwork that will help others go the extra mile. In partnership with Close the Loop, Lexmark is recycling used toner to help construct TonerPave, an asphalt additive composed of recycled tires, toner powder and recycled oil. Although initially designed for maximum environmental benefit, roads asphalted with TonerPave have superior characteristics to comparable roads with virgin raw materials. The addition of toner improves the quality and performance of asphalt, with the environmental benefit of lowering greenhouse gas emissions at no additional cost.

It only takes one idea to start a recycling revolution – but it takes a whole company to pioneer such innovative policies. To become a sustainability leader, companies need to be receptive to new ideas and build an innovative environment where they are given a chance to grow. Recycling is at the heart of the circular economy and can be a powerful differentiator for brands wishing to put their innovation skills to good use. Supporting the environment and the circular economy shows today’s more environmentally-conscious consumer that a company cares for the environment which encourages brand loyalty. That’s why taking a smarter approach to conserve our finite resources can transform not only a company or an industry, but also positively impact the bottom line.

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