Methodology to Assess the Circularity of Industrial Processes
Commenced in January 2007
Frequency: Monthly
Edition: International
Paper Count: 85206
Methodology to Assess the Circularity of Industrial Processes

Authors: Bruna F. Oliveira, Teresa I. Gonçalves, Marcelo M. Sousa, Sandra M. Pimenta, Octávio F. Ramalho, José B. Cruz, Flávia V. Barbosa

Abstract:

The EU Circular Economy action plan, launched in 2020, is one of the major initiatives to promote the transition into a more sustainable industry. The circular economy is a popular concept used by many companies nowadays. Some industries are better forwarded to this reality than others, and the tannery industry is a sector that needs more attention due to its strong environmental impact caused by its dimension, intensive resources consumption, lack of recyclability, and second use of its products, as well as the industrial effluents generated by the manufacturing processes. For these reasons, the zero-waste goal and the European objectives are further being achieved. In this context, a need arises to provide an effective methodology that allows to determine the level of circularity of tannery companies. Regarding the complexity of the circular economy concept, few factories have a specialist in sustainability to assess the company’s circularity or have the ability to implement circular strategies that could benefit the manufacturing processes. Although there are several methodologies to assess circularity in specific industrial sectors, there is not an easy go-to methodology applied in factories aiming for cleaner production. Therefore, a straightforward methodology to assess the level of circularity, in this case of a tannery industry, is presented and discussed in this work, allowing any company to measure the impact of its activities. The methodology developed consists in calculating the Overall Circular Index (OCI) by evaluating the circularity of four key areas -energy, material, economy and social- in a specific factory. The index is a value between 0 and 1, where 0 means a linear economy, and 1 is a complete circular economy. Each key area has a sub-index, obtained through key performance indicators (KPIs) regarding each theme, and the OCI reflects the average of the four sub-indexes. Some fieldwork in the appointed company was required in order to obtain all the necessary data. By having separate sub-indexes, one can observe which areas are more linear than others. Thus, it is possible to work on the most critical areas by implementing strategies to increase the OCI. After these strategies are implemented, the OCI is recalculated to check the improvements made and any other changes in the remaining sub-indexes. As such, the methodology in discussion works through continuous improvement, constantly reevaluating and improving the circularity of the factory. The methodology is also flexible enough to be implemented in any industrial sector by adapting the KPIs. This methodology was implemented in a selected Portuguese small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) tannery industry and proved to be a relevant tool to measure the circularity level of the factory. It was witnessed that it is easier for non-specialists to evaluate circularity and identify possible solutions to increase its value, as well as learn how one action can impact their environment. In the end, energetic and environmental inefficiencies were identified and corrected, increasing the sustainability and circularity of the company. Through this work, important contributions were provided, helping the Portuguese SMEs to achieve the European and UN 2030 sustainable goals.

Keywords: circular economy, circularity index, sustainability, tannery industry, zero-waste

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