Wouter Van Tol, DS Smith's recently-announced head of government, community affairs and sustainability, explains why now is the perfect time for the industry to adopt closed-loop models.

2020 has been a truly unprecedented year in many ways, bringing with it changes across all areas of society. We’ve learned how to cope through a pandemic, many of us have had to adapt to working from home or within socially distant workplaces and online shopping is on the rise, with e-commerce booming at a rate we’ve never seen before.

COVID-19 has topped the charts of every expected trend for this year, as organisations have rapidly reviewed supply chains and revised business models, but this doesn’t mean that it’s the only thing people have on their minds. Sure, there’s been a seismic shift to the way consumers are shopping, but as businesses and states rebuild, there are multiple calls across the board for this to be done in a better, more sustainable way that is linked to the circular economy.

While it’s clear that combatting COVID-19 remains front and centre, we must not forget the pressing environmental issues that are contributing to the world we live in and the way we do business. Problem plastics and climate change are two such issues that are front of mind, both of which can be tackled by the circular economy. This is where packaging has a key role to play, and where closed-loop recycling can truly revolutionise our current systems.

It’s simple – closed-loop recycling is a process where resources are collected, recycled, and then used again to make the same product they came from. Having a milkman deliver milk in glass bottles, collect the empties to use them again is a simple, age-old version of a closed-loop system, but one we started seeing less and less as industrialisation led to our throwaway culture.

Fortunately, as Europe’s largest paper and cardboard recycler and one of the leading full recycling and waste management companies, we thrive under a circular model that limits waste and promotes reuse of natural fibres, providing companies with closed-loop models.

One example is our partnership with Laithwaite’s Wine, with whom we’ve closed the loop on over 1,000 tonnes of cardboard packaging. Working across our packaging, recycling, and paper divisions we can achieve a ‘Box to Box in 14 days’, meaning the cardboard we collect from them can be processed for recycling, made into new paper and, converted into corrugated cardboard packaging - all within 14 days. Thanks to our support, Laithwaite’s now have a fully auditable and traceable closed-loop model right here in the UK.

This is where the real question comes in – why does it matter and why is it important to packaging? Well, a circular loop system incentivises recycling, while also realising maximum efficiency and cost gains.

There are also wider implications in terms of contributing to the circular economy. A closed-loop model is inherently circular, reducing waste and keeping items in circulation for longer. As we move towards a world post-COVID-19, systems such as these are likely to take the lead, setting the stage for a new future for packaging.