Circular Ideas for Business


We are living through a time of an unprecedented amount of waste. Instant gratification coupled with poor quality and single use products has created a huge problem. Small businesses are in a perfect position to initiate change for themselves and their customers. Implementing circular models will reduce waste and save money. 

What does circular mean? A circular economy has three principles, eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials and regenerate nature. Applying a circular model to your businesses means looking at each of your business processes through the lens of sustainability and asking how materials, including waste, can be reused, repurposed or eliminated. 

The Current Climate

How do you think recycling works?  In a perfect scenario, everything we put in our recycling bins would be made into something new, giving it new life outside the landfill. According to the EPA, Americans only successfully recycle 32% of our waste. There are many issues plaguing the U.S. recycling system ranging from misinformation to contamination as well as China’s 2018 decision to stop processing our recycling. There are ways for businesses to work around these factors to reduce waste and create a circular economy. 

Waste management companies made it easy for us to recycle with a single bin system, all recyclables are put in one bin. Yet misinformation and contamination keep the majority of recyclables from being recycled.  People tend to toss everything they hope will be recycled into the bin, a practice called wish cycling. Depending on whether the material is actually recyclable, and the cleanliness of containers, either of these factors can contaminate an entire batch, rendering it trash.

Contributing to even more confusion around recycling are big oil and gas companies efforts to advertise recycling as a closed-loop solution to single use plastics. According to Houston Public Media, these industries also lobbied 40 states to put the three arrow recycling symbol on plastics even if they weren’t recyclable. In a recent article, EarthWatch sited the EPA’s estimate that less than 10% of the plastic that has been thrown away in the forty years was recycled.

Compounding these issues was China’s ban on recycling from the world, which resulted in a pileup of recyclables in cities across the country who didn’t have the manpower, facilities or budget to process the material. Cities quickly ran out of room to store recyclable material forcing them to either landfill or incinerate it. 

Going Beyond Recycling

Small business owners are poised to create change when it comes to waste.  Waste leaving your business in any form is money wasted, as all the materials you need to run your business have to be purchased. We have to ask the question, how can perceived trash be an asset? Below we take a look at circular strategies that businesses can use to achieve waste reduction goals while hopefully saving money and creating a more sustainable business model.

Customer Facing Ideas

  • Reuse Program – If you sell a product in a container, select a container that your customers can clean and return to you for reuse.
  • Compostables – If you serve food to-go, choose compostable utensils, food containers and cups.
  • Reusable Food Containers – offer food in reusable containers that can be cleaned and returned to the restaurant.
  • Reward your customers for bringing their own bags 

Convivial and Bae’s Butters are two companies that offer customers a discount for returning clean containers to be refilled. 

These companies are working with restaurants to supply to-go containers that are returned by customers for cleaning and reuse – Forever Ware, Green To-Go, Full Cycle Takeout, and Dispatch Goods.

On-Site Ideas

Look at every aspect of your business, from the incoming pallets to the break room to identify what materials are coming into your business that end up as waste. How they can be repurposed, reused or eliminated altogether? Here are a few examples:

  • Ask suppliers to minimize packaging or even better, switch to reusable alternatives
  • If you’re business creates food waste, enroll in a local composting program
  • Invest in a water filtration system to eliminate bottled water

The key to successfully implementing any initiative is education and involvement of everyone your plan impacts; employees, customers, suppliers, etc. Including all parties in conversations and planning for your sustainability goals and action plans, allows them to take ownership and pride in their part of the plan.

Taking steps towards reusing the materials your business purchases is a great way to keep unnecessary waste out of landfills.  Engage everyone your business comes into contact with, including suppliers, employees and customers to get them involved with, and engaged in your plan to reduce waste. Your efforts have the potential to save your business money while becoming more socially responsible and will prevent waste at the source. 

If you would like help creating and implementing a waste reduction plan for your business, email us for more information about our consulting services. 

Author Details

Jen Culler Liepis

Jen is the founder of Love Local.