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Round and round goes plastic and print

13 May, 2019 - 10:05 -- tbrunner

The circular economy is rapidly moving from being the preserve of green activists and investors out into the mainstream. The idea that everything we use should be reused as a new raw material has huge implications for the environment and of course for climate change. But making real changes, the pragmatics of developing circular economy realities, is even more huge and for most of us pretty daunting.

Change on such a scale takes big names and big commitments, as well as easy consumer engagement. This makes it fantastic news that Adidas is setting up a system to make it possible for people to return worn out sports shoes to the company. Adidas is setting up a bespoke circular economy whereby worn out shoes are returned to Adidas, pelletised into recyclable plastic and then used as a new raw material. The company will reuse the recycled plastic in the manufacture of new sports shoes. This new initiative builds on Adidas’ existing environmental efforts. Adidas is already using recycled plastics in production: in 2019 it expects to make eleven million pairs of trainers from recovered ocean plastic. Recovering its raw material from discarded old Adidas product instead, takes the company another step closer to improving its environmental footprint.

As interesting as this is, for graphics professionals a bigger question is what happens to the printed boxes and associated packaging, when the sports shoes are returned to Adidas. Their fate is anyone’s guess, but Adidas appears not to have considered the circularity of printed packaging in their initiative. Ideally the old shoe boxes will be recycled, but there is no guarantee that they won’t end up in landfill or in an incinerator. Adidas and other big brands might want to consider initiatives to better support paper and board recycling, working with third parties to develop new paper-based products. Big brands benefit from high visibility and a ready dialogue with consumers and the media. They have a presence in shopping malls where branded collection bins can be set up, and they are well placed to push local authorities towards more joined up recycling and circular economy related projects.

Taking a more active role in recycling and circular economies would certainly go down well with consumers. Shoppers want to feel better about their consumption addictions and want to someone else, including big brands, to take responsibility for dealing with environmental impact mitigation. We are already seeing efforts by the likes of H&M and Intertex to encourage clothing recycling in their stores. But what would it take to get a similar commitment for printed matter and packaging?

– Laurel Brunner

This article was produced by the Verdigris Project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. This weekly commentary helps printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa Graphics, EFI, Fespa, HP, Kodak, Kornit, Ricoh, Spindrift, Splash PR, Unity Publishing and Xeikon.

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