WHAT IS THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY AND HOW CAN MODULEX BE A PART OF IT?

Written by Erik Sorensen Ruiz

March 29th – 2021.

Three Examples of circular flows in Modulex

A Circular Economy is a business model which looks beyond the ‘take-make-waste’ extractive industrial model, which most companies follow today. It redefines growth and waste patterns, focusing on positive social and environmental contributions. Circular models try to separate companies from relying on the extraction of resources and focus on designing waste out of the system. In a circular model, economic activity is used to make the overall system healthier by: ​​​​​​​

  • Reducing extraction of resources and using waste to generate profit.
  • Using renewable energies and compensating emissions. 
  • Designing modular products which can be re-used, keeping products and materials in use as opposed to throwing them away.

The circular model can be seen in the diagram below, called the “Circular economy Butterfly”. The left side represents the biological cycle – for products that are made of biological materials (i.e., fertilizers, cotton, food…). The right side refers to the technical cycle, man-made materials or products, this is where signage belongs. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

In a linear model, products are thrown away after being used (‘incineration’ and ‘landfill’ are below ‘user’ in the diagram above). However, throwing things away systematically is problematic. Not only does it harm the planet, but much of the waste still has value to be used again to generate profit. The aim of the circular economy is to avoid following a linear path and move to a circular model with zero-waste. 

How this can be achieved in signage? It might not be obvious, but there are already many ways in which Modulex Billund is moving towards a circular economy.

Modular Design

The main example of circularity at Billund is modular design. Most sign family products are modular. Old components (panels, rails, etc..) can be replaced with new parts, reducing waste via design, without the need to recycle. We simply design waste out of the system by manufacturing our signs in a modular way. Secondly, old components can be taken back to Billund where we can find a way to give them a new life, in our industry or a new one. Modular design helps us to move from only selling physical, traditional signs, to offering services –– such as upgrading signs with new panels –– which will help us close the material “loop” and form a circular economy.

Etronit and GreenBondTM

These products are made from recycled paper and wood dust from industrial logging in Finland. The wood dust is generated by industrial sawmills when cutting wood. This means that we are using waste from another industry to generate value in our own and no trees are cut down to manufacture these products. By recycling and reusing materials that would otherwise be discarded, Etronit and GreenBondTM help close the material loop.

Take-back programs

Modulex Billund is currently working on projects with more than 1000 sites, where offices are rented to smaller businesses. Due to fast changes of companies moving in and out, we have advised using Compass as it is a modular and changeable product, which will allow us to replace one panel only when a company moves out. This is the perfect scenario to test the first take-back program, where the customer will order new panels and send back old ones. Screws, plastic parts and profiles will be reused, and we will explore how to give panels a new life. With this we aim to establish a circular flow of materials, which will lower the customer’s cost of replacement, reduce material waste and create value from it. 

The real challenge of a circular economy is not to achieve zero waste, but in finding the strategy to accomplish this. Yet, there is no set way to achieve this, there are many. Products can be recovered and restored through strategies like reuse, repair, remanufacture or, as a last resort, recycling. Whether it is modular design, take-back programs or sustainable materials – these strategies all help us in getting closer to becoming a circular business. By trying to move towards a circular flow of materials, we are not only reducing waste and helping the environment. We are creating value from our waste and others’. This generates opportunities for us to offer services beyond traditional signage, develop innovative products and maximize our profit.

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