Many of our planet’s natural resources are in short supply—fresh water is scarce, and fossil fuel supplies are finite.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, as recently as five years ago, roughly 65 billion short tons (58.9 billion tonnes) of raw materials were generated. In another five years, that figure is expected to grow to 82 billion short tons (74.4 billion tonnes).
The costs for businesses, governments and society are burdensome. We must learn to use our precious natural resources more wisely and change our behaviour to ensure a sustainable planet. This is not just good stewardship—it is good business.
We live in a linear economy based on “take-make-dispose” consumption, where the goods we use every day are manufactured from raw materials and discarded as waste. At Dow, we are committed to leading the transition to a circular economy that recycles, reuses and remanufactures goods.
Products and materials should be designed to be reused. What cannot be reused should be repurposed and converted into something else—that way products and materials will retain their highest utility, service and value.
Circular supply chains that increase recycling, reuse and remanufacturing have the potential to generate more than $1 trillion a year by 2025, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Transitioning to a circular economy is not only vital to the preservation and protection of our planet’s resources but also the future of business success at Dow. As a global company working at the intersection of the sciences, we are uniquely positioned to take a leading role in supporting the development and implementation of the circular economy, taking into account a product’s life cycle—from creation to use to disposal.
Here are just a few of the key initiatives and technologies we’ve developed to convert items formerly thought of as “waste” into new products and services.
Through a public-private partnership, Dow Terneuzen in the Netherlands, our largest chemical processing plant outside of the U.S., reuses 30,000 cubic metres of municipal wastewater each day to generate steam and to supply manufacturing plants.
Dow Terneuzen has reduced its energy use by 95% compared with the energy cost needed for conventional desalination of seawater—that’s the equivalent of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 60,000 short tons (54,431 tonnes) each year. By 2020, Dow aims to entirely eliminate its reliance on freshwater at Terneuzen.
One of our circular economy opportunities is in the area of recycling.
Despite the continued expansion of recycling programs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates more than half of waste in the United States goes to landfills.
Dow recognizes the untapped value in nonrecycled plastics in landfills.
In collaboration with the public and private sector, Dow set out to recover the embedded energy of nonrecycled plastics in Citrus Heights, California, a city of 85,000 people northeast of Sacramento.
As the first-of-its-kind project in the United States, the 2014 Energy Bag Pilot Program demonstrated that plastics that were previously unable to be recycled could be collected and converted into a usable energy source, such as synthetic crude oil.
“A circular economy can’t be achieved by a single company or sector. It requires courageous collaboration among partners who understand the dual mission of financial value and societal change.” – Eunice Heath
For three months, the residents of Citrus Heights collected items such as candy wrappers, chip bags, juice pouches and plastic dinnerware in Energy Bags, which were picked up alongside their recycling bins. Together, approximately 3 short tons (2.72 tonnes) of items were diverted from landfills and converted into 512 gallons (1,958 litres) of synthetic crude oil.
Roughly 30% of Citrus Heights residents participated in the pilot. If given a chance again, nearly 80% of residents said they would take part, which gives us confidence that similar recycling programs can become commonplace.
Just think, if we could expand and implement this program across the country, we could keep more than 4 million short tons (3.63 tonnes) of plastics out of landfills. That’s enough to produce 1 billion gallons (3.8 billion litres) of fuel a year.
While this wouldn’t eliminate the need for hydrocarbon-based fuels, it would substantially reduce the amount of natural resources being tapped to serve the country’s energy needs. And it would advance a circular economy.
Dow has long been committed to creating sustainable solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges and will continue this commitment as we work toward our 2025 sustainability goals. Over the next decade, Dow will collaborate across the public and private sectors to deliver six major projects to facilitate the world’s transition to a circular economy.
A circular economy cannot be achieved by a single company or sector. It requires courageous collaboration among partners who understand the dual mission of financial value and societal change.
Together, we will demonstrate how the principles of reuse and recovery can help close resource loops and give old products new life.