The Circular Economy and the Adhesives and Sealants Industry
“Closing the loop” of product life cycles benefits the environment, the economy and society.
The European Commission is committed to transforming Europe’s economy into a more sustainable one and enhancing the circular economy. FEICA (The Association of the European Adhesive and Sealant Industry) supports the European Commission’s objective of “closing the loop” of product life cycles, bringing benefits for the environment, the economy and society.
FEICA’s sustainability vision states:
“The adhesive and sealant industry is committed to enabling a growing population to live a better life and to use the planet’s resources responsibly and efficiently.” We recognize that a viable and sustainable future will depend on a more efficient, including circular, use of resources. The adhesive and sealant industry is willing to contribute to solutions to meet this challenge. As such, we launched the Sustainable Development Agenda in 2016 to ensure our members understand and support the circular economy developments over the coming years.1
The Circular Economy
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation states that “a circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design, and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.” The European Commission concluded in its Communication on Integrated Product Policy (COM (2003)302), that Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) provide the best framework currently available for assessing the environmental impacts of products.
The adhesives and sealants industry has adopted the LCA concept and considers circularity, including recycling, as the best practice approach for the end-of-life phase of products. However, the minimization of the total environmental impact along the life cycle in the entire value chain should have priority over the end-of-life handling of products. In particular, energy and material savings, as well as longevity of products, have a decisive impact on preferred end-of-life approaches.
Innovation in Adhesives and Sealants
Adhesives and sealants manufacturers have been creating more sustainable solutions for decades. Recent innovations are highlighted in the Good Practices section of the FEICA website. Some examples include:
- Energy saving: Adhesives and sealants enable solutions that save energy in the use phase of buildings and vehicles (e.g., for the fixation of insulation panels, the production of lightweight cars, etc.)
- Material efficiency: Adhesives enable the optimized use of materials (e.g., composite materials for lightweight vehicles and for furniture parts, supporting the use of the renewable materials such as wood in construction)
- Reparability: Adhesives enable the repair of many products (e.g., shoes, conveyor belts, etc.), thereby extending their utility, use phase, and service life
- Durability: Adhesives and sealants extend the lifespan of products and components (e.g., the conservation of food through reclosable packaging)
- Recycling: Adhesives that do not impede/burden recycling (e.g., in paper recycling or the cleaning and reuse of returnable glass bottles, as well as recycling efficiency through material efficiency because less material needs to be processed when the product is at its life’s end)
Adhesives and Sealants in the Circular Economy
Because adhesives and sealants are only used in thin films or beads to bond or seal materials, the focus must be on the recycling and circularity of the products and systems manufactured using adhesives and sealants, rather than on the recycling of the adhesives and sealants themselves. Although we already see many examples of adhesives and sealants contributing to improved sustainability and circularity of products, recycling is not the current preferred end-of-life option in many application areas. Technical reasons or high energy requirements often lead to unfavorable environmental impacts based on a life cycle analysis along entire value chains.
FEICA believes that the circular economy is a paradigm shift for industry and society. To fully address its challenges, all stakeholders need to contribute, since ensuring full circularity goes far beyond what single economic actors can achieve alone. The adhesives and sealants industry knows that design for circularity across the entire value chain is of key importance to exploit the full potential of a circular economy, including extending the use phase of products, reparability, reuse, and recycling.
Innovative and existing adhesives, as well as new technologies to be developed, can support circular approaches. For example, enabling or enhancing recyclability by ensuring products are never burdened by adhesives or sealants. One such area of innovation might be debonding-on-command adhesives that enable the separation of components for repair or recycling. The industry is willing to cooperate with all actors within the value chains in the design phase of products to optimize their end-of-life solutions through options such as recycling and repair potential.
The move toward a circular economy is an innovation driver for the adhesives and sealants industry. With a commitment to sustainability, the industry will be a key enabler in the development of the circular economy, collaborating across value chains and with end customers to support societal change.
1.“The FEICA Sustainable Development Agenda,” 2017, www.feica.eu/cust/documentview.aspx?DocID=1869