• Sara Zellner

The Circular Economy: Creating a Zero-Waste Business

The circular economy is the holy grail of business environmental sustainability. Also known as a closed loop system, a circular economy reuses and recycles materials in business production processes without generating waste or emissions.


Companies increasingly view the circular economy as a viable approach to decouple economic growth from resource constraints and have valid economic reasons to do so. The annual extraction of materials has tripled since 1980, fueled by increasing consumption. In addition, despite improvements in the efficiency of resources and technology, forty billion tons of natural resources will be overused annually through 2050.

Below are some examples of how companies are implementing a circular economy:


  • Dow Chemical Company: In the Great Lakes Bay Region in Michigan, Dow and its project partners used recycled plastics to modify asphalt for roads and parking lots though the use of Dow’s ELVALOY™ asphalt modification technology and recycled plastic modified asphalt.

  • Procter & Gamble: Utilizing the How2Recycle label, Procter & Gamble brands, Charmin and Bounty, communicate to consumers that they can recycle the packaging by returning the wraps to the store on their next shopping trip. The plastic bags and wraps collected in store take-back programs are processed and converted into a new film or are used in composite building products.

  • Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc: The company diverts and reuses millions of tons of materials each year that might otherwise be destined for landfills. The ferrous and non-ferrous scrap metal it processes is used to manufacture new metal-based products that reduce energy consumption, conserve natural resources, and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  • WestRock Company: Paper-based foodservice packaging—such as single-use cups, takeout cartons, and pizza boxes—has historically not been accepted in recycling programs because of concerns over plastic coatings and food contamination. WestRock has developed a method that allows these products to be mixed into existing paper recycling streams.


To learn more about the circular economy and other paper, plastic, and steel case studies, download our new report, “Creating a Circular Economy in the Great Lakes Region.” And check out the Circular Economy Toolbox, which we helped develop, for more in-depth information, measurement, and industry best practices on the circular economy.

Circular Economy Great Lakes
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