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circular economy examples

Role models: circularity economy examples in manufacturing

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The game-changing outlook of a circular economy is that even when goods are no longer useful, the materials they are made of still have value.

Manufacturing businesses have substantial growth opportunities to use secondary raw materials and save resources from being disposed of in landfills. Companies joining the circular economy can get a slice of this new emerging market, globally worth USD 553 billion in 2023 and expected to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.19% by 2030. 

In this article, you will learn:

  • How companies are integrating the circular economy in their corporate strategy, 
  • The importance of supply chains with circular economy examples,
  • And the economic benefits that businesses can expect.

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What is the circular economy in manufacturing?

Circular manufacturing or circular economy is a means of production, distribution, and consumption where producers bring materials from end-of-life goods back into the economy through reuse, recycling, and recovery instead of disposing of them as waste. 

Companies incorporating secondary materials achieve significant material cost savings of USD 700 billion annually by avoiding the expense of extracting and processing virgin natural resources.

Manufacturers are realising that the materials in end-of-life goods still have value, which can be recaptured by rethinking the entire production process to integrate secondary material—starting with product design. 

Producers can tap into emerging technology to improve manufacturing systems and use less virgin material, produce less waste, and have limited environmental impact. These new systems are also being created to be flexible and take advantage of unique designs and materials.

Transitioning to circular manufacturing will also require systemic shifts to the supply chain and will depend on collaboration with other stakeholders.

Circular economy examples in manufacturing

Waste diverted from landfills or incineration for reuse in manufacturing can close biological or technological cycles. There are two types of circularity in manufacturing industries:

  • Closed loop circularity is where new goods are re-manufactured by reusing, recycling, and refurbishing components or materials from the same industry—for example, the tire-to-tire circularity encouraged by Contec.
  • Open loop circularity involves using secondary materials produced from the waste of other industries. 

Research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found rethinking manufacturing and consumption patterns can reduce carbon emissions by up to 45 per cent. At a time when carbon prices and waste disposal costs are increasing, a circular economy can make businesses competitive by limiting emissions and creating value from end-of-life products. 

Accenture strategy suggested, nearly a decade ago, that re-manufacturing would have an economic value of USD 25 trillion. In addition, by using circular raw materials, businesses can improve ROI by: 

  • Decreasing demand for new materials by 50 to 98 per cent. 
  • Reducing energy consumption from new manufacturing by 55 to 90 per cent.
  • Retaining and recapturing value in existing products through design or novel ownership schemes.

The method by which a manufacturer achieves circularity can be industry- and product-specific. Below are examples to show the creative genius of manufacturers pioneering the transition to a circular economy. 

1. Stora Enso Sunila Mill: a pulp-based refinery plant

Stora Enso Sunila Mill in Finland was the first in the world to extract lignin in a pulp-based refinery plant. The pulp and paper industry is one of the largest manufacturing sectors in the world. It uses 12-15 percent of the wood from forests, which could double by 2050, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

To make the most of the wood they use, Stora Enso Sunila Mill, which owns one of the most extensive private forests in the world, has adopted the circular economy by 

reusing, recycling, and recovering materials at the mill.

The business sources pulp from their sustainably managed private forests to make paper and packaging to replace plastic. They also produce circular industrial products that are alternatives to fossil fuel-based non-renewable products:

  • Stora Enso extracts lignin from black liquor, the by-product of kraft pulping. The company sells lignin and also makes several products from lignin, like carbon materials for electric automotive batteries and alternatives for fossil fuel-based phenols used in plywood glue and polyols in foams.
  • The company recycles wood fibre from pulp waste at least 5-7 times and sometimes as much as 20 times.
  • When no more fibre can be extracted, the pulp is used for energy recovery. Moreover, residual fly ash is used for making construction products.

Since the pulp industry is the fourth largest energy consumer in the world, Stora Enso has replaced heavy fossil fuel oil with lignin, sawdust powder, bark, renewable black liquor, and tree pitch oil. The company hopes to reduce emissions from its operations by 50% by 2030.

2. Treetop Biopak: Compostable packages

Treetop Biopak, a UK-based company, produces compostable bioplastic packages. Their bags and films are durable, food grade, water- and puncture-resistant, and printable, making them suitable as packaging for bakery products, fresh produce, retailing, e-commerce, food service, electronics, clothes, etc. 

