Minn. companies embrace a ‘circular economy’ to boost recycling, reduce waste

Read the full story from Minnesota Public Radio.

Imagine yourself in a native prairie. Birds and insects feed on plants. When they die, they decompose and nourish the soil. The prairie lifecycle forms a circle, where waste from one species is used by another, year after year.

Now, take a walk on a busy city street. Cars and trucks spit out pollution from their tailpipes. Disposable cups, plastic bags and the occasional broken umbrella fill up garbage cans. In the distance, a coal-fired power plant spews carbon pollution while sending out electrons to keep the economy humming. A sprinkler system keeps grass and petunia plantings hydrated — with drinking water, and any overflow trickles through storm sewers and down the Mississippi.

“Most of the industrial revolution we have essentially extracted raw materials, used them, sold what we can and got rid of what we couldn’t sell,” said Raj Rajan, the technical lead for sustainability efforts at Ecolab, one of the companies involved in the new Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition. He says the idea behind the coalition is to identify solutions that no individual company could pursue on its own.

“It’s quite exciting, because we’re seeing a lot of opportunities to actually move the needle as opposed to do one-off things that might look good on paper but really aren’t having as much of an impact,” he said.

Besides Ecolab, the coalition includes some of Minnesota’s biggest names: 3M, Best Buy, Cargill, General Mills, Medtronic and Target. Several nonprofits, government agencies and a University of Minnesota institute are also involved.

They’re looking to embrace a concept called the circular economy, which is inspired by nature.

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