The circular economy is a framework for consumption that looks beyond the traditional take-make-waste industrial model.

Introduction

The postal sector has an important part to play in the transition to a circular economy - not only in reducing its own negative impacts but in providing the logistics required for more sustainable consumption patterns globally. Economic and social capital is built and replenished, through three main principles: 

  1. Removing waste and pollution through design
  2. Keeping products and materials in use
  3. Regenerating natural systems2

The SMMS programme therefore assesses the broader contribution of participants beyond just waste management - including reuse, recycling, product design, remanufacturing and collaboration across the value chain and beyond.

Emerging trends

Reverse logistics will be a key component of a circular economy, such as providing facilities for returning containers at post offices. The postal sector can also leverage its position to engage with government and other industries to drive change. 

Recyclable or sustainably produced packaging continues to be a focus for consumers. In IPC’s cross-border e-commerce shopper survey in January 2020, which had 35,000 respondents from 41 countries, 47% strongly agreed that they would prefer their parcel packaging to be recyclable. A further 43% expressed a strong preference for reusable packaging.

The development of products that reduce the environmental impact of supply chains will also be an important focal point, such as a satchel for sending used coffee pods to a purpose-built recycling facility. 

This systemic shift to a more sustainable future will require investment and innovation. However, there will also be considerable economic benefits; the postal sector can expect cost savings from recycling paper and packaging, growing demand for innovative products, and earnings from marketing opportunities from cross-sector engagement. 

Results

*This score is the average of the 15 posts that considered waste to be a material issue in 2019. 

  • In the Sustainable Management Proficiency (SMP) questionnaire, the group scored 46.7% in the Circular Economy Focus Area. This is a new topic for 2019 and only 5.5 percentage points behind the overall average SMP score of 52.2%, although there is room for improvement compared to the other Focus Areas 
  • Participants scored best in questions related to Strategy & Policy, a pillar in which the group performed well compared to most other Focus Areas. This is reflective of the importance of waste management to the sector from both a sustainability perspective and as part of broader business strategy. 
  • Posts scored least well in the Disclosure & Reporting pillar of this Focus Area in the SMP questionnaire. As this is the first year of reporting in this area under the SMMS programme, we expect performance in this pillar to improve in future years. We also expect to see stronger performance in the areas of Embedding and Measurement & Evaluation pillars as posts continue to evolve their approaches and implement new initiatives.
  • Some posts may be more advanced in their circular economy transition than others, given regional differences in regulation and evolving legislation around waste. For example, European Union member countries must now recycle half of their packaging waste, and in California, businesses cannot use plastic bags and must recycle 25% of their plastic containers. 

Highlights of the group’s performance in 2019 include:

  • In 2019, participants reused or recycled an impressive 47% of total non-hazardous waste. 
  • 8 out of 15 posts (which consider waste a material sustainability issue) define responsibility for embedding the principles of a circular economy at the board/executive level
  • 5 posts have publicly stated targets on waste/circular economy, and a further five have internal targets
  • In line with best practice, 14 out of 15 posts already refer to internationally recognised guidance when calculating and reporting data related to the circular economy. 

IPC encourages posts to continue developing approaches to waste management and issues related to the circular economy, such as sustainable packaging, reverse logistics. We provide many opportunities for best practice sharing and we encourage posts to continue using those avenues as we develop collective management proficiency, particularly in such innovative and exciting areas of corporate sustainability.