The biopolymers Treetop Biopak uses in manufacturing are made from renewable resources, such as high-sugar plants like corn, sugar, and beetroot, and from a chemically engineered compostable fossil-based resin. 

Unlike fossil-fuel-based plastics, bioplastic is compostable and breaks down under certain conditions and time frames to give compost, carbon dioxide, and water. According to Treetop Biopak:

  • Home compostable food-grade bags and cling film can be composted in gardens. 
  • Tubular nets, adhesives, and shrink films need industrial composting facilities that use higher than ambient temperatures of 55 to 60°C to break down the bioplastic. 

No microplastics are formed during this composting process, so Treetop Biopak helps to tackle the growing problem of plastic waste. The compost from their bioplastic can be added to soil to grow plants and close the organic loop. This way, their products don’t produce any waste—a key principle of the circular economy.

3. ReSolved Technologies: Closed-loop plastic recycling

A Dutch startup, ReSolved Technologies, has developed a closed-loop recycling solution for engineering plastics in electronic devices and automobiles. 

Engineering plastics are complex and contain additives that make recycling difficult. 95 per cent of these plastics are downcycled, incinerated, or landfilled.

ReSolved Technologies’ solvent-based recycling technique removes additives like fillers, flame retardants, and colourants, and separates different types of plastics. The recycled plastics are good quality and they can be used to make engineering plastics again. This technology can be used to complement existing mechanical recycling facilities for plastics.

ReSolved Technologies closes the materials loop by turning electronic waste into new electronic devices. Their plastic recycling technology prevents the extraction of fossil fuels for new production and reduces plastic waste and pollution problems.

4. Batch.Works: Smart and circular manufacturing

Another Dutch startup, Batch.Works, offers 3D printing for “Circular Manufacturing as a Service (CmaaS)” using AI-driven factories.

The company uses circular materials like recycled plastics or agricultural waste from traceable sources to make new parts for the manufacturing industry. They offer smart 3D printing to meet on-demand digital production for just-in-time manufacturing, thus reducing overproduction and waste.

The company has a take-back policy for its products to recycle materials and leverages digital warehousing services from third parties for flexibility and scaling. Its novel manufacturing model creates short supply chains to reduce transportation costs and increase agility. 

The short supply chain and digital warehousing cut transport pollution and emissions, and small-batch production makes manufacturing sustainable and cost-effective for client firms.

5. COCO Automotive: Extending the life cycle of vehicles

COCO Automotive was named one of the top 101 automotive startups in the Netherlands for trying to extend the lives of vehicles. They redesign and rebuild cars, replacing combustion engines in existing cars to turn them into electric vehicles.

When refurbishing a car, COCO Automotive reuses materials using the old car frame and other existing components in a closed-loop approach. The refurbished car uses far fewer new materials and little energy compared to manufacturing a brand-new car. This creates a low-impact alternative vehicle that eschews fossil fuels.

The high cost of new electric cars, which are more expensive than combustion cars, has been a significant barrier to mass adoption. COCO Automotive is providing a way for people to get an electric vehicle for less, speeding up the abilities of societies and countries to meet their climate goals.

6. Circunomics: Developing a circular battery platform

Circunomics, a German startup, has created Europe’s largest circular online car battery platform by offering a marketplace for recycling and reusing entire car batteries. 

Around 60 per cent of passenger cars are expected to be electric by 2030, requiring the production of millions of batteries. After car batteries reach the end of their life, they still have 80 per cent of their “SoH” (State of Health) left and have monetary value. Circunomics’ platform connects vehicle manufacturers to sources of used batteries which they can integrate into new cars and save money. 

The platform also offers battery lifecycle management services, including first-life analytics and simulations of second-life. Tracking performance during the battery’s first life allows Circunomics to estimate stock on hand (SoH) and key performance indicators (KPIs). Using this data, the startup creates a digital twin to simulate the battery’s expected performance in its second life and predict its remaining lifetime.

By promoting reuse, Circunomics’ platform helps vehicle manufacturers reach the stipulated recycled material targets set by the EU. Moreover, reusing batteries reduces hazardous waste, saving the resources to make new ones while avoiding landfills and land pollution. 

