Can IoT help the Circular Economy?

DaveIoT, Sustainability

Aerial view of forest

This year’s theme for Earth Day is “Restore Our Earth” and we’re reflecting on the requirement for a more sustainable approach to pretty much everything and whether IoT can assist in making that a reality.

Since the industrial revolution our model of production and consumption can be summarised as ‘take-make-use-dispose’. Two hundred years later that model has been recognised as the cause of resource depletion, pollution, habitat loss and climate change. This is not sustainable. We have to move towards a different model, one of ‘take – make – repair – repurpose – recycle – remake’, to create a Circular Economy (CE). Many big corporations have developed or are developing CE strategies and practices, and many small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) have started out with sustainability as one of their core values. But the Circular Economy will only work if it is adopted at all levels of commerce and government. SMEs make up half of all economic activity and more than half of employment but in many cases do not have the necessary resources or time to think about the Circular Economy.

We think IoT technology will play a big part in making the CE work in areas such as:

  • Improving resource efficiency e.g. resource extraction, energy use and material costs.
  • Minimising waste at all stages in the manufacturing and distribution processes
  • Monitoring usage to enable repair and repurposing
  • Maximising recycling rates
  • Getting recycled materials back into the manufacturing supply chain.

Many SMEs will benefit from a move to a circular economy as they tend to operate in specialised parts of the supply chain where the application of IoT technology can be most effective. These benefits come in lower costs of inputs such as energy and materials, greater efficiency in distribution and retailing, along with the opportunity to build relationships with customers through the lifecycle of the product or service.

recycling bins

It is early days yet for CE activity but organisations such as WRAP in the UK offer ideas and support for businesses wanting to help ‘Restore Our Earth’ whilst improving the bottom line.

Governments and industry are touting many different CE projects, the EU have generous budgets for CE related research and projects.

Data is a key enabler for the CE as in order to make it work the circular process must by measured, monitored and tracked. The raw materials used, the manufacturing process, the product lifecycle and recovery of materials cannot be achieved without gathering and analysing data at every stage of the process. This is where the IoT comes in.

Every sector of commercial activity can play a part in the CE, the most obvious ones being:

  • Manufacturing
  • Energy & Utilities
  • Infrastructure
  • Logistics
  • Farming
  • Retailing
  • Waste Management

In summary, becoming part of the Circular Economy is something that can be achieved gradually over time and IoT technology is a key part of making that happen. Adopting measures to help the environment will also improve profits and add value to your business in a world where increasingly companies are being rated on their environmental impact and how they plan to minimise it.