Celebrating World Recycling Day with the 7Rs of the circular economy
World Recycling Day is celebrated on May 17 to raise awareness of the importance of treating waste properly in order to protect the environment and not contribute to the alarming situation with climate change.
It was the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) who in 2005 established World Recycling Day to promote greater responsibility, not only for the consumer, but for society as a whole. From the person who extracts the raw material to produce a consumer product to everyone involved in the life cycle of that product.
At MAPFRE we are clear about this. We aim to be a benchmark in the circular economy. Here, one important step was to convert our head offices to Zero Waste (Residuo Cero), a certificate granted by AENOR to entities that classify the waste they generate so that it can be reused or recycled and does not end up in a landfill. Thanks to the efforts of our employees and collaborators, we have managed to recycle 351 tons of waste in one year, which is why AENOR has certified four buildings at our headquarters as zero waste.
Thanks to this project, which began last year, we have installed 122 new containers to encourage waste segregation and subsequent recycling. We have also removed wastepaper baskets to ensure that our employees properly separate the amount of waste and avoid mixing organic matter, masks, packaging, paper and toner, among other items. All this has enabled us to reuse 95% of the waste we generate to prevent it from ending up in a landfill and to avoid producing CO2 emissions.
Another example of our commitment to the circular economy and respect for the environment is the “MAPFRE Plastic-Free” project, through which we have eliminated all single-use plastic bottles and cups at our head office. Owing to this initiative, we use no plastic in Spain, Mexico, Paraguay, Brazil or Peru, and we use reusable glass bottles and filtered water fountains.
These projects have allowed us to position ourselves as a benchmark in sustainability and add to our motto #PlayingOurPart, which represents everyone’s commitment to build a cleaner, fairer and more egalitarian world.
From the 3Rs to the 7Rs
We have heard countless times about the well-known 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, and although they do minimize the impact and save on resources and energy, these three words alone are oversimplifications. Why not make products more sustainable by design? Or why not repair them before replacing them and buying new ones? The circular economy, a concept that will be discussed later, introduces other concepts, extending these 3Rs to 7Rs.
- Re-design: consists of designing products based on eco-design, i.e. respecting the environment. In this way, when manufacturing the product, not only the functionality but also the sustainability of the product is a priority. One way to take sustainability into account when designing products is to use for easily recyclable materials, environmentally friendly packaging and sustainable manufacturing methods.
- Reduce: this rule was already part of the 3Rs and is also the most basic rule of sustainable consumption: consume less. We live in a society that consumes a lot and very fast. To take care of the planet, we must reduce the amount of products we consume, as well as the waste we generate.
- Reuse: it’s something we’ve done all our lives and the youngest in the house knows it all too well. Extending the useful life of products is essential if we want to promote more sustainable consumption, reduce waste and, in turn, save. Online you will find thousands of ideas for reusing everyday products and giving them a second use.
- Repair: usually, when something breaks down we tend to look for a replacement and buy a new one. The quickest solution is to just throw it away and we don’t even stop to consider the option of repairing it. But if we opt for repair, in addition to saving, we will be taking care of the environment by reducing raw materials, energy and waste.
- Renew: in line with the previous point, this is about upgrading old products or objects so that they can be used again for what they were created for or even renewed and given a second life with a new purpose. We all have furniture at home that is very familiar. Before getting rid of it we can give it a touch of color and give it another chance.
- Recover: if we follow through on preceding Rs, we might be able to recover the waste generated and previously used materials and feed them back into the production chain. In this way we could create new products with fewer raw materials.
Recycle: when we have exhausted all the above possibilities, we have no choice but to recycle. Recycling is probably the best known of all the R’s and the one that is most widely implemented through awareness campaigns, and carried out in specific containers in our cities to separate waste properly. We still have room for improvement when it comes to depositing waste in the right place, but we are on the right track. In recent years we have made great strides in raising public awareness.
Beyond the R’s: the circular economy
Each Spanish person generates an average of 460 kg of urban waste per year, which is six times more than their average weight. This is a consequence of the economic model that has prevailed all these years based on extraction, production, consumption and, finally, disposal. A linear model with a very high environmental impact, both at the time of producing the product and at the end of its life cycle. As a result, the time has come to act urgently and implement a more sustainable system that makes the most of resources and gives new life to the waste we generate. This is what we now call the circular economy.
All manufacturing processes of goods or services involve an environmental cost. To minimize this, the circular economy relies on a production and consumption model that ensures sustainable growth over time. This means optimizing resources, reducing the consumption of raw materials and making use of waste by recycling them as often as possible or by giving them a new life and turning them into new products. With this economic model, we make the most of the resources at our disposal by extending products’ life cycle. The main objective is to maintain a balance between progress and sustainability by leaving behind our current disposable system.
Our commitment will encompass all the countries in which we operate
Our new Sustainability Plan 2022-2024 is more ambitious than previous plans. We have incorporated new measures to continue reducing waste generation and we intend to establish gradual reduction plans and programs in more offices and countries, such as Mexico, Brazil and Puerto Rico. Specifically, in this first year of 2022, we will continue to pursue measures to reduce our waste by 5% and increase its “valorization” by 3%. We are committed to renewing the Zero Waste certificate every year and extending it to more offices and countries.
This event reminds us that there are many possibilities for recycling and that we must go further and think about the circular economy, which invites us to think about the 7Rs and leave behind the more than well-known 3Rs. Promoting the circular economy is a responsibility of not only our public institutions: it is a responsibility of each one of us. It is up to each of us to give a second life to the recipients we use or to repair our appliances before buying a new one. Our small, everyday actions can have a big impact on the health of our planet, and living on a healthy planet is something we should all be advocating for.