The circular economy refers to an economic model whose objective is to produce goods and services in a sustainable manner, limiting the consumption and wastage of resources (raw materials, water, energy), and the production of waste. The aim is to break with the linear economy model (extract, manufacture, consume, throw away), replacing it with a "circular" economic model. The linear economic model currently in place in our societies has reached its limits, as it strongly contributes to climate change and to the destruction of our environment. Immediate action and efforts are required in order to preserve the planet and its limited resources. Industries have a big role to play, and one way to do so is by incorporating circular economy principles into their activity on a global scale.
To limit the consumption and wastage of resources as well as the production of waste, innovation is required in order to optimize resource use. Recycling, reusing, reducing, renewing, recovering: these are all ways to create a circular economy and get rid of waste for good. Circular loops can keep the resources recirculating for as long as possible - ideally, forever, with no need to extract more of them.
According to the Energy Transitions Commission, a more circular economy could reduce CO2 emissions from the plastics, steel, aluminium, and cement industries by 40% globally, and by 56% in developed economies like Europe by 2050.
Underpinned by a transition to renewables, the circular economy builds economic, natural, and social capital. It is based on three principles that Solvay will follow:
- Design out waste and pollution;
- Keep products and materials in use;
- Regenerate natural systems.
Responsibility for the Circular Economy is assigned to the Head of Circular Economy in the Sustainable Development and Energy (SDE) Corporate function.
The mission of the Head of Circular Economy is to accompany and lead the transition of Solvay’s activity and its systemic approach, by creating circular loops not only with customers but also with the major brand owners in the industries where Solvay is present. By meticulously analysing the internal and external opportunities to make better use of products at every stage of their lifespan (and trying to find a new life for them through recycling or reuse), the Head of Circular Economy and the SDE function are constantly pushing new projects for Solvay and other partners to reduce waste, thus improving the environmental impact of the industry and contributing to a Global circular economy.
Chemistry, as a science and an industry, is a tremendously relevant and powerful enabler in material transformation and re-use. Using the large and diversified technology portfolio of the Group, from specialty chemicals to advanced materials, we can act as an enabler and co-construct new solutions to close loops.
Resource-efficient circular economy solutions
The transformation of Solvay into a circular economy driver is embedded in the Group’s G.R.O.W. strategy.
Solvay is taking steps and working with customers, suppliers, and partners to identify opportunities where the Group can leverage its capabilities, in particular by doing the following:
- Redesign products and processes by reducing the use of critical resources, resulting in recyclable products;
- Develop new market value propositions to improve the customers’ circularity;
- Help extend the lifetime of customers’ products;
- Help customers reuse scarce resources;
- Develop renewable energy solutions for customers.
Partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
In January 2018, Solvay and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) signed a three-year Global Partner agreement that gives the Group an opportunity to make a difference in accelerating the transition to a circular economy in the chemical sector.
The Foundation was launched in 2010 and aims at helping businesses reach a circular approach in their business models. We share the EMF’s belief that innovation is at the heart of any transition to the circular economy. Solvay has been chosen as the only chemical company and will work with ten other Global Partners (BlackRock, Danone, Google, H&M, Intesa Sanpaolo, DS Smith, Philips, Renault, SC Johnson, and Unilever) in innovating toward more sustainable and circular products.
Solvay is developing projects alongside other major actors and enabling a vital transition to better ways of producing, using, recycling, and reusing our products in the industry and beyond. We are determined to build a sustainable future, and we believe that working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation helps us accelerate our transition to resource economies.
As a strategic partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we are engaged in a journey to re-think and develop circular business with customers and brand owners to preserve the resources of the planet. We can contribute value to the circularity in three priority areas:
- Bring new functionalities: transform waste from Solvay’s strategic markets into added-value raw materials;
- Enhanced technology: create value by increasing the quality of recycled materials through improved processes;
- Eco-design: develop new products to be circular by design.
Solvay is engaged in cross-industry organizations:
- WEF platform for developing low carbon emitting technologies (mixed plastics recycling, biomass utilization for low CO2 emission, and new chemistries and processes using CO2 as feedstock);
- WBCSD Factor 10;
- Circular Plastic Alliance CEFIC.
2019 Key achievements
In 2019, Solvay embedded circular and bio-based innovation into sourcing, new business development projects, and its portfolio.
Manufacturing biobased vanillin is one example. Produced from a natural raw material, ferulic acid obtained from non-GMO rice bran oil and through a fermentation process, Solvay RHOVANIL Natural CW is the only industrially produced vanillin.
A new solution to reduce metals extraction and waste
As demand for Electric Vehicle Lithium-ion batteries grows, so too will the need for a consistent source of critical metals such as cobalt. Solvay is helping to accelerate Electric Vehicle battery metal recycling and develop a sustainable, closed loop value chain facilitated by new recycling processes.
Leveraging its capabilities and partnerships, Solvay has an active role in improving productivity and efficiency across the entire battery metals value chain by offering superior Li, Co & Ni extraction efficiency for processors, delivering technologies to purify and convert those metals into feed stock for cathode manufacturing high-purity battery raw materials.