white recycling loop with closed loop recycling text in the middle green background

What Does it Mean to Have a “Closed Loop Recycling System”?


In the realm of sustainability, there’s a whirlwind of environmental terms thrown about But, we are here to break them down, one by one! Let’s start with a buzzword you’ve likely heard: “closed loop” recycling. How does it differ from an open loop? What exactly does it mean and why is it important to our future? Let’s talk about it!

To start, in a closed loop recycling system, products go through a cycle where they are used, recycled, and made into a new product, all without ever reaching the dreaded landfill. In this way, they stay in the system. This process of “closing the loop” is key to a truly circular economy, where waste is minimised and resources are maximised.

To better grasp the concept, imagine a Ferris wheel. A plastic bottle hops onto the Ferris wheel ride, going on a journey around the loop. By the time it circles back to the ground, it is being reborn into a brand-new product. Instead of getting off the ride, it continues its perpetual journey on the loop of the Ferris wheel ride indefinitely, endlessly transforming with each rotation. The magic lies in the fact that no new bottles need to join the Ferris wheel and it harnesses the existing material, ensuring a sustainable cycle that’s both efficient and eco-friendly. This way, no new bottles have to get onto the Ferris wheel and it can keep using the same material that is already present on it. 

The advantages of this never-ending system are abundant. For example, it’s never ending. This means we can break the cycle of constantly mining for new resources, often leading to environmental degradation. Instead, we can use materials we’ve already gathered, continuously transforming them into new items once they’ve served their purpose. It’s a win-win scenario: The environment benefits from reduced destruction, while we enjoy the continued use of these materials, without depleting finite resources. 

In a closed loop recycling system, products are intentionally designed to contribute positively to both the environment and the supply chain. They’re crafted with reuse in mind, ensuring they can easily transition from one product lifecycle to the next. Currently, materials like glass, aluminium, and selected plastics are best suited for this closed loop approach. However, it is important to acknowledge that while this system is great, it’s not without its limitations. Not all materials are capable of endless reuse, and in some cases may undergo downcycling instead. Downcycling occurs when a material is recycled into a new item of lesser value than the original. These products often lack structural integrity and may degrade more easily than its previous lifecycle.

What is “Open Loop” Recycling?

When some materials are downcycled while others end up in landfills, this is known as a semi-circular loop system. Essentially, it signifies a system that is not fully open, but isn’t entirely closed either – it lies somewhere in between. Now, what about an open loop system? Just as the name suggests: it’s a system where products don’t depend on a closed-loop process. Instead, their end-of-life journey can lead to various outcomes such as recycling, downcycling, or ultimately waste into landfill. Unfortunately, open loop systems are harmful to the environment because it encourages environmental degradation through continuous mining for new materials. It contributes to landfill overflow by discarding non-biodegradable materials rather than reusing or recycling. For a long time, this was the standard, and for certain materials, it still remains so. The truth is there aren’t many materials that can be entirely recycled, leaving open loop systems or reuse as the only viable options for the foreseeable future. However, there is hope! With technological advancements, there is potential for a shift towards more sustainable practices in the future.

Why is closed loop recycling so important?

In our world, resources are finite, meaning if we’re not mindful of our consumption, they'll inevitably deplete. It falls upon us to make conscientious choices about their usage. A big step is to minimise our reliance on “virgin” materials, preserving our natural resources in the process. Equally important is our duty to conserve space in landfills for items that cannot be recycled, and to recycle all the items that can be recycled. By actively striving to mitigate pollution through avoidance of virgin materials and thoughtfully managing our environmental footprint, we protect our future.

Why is this important to SR Mailing?

The concept of closed loop recycling and sustainable resource management is crucial for the packaging industry and SR Mailing for several reasons: 

  1. Environmental Responsibility: As awareness of environmental issues grows, consumers increasingly demand eco-friendly packaging solutions. Adopting closed loop recycling practices allows the packaging industry to reduce its overall environmental footprint. Here at SR Mailing, we are currently doing our best to close the loop and be mindful of our consumption habits. In the meantime, please support our carbon neutral products!
  2. Regulatory Compliance: Governments and regulatory bodies worldwide are implementing stricter environmental regulations, including mandates for recycling and waste reduction. Embracing closed loop recycling helps packaging companies comply with these regulations and avoid potential fines or penalties. Currently, the Plastic Tax fines anything that is made of virgin plastic that does not have a chemical makeup of at least 30% recycling. We’ve done it ahead of the game, offering 100% recycled mailing bags to avoid hefty fines, and promote circularity. Check them out!
  3. Brand Image and Consumer Perception: Consumers are increasingly drawn to brands that prioritise sustainability and environmental responsibility. We want our customers to hold the same values that we do, and understand why terms like “closed loop” are so important. That’s is why you can now check out our knowledge centre and learn as you shop!

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Kun Feng
Kun Feng is the foremost sustainable packaging expert who possesses the fundamental eco-knowledge and passion necessary to drive new levels of eCommerce growth without compromising people, the planet, or the economy. 

As the co-founder and managing director of SR Mailing, He has successfully helped over 9,000 eCommerce businesses transform into sustainable suppliers and takes pride in being able to offer eco-friendly packaging solutions that bolster eCommerce reputation and scalability, all while supporting the bigger picture along the way.

Feel free to contact with Kun on Linkedin or Facebook
Kun Feng

Managing Director