7. Varme Energy: Advancing Waste-to-Energy (WTE)

Varme Energy develops large waste-to-energy plants. The company operates in Canada and the UK, building Waste-to-Energy (WTE) facilities with integrated carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

Many non-hazardous solid waste streams are challenging to segregate and treat. Landfilling increases air, water, and land pollution. Diverting carbonaceous waste (including plastic) from landfills to incineration allows the energy recovery inherent in these materials. 

WTE plays a vital role in the circular economy by reducing waste and greenhouse emissions.

Varme Energy technology captures the heat generated from waste incineration and uses it to generate electricity to replace fossil fuels. 

8. Circular Technologies: Simplifying ICT Device Management

Circular Technologies is a European startup based in Italy that offers sustainable management solutions for information and communication technology (ICT) goods, such as laptops, monitors, computers, mobiles, printers, servers, etc. They aim to develop a circular market for ICT products used by public and private organisations so that the clients can enjoy the economic and environmental benefits of the circular economy. 

The startup has three solutions for ICT waste:

  • reSource allows organisations to buy certified refurbished ICT products to save money and reduce their environmental footprints.
  • reCover helps organisations develop customised disposal programs for ICT hardware and helps them get cash for their used assets.
  • reCert gives circular certification. Companies can document and calculate their economic and environmental impacts, and get certifications in their sustainability reports for disposing of retired ICT products and purchasing refurbished devices. 

Using these three solutions, Circular Technologies can help businesses join the circular economy and provide a transparent report of their commitment to sustainability.

9. The Climate Change Company: Repurposing material on roads

The Climate Change Company is Romania-based and recycles plastic and glass waste to produce a novel road construction material called Littar. The material, certified by European regulations, can lay the foundation of roads, pavements, and similar traffic structures. 

Existing asphalt factories can produce Littar. The product has better mechanical and thermal properties than asphalt. Being lighter, transport is more manageable, with less costs and emissions. However, plastic waste roads can leach harmful chemicals into the soil and water reservoirs, so this circular solution is not entirely green.

10. Porsche and Circularise: Recycling plastics

Whole supply chain involvement in the circular economy is still infrequent, and it’s hard to ascertain claims of sustainability of material sources. Porsche has several suppliers and is interested in reducing plastics from raw materials during its final production phases to improve sustainability.

Circularise, a blockchain provider, partnered with Porsche and its suppliers to develop another great circular economy example. The “Startup Autobahn innovation program” is intended to digitalise materials and create a thread through the supply chain. As part of this program, Circularise developed patented blockchain technology for the automotive sector, where each batch of material carries information on its origin and sustainability.

This makes it possible to track materials and provide transparency for sustainability metrics like carbon footprint and water savings.

Porsche has been able to show that they use circular plastics sourced from leading recyclers like Covestro, Borealis, and Domo Chemicals:

  • Borealis recycles post-consumer plastic waste using chemcycling to produce circular plastic that is food-grade, virgin quality, and can be used in demanding applications.
  • Domo Chemicals has a line of eco-friendly polyamides produced from recycling, which meet all the automotive sector’s technical requirements.
  • Covestro has developed polycarbonate grades from post-consumer plastic waste like automotive lighting, water bottles, and CDs.

The partnership between Porsche and Circularise made collaboration in the supply chain transparent and showed that Porsche could produce demonstrably sustainable cars to satisfy stakeholders.

Moreover, tracking materials and parts helped Porsche make informed choices to enhance the performance of future generations of production, support end-of-life recycling, and deepen its participation in the circular economy.

11. Circularity in the tire manufacturing ecosystem

The number of end-of-life tires (ELTs) is increasing as more vehicles hit the roads yearly.

Most tires are made primarily of synthetic rubber and plastic polymers that don’t decompose quickly. ELTs are a growing global problem, leading to pollution, carbon emissions, and health hazards.

In 2000, the EU introduced a series of directives to reduce the negative environmental impact of the automotive sector. Some of its stipulations were adopting a circular economy, recycling/reusing materials at a minimum of 85 per cent by weight per vehicle, and recovering at least 95 per cent by weight per vehicle.

