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 systems (3)

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 2021, which had 33,000 respondents from 40 countries, 48% strongly agreed that they would prefer their parcel packaging to be recyclable. A further 42% 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. 




  • In the Sustainable Management Proficiency (SMP) questionnaire, the group scored 61% in the Circular Economy Focus Area. This was a new topic in 2019 and the group has reacted strongly to the inclusion by increasing the score by nearly five percentage points in two years. It is also less than five percentage points behind the overall average SMP score of 65.9% in 2022. 
  • For the fourth successive year participants 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. 
  • The pillar exhibiting the biggest improvement is Embedding. Posts’ efforts to enhance data quality and then define KPIs to implement them, are now being implemented into the group’s business practices.
  • 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. As the group expands into new territories, posts like Pos Malaysia who joined in 2022 will bring new challenges, unique to their business. IPC is committed to ensuring their needs are met alongside improving the overall performance of the group.. 

Highlights of the group’s performance in 2022 include:

  • In 2022, participants reused or recycled an impressive 61% of total non-hazardous waste.
  • 17 out of 19 posts (which consider waste a material sustainability issue) define responsibility for embedding the principles of a circular economy at the board/executive level
  • 19 posts work or collaborate with suppliers, and 16 with customers, on the circular economy
  • 9 posts have publicly stated targets on waste/circular economy, and a further 7 have internal targets
  • In line with best practice, 6 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.


(3)  Ellen MacArthur Foundation https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/concept