Working toward a world without waste

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Adam Muellerweiss  

  By Adam Muellerweiss
  Executive Director, Industry & Government Relations, Johnson Controls Power Solutions

Today we cannot fathom the medieval practice of dumping a chamber pot out a window into the street. But someday people will look at how we wrap up our trash in tidy bags on our modern streets for pickup and ask, “How could people really do that?”

And that someday – a day in a world without waste – can arrive sooner than we think, if manufacturers change the way we think.

At Johnson Controls we’re shifting our approach from the pervasive “take/make/waste” mentality to one that embraces a circular economy. Our thinking is not just based on theory, but from the practice of making new batteries from the ones we take back. Argonne National Labs calls this circular economy we’ve helped create for conventional vehicle batteries a model for success.

In a circular economy, the consumer provides the raw materials. A product at the end of its useful life becomes a critical source for new products – not a waste.
Here’s what we’ve learned.

In a circular economy, the consumer provides the raw materials. In other words, our supply chain starts and ends at the same place. A product at the end of its useful life becomes a critical source for new products – not a waste. Our system is setup where a used battery is collected when a consumer or garage purchases a new one.

“Lifecycle” includes the product and its raw materials. To make the circular economy work, products must be designed with materials that can be economically and responsibly recovered or repurposed. Johnson Controls designs our conventional automotive batteries so 99 percent of the materials can be reused. On the flip side, at least 80 percent of each new battery is recycled material.

A circular economy is difficult but not impossible. If every business function does not work in concert and make adjustments in real-time, the circle can be broken. As MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics states: “If Johnson Controls loses sight of the entire loop when planning each component of the supply chain, the system’s efficiency breaks down. Supply chain interaction with marketing and manufacturing takes a new dimension, as they all affect the flows of products toward customers and of raw materials.”

This circular economy for automotive batteries has delivered significant economic, environmental and social benefits.
  • Recycling rates for conventional batteries have approached 99 percent in the North America and Europe.
  • Reusing metals from used batteries results in 99 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than processing primary ore.
  • Using recycled plastics consumes 90 percent less energy than processing virgin plastic.
  • Optimized reverse logistics slashes thousands of transportation miles, reducing energy use and fuel costs.
  • A diverse, resilient supply chain where the retailer, auto dealer, or repair shop is a local source of supply enabling jobs and economic development in every community. 
Imagine how expanding this approach can increase sustainability and profitability across industries. Johnson Controls is applying circular economy concepts to create more energy-efficient vehicles. Smarter buildings. Sustainable cities. And a better planet.
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