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Closing the loop: Bower Collective’s circular economy in action

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By Samuele Tini

· 6 min read

The traditional linear model, from production to waste in a so-called open loop, has immense costs for our environment. The circular economy model instead “is regarded as an instrument to mitigate the two main problems generated by the open-loop approach, specifically the depletion of natural resources and environmental damage” (Bonger and Casas, 2022). 

It is exemplified in the famous butterfly diagram of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. For an overview, see Ekins et al. (2020).

The statistics on the impact of plastic pollution are worrisome. While production has soared to over 400 million tons (2019 data from OECD), only 9% of plastic waste is recycled globally (OECD,2022).

And those statistics were the eureka moment for Nick Torday, the co-founder of Bower Collective, a certified B Corp in the United Kingdom. It is an insightful case of our journey around the world for sustainability in action and how businesses are redefining the status quo with innovation to solve the pressing environmental challenges of the Anthropocene era.

“Global recycling is broken. Less than 9% of the plastic in the world gets recycled. So that is 91% of the stuff you chuck out ends up in the wrong place. And that's often landfill, incineration, or the natural environment,” argues Nick. He adds that “over 60% [of the plastic manufactured every year], so that's over 200 million tons, is designed to be used once and thrown away,” and it ends up having a huge carbon footprint.

Recycling is necessary, especially for end-of-life products. However, closed-loop models are also emerging, and Bower's case can provide some insights for practitioners and business leaders.

Nick and his co-founder Marcus Hill created the company around a business model focused on sustainability and reuse. The company sells personal care and household products in reusable packaging through a subscription model.

Their products are formulated in-house and then outsourced for local production in the UK. They focus on natural products, all "cruelty-free, non-toxic, with natural ingredients locally sourced.” However, the innovation at the core of the operations is their innovative reusable packaging system, the BowerPack™.

The system is built around durable packs that last ten cycles of use. Once empty, "the packs pack completely flat, and they fit into a prepaid returns envelope. They get sent back to Bower’s circularity center where they are put through quality control, refilled with the same product, and redistributed to the market”.

The company's mission is to eliminate plastic waste. The technology enables ten refill cycles before end-of-life recycling with a specialist UK partner. With its model, the startup has reached over 120,000 customers in the United Kingdom and is now starting to venture into retail space to scale operations.

Nick argues that the model has impressively reduced its plastic and carbon footprint. It has 76% less carbon intensity than single-use plastic bottles, even taking into consideration the emission from returns. They have achieved an impressive 70% return rate on their packaging and have already saved the equivalent of over 7.5 million single-use plastic bottles. 

The impact is then shared in real-time with the customers through their personal dashboards, which display the cumulative amount of plastic waste they have saved. It is a strong differentiator and ensures strong motivation for sustainability-oriented consumers. It is a powerful way to use real-time data to drive engagement and improve return rates. Each pack is equipped with a unique code and a digital passport, enabling the customer to check its reuse history and the company to monitor its impact.

The journey for the young business has not been easy, and a number of regulatory and technical issues had to be solved. One was the bulkiness of traditional refill packs, and the other was an overlooked particular: the valve of the reusable packs.

Traditionally, reusable packs are often bulky, which has historically been a factor that has reduced the return rate and increased costs. Bower with flat packs that fit a standard envelope has significantly improved the easiness of returning them. The second technical challenge was related to the valve of the packs. Cleaning and contamination have been challenges for reusable packaging, especially in the highly regulated personal care sector. Bower has developed a one-way valve to ensure the absence of external contamination and increase the lifespan of the packs; they also conduct randomised microbiological testing to ensure product safety. 

In this sustainability-anchored business model, the B Corp certification is central. The company has been built around it as a framework to shape the business's strategy. They started with the pending B Corp certification before becoming a certified B Corp. One of the most significant advantages was on the suppliers’ side to ensure that during onboarding, they aligned with the criteria of the certification. Another advantage has been the community side and the collaborations. The fact that they used the framework to build the company is in line with my research, where many companies have used the model as the foundational framework to build the company. In fact, despite some criticisms, the off-the-shelf model and its availability make it an excellent starting point for any business on its journey to sustainability.

Bower is a typical case study of it. It started from recognizing and wanting to solve the plastic waste problem, and the company was built around a sustainable and circular model to achieve these goals. However, Nick argues that building a business around such a business model was hard. Nick states that the “key lesson about building a sustainable business is that it is really hard. And if it is not hard, you are probably not doing it right. And by that I mean it is hard because we are trying to solve a really challenging problem. And if it were not hard everyone would be doing it.”

The case, like the other ones we presented in previous articles, exemplifies how building a company around sustainability is good for the planet and serves as a force for innovation and strong market differentiation. The elimination of plastic waste is a highly complex issue, and the case of Bower, however still at an early stage, has demonstrated an encouraging reduction of waste and robust customer engagement through their model.

The key takeaway is that sustainability can be the foundation to create value for your business. The B Corp certification further strengthens this approach. The circular economy model, despite some critics (Corvellec et al., 2022), is one decisive factor for companies to innovate and change the linear status quo. 

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.


Bongers, A., & Casas, P. (2022). The circular economy and the optimal recycling rate: A macroeconomic approach: ecological economics, 199, 107504.

Corvellec, H., Stowell, A. F., & Johansson, N. (2022). Critiques of the circular economy. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 26(2), 421–432.

Ekins, P., Domenech Aparisi, T., Drummond, P., Bleischwitz, R., Hughes, N., & Lotti, L. (2020). The circular economy: What, why, how and where [online]

OECD (2022). Global Plastics Outlook [online]

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About the author

Samuele Tini is the host of the Sustainability Journey, he sparks crucial conversations with leading changemakers, tackling the most pressing challenges of our time. He champions ethical and sustainable practices through his involvement in the B Corp movement as a B Leader, board member at B Academics, and Chair of Membership. Committed to impact, Samuele has led transformative projects across Africa, empowering entrepreneurs and fostering environmental conservation. He is a published author and holds an MBA from Warwick Business School in the UK.

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