The 3 most impactful circularity trends in 2021

Over the past year, I have had the distinct pleasure of rounding up the week’s most influential and eye-catching circular headlines. From the ban on disposable plastic to a recycled food certification, it has been a significant year for the circular economy, supply chain and security issues notwithstanding.

Like the snow outside, the slow but steady rise of circularity shows no sign of stopping. So with a healthy dose of cocoa in my cup and a eloquent rearview mirror in my gaze, I’m happy to share my latest hot take for 2021. Here’s my vote on this year’s three most effective trends in circularity:

1. Politics gives rise to unexpected progress

A constant drumming across the sustainability sector – and at every GreenBiz conference – is the agreement that politics is a crucial driver for the future we hope to achieve. In the case of 2021, circularity has begun to prove the rule.

The right to repair The movement gained traction across the pond as electronics repair results rolled out in France, appliances achieved repair protection in the UK, and the EU proposed universal charging cords for smartphones.

Meanwhile on our side of the Atlantic: The first electronics law to repair the bill was passed in New York State, a national repair bill was introduced in Congress, and President Joe Biden signed an executive order to ensure that farm equipment can be repaired. The Federal Trade Commission even weighed in with an exhaustive 55-page report rejecting manufacturers’ apologies for imposed repair restrictions.

From the ban on disposable plastic to an upcycled food certification, it has been a significant year for the circular economy.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) also made state history when Maine became the first state to pass a consumer packaging EPR bill, with Oregon quickly following suit. And in California, no fewer than seven recycling and composting laws were signed into law – perhaps the most infamous of them will require that packaging bearing the hunting arrow symbol can actually be recycled in practice.

At the federal level, a national EHR law was enacted Recycling was thrown a political bone when the Department of Energy invested $ 14 million in recycling research, and the newly enacted Infrastructure Act released $ 350 million in grants for recycling.

Finally, PFAS came under scrutiny when Vermont forever banned chemicals from select products, the EPA outlined PFAS restrictions and rules and the 2021 PFAS Action Act cleared Parliament.

So what is so unexpected? This completely non-exhaustive list speaks of a crucial year. But what excites me most is not the movement and adoption of legislation – although it is gratifying – it is the ripple effects that follow across industry and the sector. Take PFAS for example: When chemicals forever found their way under the political magnifying glass, coverage and attention followed, and although the law did not require it, big brands from VF Corporation sent out to McDonalds and further notices to ban or limit their PFAS dependence.

Similar ripples followed for the Right to Repair movement: After years of active resistance, heavy-hitters in the electronics industry began to show a change of heart when it came to repair. Politics may not require it yet, but both Apple and Microsoft have agreed to make parts and manuals more accessible to consumers. For those who know, this turnaround was shocking (and a huge deal.)

Of course, the legislative movement is not the only driving force here. Years of activism, pressure and hard work have helped catapult many of these victories. But the splash of politics is creating waves across the industry. Although the line from bill to fire action is not always a straight shot, the undeniable impact of policy change is still clear in 2021.

2. Resale continues to steal the show

If you are a frequent reader of roundup, it will come as no surprise that my second trend in 2021 reflects the explosive growth in resale. Growing 25 times faster than the retail market and expected to be twice as big as fast fashion by 2030, resale stole headlines and hearts during the year.

Do you want proof? Look no further than the long-awaited and even more covered IPOs for Poshmark and ThredUp. The market debuts for these popular second-hand e-commerce platforms garnered $ 7.4 billion and $ 1.3 billion in valuations, respectively – but that was not where the astonishing coverage stopped.

Will resale help to curb consumption and, by merging, the great environmental impact of clothing production and the great importance of the fashion industry?

Money flowed into the market as if it were going out of fashion: Kering invested $ 216 million in the French resale marketplace Vestiaire Collective; Resale service provider Trove raised $ 77.5 million in Series D financing; The Lithuanian used fashion platform Vinted raised $ 283 million. And as proof that popularity was not exclusive to the fashion world, Back Market, a French e-commerce platform for refurbished electronics, raised $ 312 million.

By making acquisitions in space, Etsy lost $ 1.62 billion to buy used clothing app Depop and ThredUp set their eyes on the European market when they bought Remix, a popular platform for reselling fashion in the EU.

And if that’s not enough recognition for you, consider the number of brands that announced a resale pilot, project, or partnership this year. Just to name a few: Nordstrom; Lululemon; Nike; Madewell; Timberland; IKEA; H&M; New balance; Crocs; Diesel; Adidas; Fabletik; and Vera Bradley are among them.

Will 2022 be another explosive year for resale? All signs indicate yes. The question that lingers for me is whether resale will help to curb consumption and, by merging, the excessive environmental impact from the clothing production and fashion industry is great. So far, the answer seems obscure.

3. Reports reveal dark abdomen of plastic

Last but not least, it was a year of unpleasant truths for the plastics industry. With new statistics and evidence of tugs, numerous reports raised red flags and worrying revelations for both the population and the planet.

Among the reports, there were several causes for concern if we were to continue consuming plastic as usual. A report released by Google revealed that maintaining the status quo would result in a staggering 7.7 gigatons of plastic waste being deposited, incinerated or leaked into the environment by 2040 – equivalent to 16 times the weight of the entire human population on earth today . Meanwhile, a Beyond Plastics report outlined that greenhouse gas emissions from plastics production are set to exceed those from coal plants by 2030.

A study by the American Chemical Society further revealed that about 24 percent of the 10,400 chemicals identified in plastics are “potential substances” and can be toxic, even in small doses. But lack of research means that 49 percent of the chemicals cannot be categorized correctly, making their safety – or lack thereof – unknown.

Unfortunately, it seems that we are not heading towards a number of different packaging commitments that are (partly) intended to slow down plastic production. According to new research, 90 percent of the packaging obligations in 2025 will not be met, and the 2022 recycling obligations in California also look unlikely.

Looking for sinners, a Greenpeace report pointed fingers at CPGs for not reducing disposable plastic packaging; a study by the Minderoo Foundation identified 20 companies responsible for 55 percent of global disposable plastic waste; a report by revealed the role of banks in providing $ 1.7 trillion in financing plastic production; and a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine revealed the United States as the largest consumer of plastics worldwide.

My hope for 2022 and beyond is a change in the plastic tide. If brands intend to meet the 2025 packaging targets they have so loudly and proudly set, they need to start behaving like that – starting by reversing the addiction to this toxic, carbon-emitting material.

The honorable mentions

While plastics, politics and resale took the top spots home for 2021, I would not fail to notice trend-runner-ups in a newsworthy year. Here are my honorable mentions:

With that, I tilt my hat to a whole year of coverage – it was definitely one for the books. See you in another year of circular progress and adventure in 2022.

[Continue the dialogue on  how to build a circular economy with forward-thinking leaders at Circularity 22, taking place in Atlanta, GA, May 17-19.]


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