Towards A Circular Future: How to See Garbage Through New Eyes

Sustainability
Made of Air Black plastic Facade Panels

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines a circular economy as an “economic system that aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times.” 

This lays in stark contrast to the reality of our current system where materials and products lose their value after a single use phase and their flow generates incomprehensibly large volumes of waste.

In our linear economy, the majority of goods produced are thrown away without consideration for the possibilities of their reuse. We’re a “Throw Away Society,” a culture of buyers rather than fixers, often because it is cheaper and faster to acquire something new than to repair.

But, our love of convenience threatens the air we breathe, our water resources, and the soil where our food is grown. We are losing the battle against climate change. Our natural resources are near spent which has left our ecosystem in a state of seemingly perennial degradation. Recycling has largely yielded insufficient results. Reducing our consumptive patterns isn’t compelling. Where does this leave us? 

Thinking Of Waste As A Resource 

With hope, and, plenty of reason for optimism; increasingly, the ethos of circularity is becoming mainstream. Companies are finding ways to cleverly reuse their own production lines. Brands are being founded on the premise of closing the gap opened by others. 

The key to the circular economy is seeing waste as a potential resource, part of a viable and regenerative system where goods continue to deliver value even after their perceived obsolescence. We wanted to recognize several of our favorite companies and products which are working towards the goal of a circular future. 

Toogoodtogo

We’re a society of picky eaters: our modern perception of what constitutes “inedible” food means that roughly 1/3 of food production ends up in the garbage, producing greenhouse gas that accounts for up to 8% of total emissions. Somewhere around 40% of that wasted food happens at the retail and consumer level. 

To grapple with this problem, Toogoodtogo was born. The app is the world’s largest B2C marketplace for surplus food. It’s simple: rather than supermarkets and restaurants throwing away food nearing its expiry date, the app allows users to peruse participating locations and purchase the food at a discounted price. 

Can’t imagine what you could do with day-old bread? Their Instagram accounts are a veritable encyclopedia of recipes for using up older food and ideas for cutting down on your own food waste. 

Smile Plastics 

Recycled plastic terrazzo pillar with vase of white tulips

UK-based Smile Plastics has been popping up on the pages of interior design magazines and boutique fittings with their mottled-pattern decorative panels manufactured out of plastic bottles, food packaging, and coffee grounds. The company was the first to create a sheet material made entirely from recycled plastics. Different waste streams of post-industrial, commercial and single-use consumer plastics are cleaned and pressed into a single, waterproof material in a medley of both standard and bespoke color combinations. The patterns are reminiscent of terrazzo, marble, concrete––all of which are notable for being largely unsustainable. We’ve seen the eye-catching material used as kitchen countertops, backsplashes, retail furniture, and even as building paneling. 

FREA 

Mitte employees love eating at FREA, a vegan, local, seasonal, and completely zero-waste restaurant on Torstraße in Berlin.

The owners David and Jasmin Suchy founded FREA in 2019, quickly proving it was possible to offer high-quality cuisine without waste––even would-be scraps are nimbly utilized. The portions are generous so it’s advisable to bring a reusable container to pack up your leftovers. Any waste which remains is transformed into fertile soil in their in-house composting machine, which the restaurant then passes on to their suppliers. The restaurant design also adheres to the spirit of circularity with light shades made of fungal mycelium: completely renewable, it is grown feeding on organic leftovers that would otherwise go to waste.

While they are temporarily closed due to Corona restrictions, we are eagerly and quite impatiently awaiting their re-opening.

Pangaia 

Pangaia considered themselves––first and foremost–– a materials science company rather than an apparel brand. They develop bioengineered materials that attempt to resolve many of the environmental problems associated with fashion. 

Their range of leisurewear is made out of a selection of bio-based, recycled fibers and materials made from plastic bottles, repurposed production scraps, and retired textiles. 

In order to deal with the waste fallout of normative apparel practices, they’ve turned to innovation––such as weaving antibacterial peppermint into their fabrics to keep them fresher longer and therefore, washed less often. Winter jackets are filled with biodegradable down-fill materials sourced from wildflowers, avoiding the cruelty of dead animal feathers and non-biodegradable Polyester which is usually made of finite crude oil. The clothing arrives packaged in a bio-based plastic alternative bag that composts in 24 weeks, leaving no trace.

ECOALF

Another apparel brand employing recycled products is ECOALF. Founded in Spain, they’ve spent years amassing a network comprised of thousands of fishermen who are tasked with retrieving waste from the ocean floor. Every year they remove 4,000 tonnes of waste, including fishing nets, tires, and plastic bottles. They process the waste, giving it a new lease on life once it is transformed into threads, which are woven into new fabrics. The brand produces a full range of clothing for men, women, and children, including winter jackets, sportswear, and even shoes. 

To ensure utter transparency, they’ve enlisted the BCOME rating system to put data behind their ecological, social, and ethical claims and help them map out areas where they can improve their impact. 

Made of Air 

Carbon negative Made of Air

Another innovative company hailing from Berlin, Made of Air creates carbon-negative thermoplastic materials out of biowaste. Effectively, waste wood is reincarnated as a biochar-based material, which in their most recent partnership with H&M was used to create sunglasses for the Conscious collection. Automotive brand Audi turned to them for the creation of facade panels to decorate some of their dealerships. The biochar material has seemingly endless possibilities for application and we’re excited to see where it crops up next.   

Ecosia

Ecosia made the search engine not only a social business model but also a sustainability resource, leading them to become the first German company granted the title of B Corporation.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, users can search on Ecosia, their mobile app, or using a Chrome extension. These searches generate income through ad revenue which Ecosia uses to plant trees. 

To date, Ecosia users have planted over 121 million trees, restoring a desert in Burkina Faso to its former verdant glory, diversifying forests in Indonesia crippled by the demand for palm oil, and other critical projects around the world that are helping to mitigate the fallout of climate change. Not only that, in an online world increasingly forcing us to protect our privacy, Ecosia refuses to sell user data to advertisers or collaborate with third-party tracking services.

Our tip: make Ecosia your default search engine. 

A New Normal

Circularity and sustainability are no longer fringe business practices. Pressure from consumers has forced big brands to reassess their linear production models and we are increasingly seeing attempts to close their own loop. While oft-dismissed as mere “greenwashing,” we are (hopefully) witnessing a paradigm shift in economic and consumptive patterns. 

At Mitte, in our quest to leave things ‘Better than Before’, the concept of circularity has been one of the pillars of our product development. Multinational Danone is aiming for their entire packaging range to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. H&M wants to pivot its business interests towards on-demand creation, repair, rental, and re-commerce. IKEA wants to be circular and climate-neutral by 2030. With the preservation of the planet at stake, all gestures towards circularity are welcome. 

By Natalia Kvitkova — Mar 26, 2021
The information contained in this article is provided for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be construed as health or nutritional advice.

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