Best Practice – Circular Economy

Best Practice – Circular Economy

“Our planet and our economy cannot survive if we continue to pursue the throw-away approach. We must conserve valuable resources and fully exploit their economic value. A circular economy reduces waste accumulation and protects the environment; but it also means a fundamental change in the functioning of our economy”. (Frans Timmermans, Vice-President European Commission, December 2015)

Main topics: Durability, Consumption Efficiency, Environmental Balance, C2C, life cycle assessment (LCA) (Life Cycle Assessment), Recycling, Recoverability, Collection, Use of Material, Processing, Product Design, EPD


The availability of non-renewable raw materials is limited and acquiring them costs a lot of energy, so the recycling of used materials back to the beginning of the manufacturing process is extremely rewarding – the product cycle thus closes, minimising waste. This circular economy pursues the vision of “zero waste” production. However, it is not enough to simply recycle the materials after they have been used – products must be designed for durability, easy repair and the replacement of components from the outset.

An example of corporate involvement – Daimler

The automotive industry provides us with a good example of successful circular economy. The materials used are usually properly disposed of, providing a high degree of recycling potential. In its “Life Cycle Overview” for current car models since 2009, Daimler makes it clear how the circular economy can be addressed in production from the outset – with the help of analyses of the entire product life cycle.

Current Daimler vehicles consist of around 48% metal and 20% various polymer materials. The manufacturer submits its vehicles to an environmental balancing process, which depicts the material flows and CO2 footprints, from raw material extraction and usage to recycling – that means raw materials and energy from extraction to recycling.

Guidelines, approaches and goals

Under the guideline ‘Design for Environment’ (DfE), vehicles are designed during the early development stage in such a way that they are as resource-friendly and eco-friendly as possible in terms of CO2 consumption, pollutants and waste materials. Corrections and adjustments at later stages are very expensive, so the cross-functional DfE team works together on the areas of ecobalancing, disassembly, recycling, material and process technology, design and production.

The specifications of Daimler vehicles stipulate that the proportion of so-called secondary raw materials, including the use of recyclates, will be continuously expanded. Planners therefore envisage an annual check by 2020. The interim target was to use 25 percent more renewable raw materials and recyclates by 2015 than in the base year of 2010. This target was exceeded, with 39% higher usage of recyclates and 28% higher usage of renewable raw materials.

Measures & projects

• Ecobalancing and evaluation of the results to set a goal for subsequent models,
• Resale of tested and certified used parts by the Mercedes-Benz Used Parts Center (GTC),
• Remanufacturing of ‘replacement parts’,
• Workshop disposal system MeRSy (Mercedes-Benz Recycling System),
• Disassembly instructions are provided for the ELV recyclers six months after market launch.


In its Life Cycle Overall Documentation, Daimler follows four steps:

  1. Assessment scope: Here the objective and scope of an LCA are set for the entire life cycle
  2. Life cycle inventory (LCI) and material usage: In the differentiated LCA, material and energy flows during all stages of the life cycle are analysed, based on questions such as, how many kilogrammes of a raw material flow in? How much energy is consumed? Which waste and emissions are generated? To optimise the material flows and return them to the circuit again, the individual components are mostly made of pure substances and are therefore recyclable. In the current E-class, the proportion of recycled materials in the field of polymer materials was increased by about 30% compared to its predecessor. Locations on the vehicle where polymers are used are wheel arch linings, cable ducts and underbody panelling. To close the circuit, materials like this are preferably extracted from old vehicles.
  3. Impact assessment: This assesses the potential effects the product has on the environment, such as global warming potential, summer smog potential, acidification potential and other effects.
  4. Evaluation: It draws conclusions and makes recommendations for the optimisation and production of subsequent models.


Die Ergebnisse der Ökobilanz fließen als Grundlage in die Erstellung des Produktdesigns und eines Recyclingkonzepts ein. Für die E-Klasse wurde das Recyclingkonzept parallel zur Entwicklung des Fahrzeugs erstellt, indem für jede Stufe des Prozessablaufs die einzelnen Bauteile bzw. Werkstoffe analysiert wurden. Die Recycling- bzw. Verwertungsquote des Gesamtfahrzeugs beträgt demzufolge 85 Prozent für die stoffliche Recyclingfähigkeit und 95 Prozent für die Verwertbarkeit.

Analytical tools and standards

  • DIN EN ISO 14040 and DIN EN ISO 14044 (guidelines governing the procedure and the required elements in the LCA)
  • ISO Standard 22628 - ‘Road vehicles - Recyclability and Recoverability - Calculation Method’ for calculating the recoverability and recyclability
  • ISO TR 14062 for the integration of environmental aspects in product development
  • Environmental and quality management systems ISO 14001 and ISO 9001; ISO 14006
  • Environmental certification in accordance with ISO TR 14062

How you can manage the implementation successfully

  • As early as the product development stage, take steps to avoid critical substances, to use secondary raw materials and to ensure product safety and the recyclability of the products.
  • Make sure that you have facilities for problem-free disassembly in place, that you have a modular design of products for parts repair and/or an upgrade to the latest technological standards.
  • Create transparency in product usage and disposal and provide information and assistance for disposal, e.g. by pickup and collection systems.
  • Ensure compatibility with older parts when developing new products.
  • Look for business partners (where required) to implement upstream and downstream processes.
  • Use suitable aids for verifying recyclability and the exact proportions.
  • Please note that these are not standalone measures – they can only be effective if concrete measures follow the quantitative results.
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