Looking beyond the take-make-waste model


The circular economy is a framework for consumption that looks beyond the traditional take-make-waste industrial model. 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 systems1

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. 
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

Optimising routes and the use of reverse logistics will be key components of a circular economy, such as reducing unnecessary fuel consumption, and 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 such as a satchel for sending used coffee pods to a purpose-built recycling facility will also be a focal point in reducing the environmental impact of supply chains. This systemic shift to a more sustainable future will require investment and innovation, with an opportunity for 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. 




*Circular Economy scores represent of the average of the 15 posts that considered waste to be a material issue in 2020. 

  • In the Sustainable Management Proficiency (SMP) questionnaire, the group scored 56.4% in the Circular Economy Focus Area. This was a new topic in 2019 and less than five percentage points behind the overall average SMP score of 61.2% in 2020. This group showed impressive commitment to the issue in 2020, improving its score by almost 10 points on 2019. 
  • Participants again scored best in questions related to Strategy and Policy. 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 and Reporting pillar of this Focus Area in the SMP questionnaire, however it is key to note that this pillar had the largest improvement increasing 12 percentage points when compared to 2019. As this is the second year of reporting on this area under the SMMS programme, we expect to see stronger performance in the areas of Embedding and Measurement and 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.

*The 2019 baseline was restated in 2021 due to improved waste data collection at two posts. Originally reported = 47%. Please see restatements section for more details. 


Highlights of the group’s performance in 2020 include:

  • In 2020, participants reused or recycled an impressive 46% of total non-hazardous waste. 
  • 10 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
  • 11 posts work or collaborate with suppliers, and 10 with customers, on the circular economy
  • 8 posts have publicly stated targets on waste/circular economy, and a further 4 have internal targets
  • In line with best practice, 4 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.