We talk to Anna Grom, CEO of Interzero Circular Solutions Europe, about circular business models in a market marked by international conflicts and the pandemic. This tense situation has shown the fragility of supply chains and shown how much the lack of strategic raw materials can cost.

The circular economy presents itself as a solution to these problems. The use of recycling will be strengthened and the security of energy, economic resources and environmental raw materials will increase. What are the new prospects of the circular economy? Anna Grom answered our questions and presented us with the model change that the market is implementing.

Now Environment: with first the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine, has corporate ecology gone to the dogs?

Anna Grom (AG): In times of constant change and serious challenges we face, both for governments and for society, security has become the most important thing. We were concerned that in the waste sector current events would overshadow issues of sustainability and the circular economy. However, the opposite happened. We have understood that the circular economy is a remedy for current problems. Thanks to it, energy, economic, raw material and environmental security increases. This strengthens the role of recycling and the closing loop , which guarantee the economy access to fundamental raw materials and their longer use. Therefore, if the pandemic, in addition to the painful human dimension, has accelerated digitalization, the current geopolitical and market turbulences have created favorable conditions to change business models towards more sustainable ones.

And is this happening?

AG: Unquestionably. We can also talk about a paradigm shift. Until a few years ago, when we talked to clients about environmental issues, many of these discussions focused on a green image and short-term actions. Now it is completely different, because long-term visions dominate and companies are interested in developing sustainable business models. We see this particularly in the automotive, food and cosmetics sectors.

Does such a change in the business model make sense in a small and medium-sized enterprise?

AG : We are talking about the competitiveness of companies in the near future. Some companies have understood that the time for change is here and now. We cannot let any more time pass because the world is preparing, companies must accept the challenge, otherwise they will have to take into account a decrease in their market share. We remind you that the condition of the local economy depends to a large extent on small and medium-sized businesses. The most important thing is that we can help them. Just contact us.

But shouldn’t business models be related to current legislation?

AG: There has also been a change in the position of companies in this area. A year ago I would have said that companies would wait for the new rules before acting. Now business no longer hesitates, as entrepreneurs realize it’s not a matter of if, but when. And time plays a key role here, especially in the face of the increasingly bold strategies of those companies that have already announced that they will have 100% recycled packaging by 2027. This means that whoever gets the second raw materials first wins. Added to this is the EU’s legislative offensive. Only a few days ago the European Commission published a draft regulation on packaging and packaging waste which follows a well-known direction. Member countries have reduced waste, increased recycling rates and the use of recycled materials in products.

It’s just that national legislation does not always keep up with European legislation.

AG: True, but responsible business is preparing for the future and is already exploring the options available today. From the version of analogue solutions we move on to digital ones, in which the benefits of ecology will be measurable for the business. Companies will stop looking at sustainability through marketing amplification. I expect that a turning point awaits us, which will lead to fundamental changes in the functioning of businesses, mainly in the production and logistics sector.

And will marketing no longer be necessary?

AG: In turbulent times when we are witnessing a humanitarian crisis impacting the condition of the global economy, the factor that most influences purchasing decisions is price. Now the question is how marketing can help reinforce the message that “green means cheap”. We already have many examples today. Personally, I really appreciate the minimalist trend in packaging design. They seem simple, but that’s what sets them apart on the market at least now and it’s easy to recycle. Furthermore, this change is not limited to packaging. Let’s take a look at what’s happening with products announcing new business models. One of them is, for example, a Vaude bicycle bag, the main structure of which is made of recycled plastic. This product was developed in collaboration with Interzero in Germany.

So the hardware and software of the new waste management are developing.

AG: Such solutions are the harbingers of a new circular economy. For example, we work with the Irish company PEL, which created the Internet-connected BriteBin Solar solar waste containers. Sensors installed in them send information about the filling level of the bin to the waste collection management company. This technology has already proven itself in several cities. As a result, the number of waste collections has been reduced by up to 90%. I add that the device itself can be equipped with a press that compresses waste and a number of other accessories, such as an air filter or a Wi-Fi router.

So digitalisation will change waste management.

AG: Digitalisation means a new quality of waste management. It guarantees transparency, allows you to optimize costs and eliminate unwanted incidents linked to the “disappearance” of raw materials. We are currently working with an international team on another solution for the customer, which will provide him with the ability to monitor his waste streams throughout the entire product lifecycle. All data will be available in the app. The customer will be able to verify that they need, for example, 200 tons of rPET, and can sell the rest. We’ve never had such a reliable data source before. This project is also a preparation for the challenges related to the Digital Product Passport referred to in the regulations adopted as part of the European Green Deal. It will allow the data to be used to identify the product, its origin and composition.

Does this mean the end of classic waste management?

AG: I believe that classic waste management is slowly becoming a thing of the past. Technologies, regulations, but above all the attitude of entrepreneurs are changing, as demonstrated by the construction of new business models. Finally, waste and recycling are starting to be perceived as a safe and effective source of strategic raw materials.