Closing The Manufacturing Loop: Closed-loop Products And A Circular Economy Could Revolutionise Manufacturing

Whether you’ve come across them or not, concepts like the circular economy and closed-loop manufacturing processes could have serious clout when it comes to fighting climate change.

The linear economy and climate change

Products. We love them. Our industry makes a fair few, but as the impact of traditional manufacturing processes, excessive waste and a linear economy start to take its toll on our environment, a change is on the horizon. Climate change, to be precise.

Global warming is arguably one of the planet’s biggest problems. And our current economic system isn’t helping. ‘Make, use, dispose’ – if the linear economy could talk, that’s what it would say. It’s the dominant consumer system that encourages us to buy new products regularly, then throw them out and start the cycle again. It often means mounds of waste and an increase in fast-manufacturing, mostly at the expense of the environment.

With the UN now estimating 9.7 billion people by 2050, this could inevitably mean more manufacturing, more new products and potentially more waste. As problem-solvers, we at Case Station want to help build a new system. For us, that starts with closed-loop products and the circular economy.

What is the circular economy? How are closed-loop products made?

The circular economy is about making and buying less while using more of what’s already in circulation. Circulation = circle = circle economy. 

Think about eBay, Depop or Gumtree – they’re all based on one element of the circular economy. People buying goods from other people, not directly from a manufacturer, and saving the planet a production process or two. The other element of a circular economy is closed-loop products.

Closed-loop products are made from 100% recycled materials – meaning they can be produced without anything new being made. Take the glorious Adidas Futurecraft Loop running shoe. It’s built only from thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), which is fully reusable… but doesn’t affect performance. That’s what we’re all about at Case Station. As engineers, we know that product design is continually evolving to fight problems, in this case, climate change, but the real challenge is doing so without affecting user functionality.

It’s not just Adidas that are taking an interest in the circular economy. Lots of manufacturers are seeing the inherent environmental benefits and jumping on board, like Zara. It recently pledged to make all of its clothes from sustainable, fully-recyclable materials by 2025. Spot on.

Closed-loop products: circular economy compatible

Technically, with closed-loop items, you’re not buying ‘new’ as the materials are already in circulation. In fact, you’re not really buying at all. These products are fully recyclable, so in essence, brands are ultimately just lending people products that can later be returned, recycled, and made into something new. Et voila, a new system based on using, reusing and recycling the abundance of materials and products we have, cutting out the linear-based economy’s consumer-driven focus and easing landfill pressures on our planet. At Case Station, we’ve built our system to be sustainable by design, but it doesn’t stop there.

Our circular design approach

“For me, the circular economy goes beyond material recyclability. This is about every element of our business. it’s not just about closed-loop products, it’s about the charities we donate to every month, the people we hire under challenging circumstances and local economies we create jobs in.

From our people to our processes, everything that comes in and goes out again makes a difference to each link in the chain. We want to be environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.”

Peter Woodd, CEO, Case Station

We’re continually adapting our system to make it circular – but it goes beyond building products that you can repurpose time and time again. Let’s take a look at our protective Apple iPhone cases for example. 

Phase one – sourcing the materials as local as possible, all reusable, recyclable and sustainable

We use three materials when designing our protective phone cases: polycarbonate, polyurethane and water-based inks.

We source our polycarbonate from Sabic, who’ve created a polycarbonate from 100% renewable energy – and we’re on track to replace all of our polyurethane with local plant polymers. The water-based inks we use to personalise our cases are free from solvents, made from water, and fully-recyclable. Plus, all of our packaging is made from recycled cardboard.

No added nasties. Just well-made, Intertek-accredited products that are internationally recognised for their sustainable credentials.

Phase two – reducing the use of fossil fuels and the time it takes to make a product

As it stands, we have five manufacturing hubs all over the world. It means we can assign orders to the nearest hubs, cut down on emissions, and put money back into the local economy. We’re also members of Amfori, which means all of our processes, materials, and labour conditions in said hubs are fully audited and meet Amfori’s sustainable code of conduct.

Phase three

Making our products 100% sustainable is one thing; the next thing is to eradicate waste.  Our Back to Base initiative, launching in 2021, means that our customers can send any of their products back to us when they’re finished with them, and we’ll recycle them with an accredited recycler. And so the loop is closed.

Could you be part of a circular economy?

If you’re looking to fight climate change, it’s time to buy into the circular economy. Interested? Choose Case Station for your next smartphone accessory. Sustainable, ethical protective phone cases, responsibly-sourced vegan-leather watch straps, and almost everything in between – you can fully personalise them, too.

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