Several leading tire manufacturers have responded by setting up individual initiatives, many focusing on replacing fossil-fuel-based virgin Carbon Black (vCB), which constitutes about 21-22 per cent of tires. Tire manufacturers can replace up to 20 per cent of vCB in tires with recovered Carbon Black (rCB) without any detrimental effect, limiting carbon emissions and ensuring less use of fossil fuels.

Four such collaborations and initiatives that engage supply chains are discussed below:

  • Michelin and Bridgestone presented their shared vision in November 2021 to make tires 100 per cent carbon neutral and sustainable by 2050. To achieve this, the two companies are focusing on promoting the use of recovered Carbon Black (rCB) in the tire industry and addressing challenges like the absence of a global method to standardise rCB, new technologies, a fragmented market, and recycling capacity.
  • Orion, a global supplier of vCB, wants to replace fossil fuel feedstock with 100 per cent renewable material and has set a schedule of milestones to be achieved between 2025 to 2050. They have already released a high-reinforcing rCB.
  • Nokian tires aim to make tires with 50 per cent of recycled or renewable raw materials by 2030. Their new concept green tire unveiled in 2022 is made from 93 per cent sustainable materials, including rCB, recycled steel belts and wires from ELTs, and natural rubber.
  • Goodyear wants to source its raw materials sustainably. As part of this strategy, they’re increasing the amount of sustainably grown soybean oil sourced to substitute petroleum-derived oil to keep tires pliable. Goodyear wants to replace petroleum-derived oil completely in its tires by 2040.

12. Contec S.A.: Circular products recovered from ELTs

Contec is a champion of circularity in manufacturing, another great circular economy example that can offer tire manufacturers sustainable raw materials. Based in Poland, we’re within a manufacturing centre providing materials and products for many industries like automotive, machines, and equipment.

Because of this, the country produces waste above the European average. According to a Circularity Gap Reporting Initiative report, Poland recycles only 10.2 per cent of waste back into production, so the manufacturing sector relies on virgin material for nearly 90 per cent of its production. The same report says Poland could double its circularity and reduce material consumption by 40 per cent and carbon emissions by half.

Using chemcycling, Contec transforms end-of-life tires (ELTs) into various reusable commodities like recovered Carbon Black, tire pyrolysis oil, and recovered steel.


Contec uses pyrolysis, a chemcycling method, for material recovery from ELTs. Pyrolysis involves heating shredded tire rubber in an oxygen-free inert environment at high temperatures. Instead of burning, the chemical bonds that hold the polymers in synthetic rubber break down into component chemicals.

This process can recover about 85 per cent of materials in ELTs in the form of Carbon Black (ConBlack), oil (ConPyro), and steel (ConWire). The remaining 15 per cent is recovered as gas that Contec uses as a renewable and circular energy source for 100 per cent operation of its two lines in the plant at Szczecin.

  • ConBlack is a sustainable alternative to medium-grade virgin Carbon Blacks from fossil fuels. The tire industry, which uses 70 per cent of the material, is expected to be the primary consumer of the recovered Carbon Black. Other sectors that can use this circular product are rubber, paints, pigments, geomembranes, and plastic.
  • ConPyro, rich in aromatic hydrocarbons, can be a circular fuel for ships or feedstock for producing fine-grade Carbon Black and plastics.
  • ConWire, a high-quality steel, can be used for tires or any other industry that needs steel.


Contec strives not only to produce circular products but also to make its process as sustainable as possible.

Pyrolysis can recover 85 per cent of materials in ELTs and produces little toxic waste or emissions, making it the most environmentally friendly way of recycling tires. Contec has further improved the process by developing a patented process incorporating molten salts as a heat transfer system to make the process safe for the environment and staff and produce consistently good-quality products.

Contec has reduced the secondary products’ carbon footprints by using ELTs thrown away as waste and replacing fossil fuels for energy. 

  • Recovered Carbon Black’s footprint is 439.17 kg CO2e/1t and 80 per cent less than virgin Carbon Black’s.
  • The carbon footprint for recovered pyrolysis oil is only 399.75 kg CO2e/1t.

Contec is leading the movement towards a more circular economy in manufacturing and its process, energy generation, and innovative products. Contec can close the loop in tire production through its tire-to-tire model and help circular solutions in the automotive sector.

Get in touch to learn more about how our sustainable recycled solutions can help you join the circular economy manufacturing movement.

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