Empty plastic bottles ready for recycling as part of the circular economy

Enabling net zero through the circular economy

Written by James Townsend

The future of circularity - engineered by AFRY

At AFRY we believe in creating a more sustainable future for all. That's why Engineered by AFRY is a powerful statement of purpose that guides every decision we make.

Black and white icons showing the 7 industries that AFRY works in: energy; manufacturing industry; telecom, ICT and defence; process industry; automotive and R&D;  food & life sciences; buildings; and transport infrastructure.

At AFRY we have identified decarbonisation, circularity, electrification and digitalisation as the four main drivers that can accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable society. But transformational actions are necessary throughout all industries to achieve a global net-zero scenario.

What is the circular economy?

In a linear economy, a lot of resources are used in the different steps to create products and services – these resources can be materials, natural resources and energy used in the process. Once the item has been used, the entire product is thrown away, and all the resources that were used to make it are lost.

In contrast, the main goal of a circular economy is to preserve the resources that have been invested through the different steps of creating the product – both in terms of preserving the materials, natural resources and components, and the energy that was used to make them.

The circular economy is defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation as a system where waste is minimized and resources are kept in use for as long as possible. It is based on three principles:

But why do we need a circular economy? What are the benefits of a circular economy? How do you create a circular economy? And who do you ask to help you? Read how circular business models are key contributors to businesses’ sustainability strategies.

AFRY's role in enabling the circular economy

From plastic circulation and the assets themselves to the reduction of water and energy, greenhouse gases - these are all areas in which AFRY can play a key role

In the transition towards a circular economy, we believe that bio-based industry, efficient resource use and circular solutions together are the game changer. By increasing the value of bio-based materials, use of new raw-materials, reducing waste and embracing circular solutions, we will reach higher resource efficiency.

Circularity will require improved resource and operational efficiencies to help tackle climate change, biodiversity loss, resource scarcity and pollution. AFRY is active in several recycling solutions, including paper & board, textiles, plastics, batteries and metals & minerals.

AFRY has a critical role in paving the way for a sustainable future. By accelerating the transition towards a sustainable society, we are tasked with engineering solutions that protect the environment while simultaneously creating economic value. We provide dedicated offerings for overall resource efficiency solutions including waste, water and raw-material, and utilisation of by- and waste streams. We know technologies for both mechanical and chemical recycling for textiles and plastics.

Read on to discover how AFRY experts are helping our clients and business sectors to drive for net zero by using circularity solutions. We share insights and expertise on a range of topics that can help you to take action.

An Action Plan For Your Business: in this article, we provide an action plan for applying circular economy principles to your business. Read more: Carbon neutral circular economy as a solution to tackle the sustainability crisis.

Circular training: A start-up company that developed a unique technology to extract metals from water commissioned AFRY to deliver service design and circular business model innovation Circular economy coaching.

Measuring Circular Economy: there are various ways in which it can be measured and AFRY has created its own concept which supports organisations in moving towards measuring circular economy.

Systemic change is required by all: in One Fine Day, we explain how 2022 constituted the beginning of a ‘new normal’. A carbon neutral circular economy opened up a wide range of opportunities for companies, from industrial symbiosis, eco-industrial parks, product design, improving material efficiency, different maintenance services or new business models (selling products as a service).

Sector-specific use cases and insights

Energy | Batteries: the “Take–Make–Waste” economic model is unsustainable, and nowhere is this clearer than in the battery supply chain. However, by learning from other industries and responding to technical and societal advances, we can begin the pivotal transition. Use case and lessons learned: The Battery Sector in a Carbon-Neutral Circular Economy.

Energy | Waste Management: AFRY has worked across the waste sector for several decades but there has never been a more exciting or determined time within the industry for turning waste into value. AFRY cites Blue Planet II as changing the behavior of 88% of viewers and how public opinion is leading to a rapid modernisation of previously embedded practices. Read A circular future or explore how AFRY helps clients redefine their use of finite resources through improved design and development of streamlined systems.

Fashion: the vision of H&M group is to lead the change towards circular and renewable fashion while being a fair and equal company. The H&M group has high ambitions for integrating circular economy into their overall operations. Discover how AFRY supports circular fashion at H&M. The fashion and textile industry is the second most polluting industry, producing 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent per year. Read our insights on Textile Recycling: Drivers & Challenges.

Infrastructure | Buildings: is the built environment sector ready to take a step towards a carbon neutral circular economy society? Discover a concrete action plan by reading Rethinking sustainability in the built environment: embracing circular economy solutions. The key takeaway is that the most important task for the whole industry is to continue development work. Whether you are a forerunner or not, we all need to be part of this change.

Infrastructure | Business Parks: circular economy business parks are communities or ecosystems of companies operating in a symbiotic business relationship. In such a relationship, the companies can make use of each other’s surplus energy or materials in their operations. Read more insights: What makes a successful circular economy business park? 

Infrastructure | Future Cities: as part of AFRY’s commitment to sustainability, our experts share their valuable expertise, challenging the status quo and enabling you to take action. Browse our Future Cities Insights and find out how we create value by focusing on and strengthening the soul and identity of a city - all to shape the liveable cities of the future, where a good and healthy life is available to all.

Infrastructure | Future Cities: our experts have developed a guide to applying for external funding to make cities climate neutral. Register now to access the guide and receive further exclusive insights! Download guide: Making future cities climate neutral.

Process Industries | Metals and Mining: across industries circularity is an engine for new opportunities through disruptive new business models as the concept of waste is transforming to that of value. The mining and metals industry has several opportunities to increase resource efficiency. Read more: Improving material efficiency and going circular in mining and metals.

Process Industries | Metals and Mining: mineral resources are vital in the green transition, essential for manufacturing wind turbines, solar panels, electric cars and batteries.Do you know what do passports, minerals, the green transition and batteries have in common?

Process Industries | Plastics: Discover how AFRY is supporting APK AG with their plastics recycling project. A new plant will have the capacity to treat approximately 40,000 tons per year (t/a) of plastic waste. Read the use case: Towards a real circular economy of plastics.

Circularity is a very important topic for us as a company, but also overall for society because we are living in a world of resource scarcity. Materials, metals, fiber, land use. And circularity for us means on one hand reuse, that we keep material as long as possible in the process before it becomes waste, as well as replacement of traditional material with new material. Across AFRY, we have multi-competence teams working in the area of biofuels, green steel, plastic recycling. And I truly believe there's so much more that we can do for the benefit of society overall.

The challenges and opportunities for businesses to transition to the circular economy

What will it take to transform our throwaway economy into one where waste is eliminated, resources are circulated, and nature is regenerated?

As we continue to grapple with the environmental and economic consequences of a linear, take-make-waste economy, businesses must consider transitioning to a circular approach. But what does this involve and what challenges and opportunities exist in this transition? The benefits are hard to ignore, offering businesses a chance to drive innovation, tap into new revenue streams and improve their bottom line as well as contributing to a circular, regenerative economy.

However, transitioning to a circular business model can be a daunting task, which requires significant changes in production, supply chain, logistics, and customer engagement. Overcoming the unique challenges and embracing the opportunities can only be accomplished when working together in partnership. If your business is ready to begin exploring how you can carry out a successful transition, explore the ways in which AFRY can help you today.

Empty plastic bottles for recycling

Our offerings

If your business is ready to begin exploring how you can carry out a successful transition, explore the ways in which AFRY can help you today. Browse our offerings.