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Start Your Circular Economy Journey: The Stationery Cupboard

Ready to take the first steps towards closing the loop on your products and materials? Are you finding it difficult to spark interest with your colleagues? Maybe you have some sceptics to convince. Why not tackle it in stages and start with the stationery cupboard.

Increasing awareness with your colleagues can spark ideas for circular innovation in your business, whether it’s in material choices, product and process design, recovery flows or commercial models. The open-sourced Future-Fit Business Benchmark aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals and helps highlight issues and opportunities. For example, materials should be recycled or renewable, safe for humans and living systems; materials should not be finite, scarce or toxic. How would your office stationery measure up?

Starting conversations can build interest in the business case for circular approaches across your organisation, and finding simple, low-risk ways to close the loop in your office could open up discussions and encourage a circular mind-set. Office consumables could be an easy place to start.

Unwrapping your paper supplies

You might begin with paper: photocopying and printing, notepads, envelopes and so on. Finding sources of recycled paper is straightforward in many countries, but be careful to ensure virgin fibre content is from properly managed forests. Using independently certified sources, such as the Forest Stewardship Council or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, ensures you are not supporting deforestation. Looking a bit deeper raises the following questions:

  • Should you use paper with recycled content or from tree-free (non-wood) fibres?
  • If you are using paper from wood sources, how can you avoid those made from ‘old growth’ timber?
  • What about the processing: is it chlorine-free?

The Environmental Paper Network has a Purchasers Toolkit that includes a handy visual guide on the steps to environmentally responsible paper. The toolkit and guide will help you consider things like tree-free alternatives, using agricultural waste, etc. Now there are even companies making fully recyclable paper from stone!

A favourite pen

Is it better to have a durable pen, a refillable pen, or just choose a straightforward recycled pen? How do they compare in lifetime cost, materials used (recycled or renewable), and end-of-use options?

How might each feature create value opportunities for the manufacturer and supplier? Does using recycled plastic improve access to future resources? Could the provision of a nice, refillable pen create longer term customer relationships and brand loyalty for the supplier, so instead of choosing whichever disposable pen is on special offer, you are more likely to continue buying refills?

Start discussions with your colleagues: what are the circular value opportunities for stationery items for users and buyers? How might these translate across to your business?

The future’s in the filing cabinet

For organising and filing, Leitz has a re:cycle range that uses recycled and recyclable materials. All the parts for a lever arch file, including the metal lever arch mechanism, are easily removed for recycling. A slot in the lever mechanism holds a tool to remove the rivets, so that in a couple of minutes you can separate the metal parts from the file outer. Using papier-mâché instead of the usual plastic for the rado rings and thumbhole makes the file easier to recycle.

Leitz tells us that its re:cycle plastic products are made with 100%-recycled materials – and are completely recyclable. Other products in the range include magazine files, letter trays, and project folders.

These early changes can create interest in how to create and capture value. You could start a blog or internal news feed, ask for feedback, respond to concerns, and steadily gain interest and enthusiasm for your own transition to circularity.

My book, A Circular Economy Handbook for Business and Supply Chains offers lots more ideas, implications and implementation tips.

What do you think? How have you started circular conversations? What are your lessons learned?