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A circular economy case study of waste fabric generated by office furniture manufacture
The circular economy is seen as an approach by which the critical issues of sustainability can be addressed, whilst broadly maintaining patterns and systems of production, consumption, economic growth and living standards. However, established manufacturing firms face many difficulties in transitioning to a circular economy mode of operation. This research addresses an example of an established manufacturing company, Orangebox Ltd., who have a desire to move to more sustainable operations through the adoption of circular economy principles. To facilitate this process, one particular element was identified by the firm; their fabric waste stream. This is used as a case study through which processes and issues are identified and explored. Orangebox produce around 1 tonne of off-cuts per week from their production. Currently, this is placed in the municipal bulk waste stream and a general waste contractor is paid for disposal, with the most likely disposal route being incineration with energy recovery. This represents a significant loss both of material resources and economic value. This research posits that a holistic approach should be taken by looking at the source and antecedent structural causes of the problem, along with the range of downstream possibilities that are available, together with possible new approaches. This is a case study that used mixed methods to gather data and provide a comprehensive view. First, a process of system mapping was undertaken. This provided an understanding of the fabric use within Orangebox and a structure for the implementation of change. This mapping structure sought to identify all process steps related to the material stream and to understand all decision points, those who make the decisions and what criteria are used. A full picture is created that allows the material flow to be understood more fully and in context. Second, quantitative data was gathered to understand the scale of the waste stream and its corresponding value flow. From these two data sources, options and changes could be explored. Initial findings indicate a complex landscape with many interlinking factors including: financial aspects such as profitability and investment decisions, organisation structure, behaviour and perceptions of decision makers, market conditions, labour availability, costs and skills, technical constraints related to the material properties, external links and collaboration with outside organisations. When seen from the viewpoint of the cast study firm, the ability to address or influence each of these varies and this too is examined. Whilst this case study relates to a single organisation and a specifically identified waste stream problem, the themes, issues and principles addressed can be applied to other manufacturing situations and the wider subject of the practical application and adoption of circular economy principles.