Its not about sustainable plastic- but the system embedded around the product

Every day tonnes of plastic are being used, produced and exposed. We all know that this system is called a linear system, with catastrophs for people and the environment. Now, there are ciruclar principles that aim at reducing plastic waste, by focusing on the recycability of the material, or the substitution of it by as much as possible.

Some initiatives are popping up much more in stores and I can see more brands advertising that their products are made with recycled ocean plastics or other recycled materials. On a first look that sounds great, because it means that we are avoiding the use of fossil fuels to create new bottles or other plastic based materials. It also means that industries working with waste problems and because of that support environmental actions.

On the second look, it does not sound sustainable. Taking ocean waste in the long term, will leave industries in a so called “lock-in”. It means their infrastructure may be build up to center around the need for specific waste products. For that to happen specific types waste must always occur in a specific quantity. This does not only leave the industry locked-in but also potentially increases the desire for waste generation. It also makes consumers believe that their product purchase is “green”, whilst it is not. Much recycled plastics products, such as rubber soles, or far worse, textiles made from recycled plastics, run off, and turn microplastics back into the environment.

Not all new sustainable systems, are sustainable by design. A transition must take place that is just, and well thought after for its long-term negative effects and possible opportunities.

Now, we could demolish plastics, but again not all plastics is bad. Some plastic materials can last very long and some of its material features might not compete with other material. What I like about it, is its ability to sustain. However, recycling requires a lot of energy and again, potentially nothing can be recycled forever and each product has its own footprint.

Much more that needs to be looked at is the system. Why are plastic based products produced? What industry do they encompoass? Who is the main target group of that plastic based content and why do they benefit from that product? What makes proudcers sell this product and what sustainable value is delivered with it?

Systems are complex ! They are interdependent and connected. One input leads to another output and one change, effects another change. Curious to learn more? Message me!

What good does it make, if Coca Cola and other industries recycle their plastics, when the fact that people are increasingly addicted to sugar, promotes such an industry to begin with? Why needing to order take-home food, wrapped in plastic, when the real problem is people working too much and potentially having too little time to cook? Why needing a range of plastic-based clothes for the many different occasions, when a smaller selection had done so well in the past? Why needing to substitute plastic straws, with other materials, when straws were long no nessecity? Why needing the many plastic- based cooking devices to cut vegetable in all sorts of imaginatory forms, when a knife had done so well for so long.

Many products are promoted and consumed based on desire. But, desire often does not last. What lasts is something that has deeply rooted meaning – products that support a function, products that satisfy a long-term need.

Design and Self-Expression – Should the future of sustainable design be more vivid instead of less?

For the last year, I tried getting to know minimalistic culture. This worked out well, since I only had a backpack, when I moved into my new apartment. When I decorated my apartment, I took into account timeless and feeling based design. My idea was that, when I decorated it in such a way, I would never want a change. I tried to apply this concept to my interior style and clothing.

A year passed by and one evening I watched the movie “Cruella Deville”. The movie illustrated aspects of fashion, identity and self-expression. It also illustrated aspects of being who you really are as oppose to pretending and therefore live a life most true to yourself. The movie also illustrated the many facetts one has and it made me question, whether timeless design or feeling-based design can always stay the same, when feelings and facets change?

Life’s not just about smiles only and always, but about being who you want to be. There’s no wrong to who you are, what you feel, what you like and what you want to become or not. There’s only wrong in denying yourself to yourself. Embrace yourself and your individuality.

As the movie ended, I realized that by creating a minimalistic and “timless” interior and clothing design, a part of me was missing. The next day, I went to visit a local fleamarket and decided to re-clutter my home with colourfull designs, anything in which I could express my many facets and feelings. It was fun and it made me realize that by focusing on the most basic colors and designs over the last year, I had neglected other colours and therefore feelings that make my life unique to me .

Self-Expression

Can’t we always feel the same?

It sounds at odds to convince ourselves (in that case – myself) that feelings won’t change or that I’ll always feel a specific way, when I look at a certain design – either interior or my clothing. Although, I might associate my soft oranged toned couch to a specific feeling- I may not always feel that way. Because of that I may desire a new couch, with a new design and a color to match a different feeling – Feelings aren’t limited to a limited amount of colors and patterns.

Is the concept of timless design flawed?

To me timelessness implies that certain goods will still be “in fashion” in the next years to come and that I’ll always like the design. I think thats not possible, first of all because of we evolve and as we evolve a desire for change may happen and secondly, timeless design likely depends on trends.

It was the same for Ray Ban Aviators; “They had a medical use in the beginning, protecting your eyes from the sun, but they became the sunglasses for those who wanted to look like rock stars, when real rock stars actually started to use them for protection from the flashing cameras” (NotJustALabel, 2014)

How don’t know what design is timeless, because we don’t know the future.

How should design be promoted?

For the moment, design could be vivid, and encourage the individuality of consumers. Consumers – or at least me- want to express themselves in the moment and as they change. Not every day, but every once in a while.

Are changes in tastes and desire for new ways of self-expression unsustainable?

They may be unsustainable, if increased consumption ruin anyonse finances, or if products are purchased that have a high environmental or social footprint. They are also unsustainable if increased consumption levels take place because a look that is sold in advertisment is being mimicked as oppose to a look or desire for change that comes from within, or more specifically is true to the consumer self.

How can sustainable production and consumption processes support freedom of expression?

  • Create fixed product designs, of which parts can be changed or customized according to tastes and feelings.
  • Create materials to last
  • Create materials that can match a range of feelings
  • Be wild, rent, swap – but not too much!
  • (…)

Sustainability and the self

Recently, sustainability has been associated a lot to a green economy, an economy that is CO2 neutral up to CO2 negative. A CO2 neutral economy can happen, if carbon is captured during the production, usetime and end of life of a product. Most efficient are therefore products that are made from biological materials only, like a bamboo straw. A bamboo straw can be cut of the original bamboo plant, dried, treated, sold and used. The CO2 print hereby varies between CO2 negative up to positive, depending on the treatment, shipments and other processes involved.

The real CO2 print becomes more difficult for products that are processed heavily and consist of multiple product components like a shoe or jacket or many other basic products like hair dye and toys for kids. Many of these products consist of synthetic materials or materials that do not biodigrade at the end of their life. To make these products more ecological or more specific CO2 – sustainable, different type of processes might be used or product materials might be replaced with others i.e. plastic toys with wood toys.

So much stuff to rent. Why actually?

Regardless of the business model, consumption often continues to be promoted. Such an example is a “sustainable” business model in which consumers are encouraged to buy an ecological product such as a bamboo straw, but do not know whether the bamboo is harvested in respect to its necessarily growth time. Another example is a buisness model that makes you want to rent or lease products, although you never needed them before to begin with (i.e. expensive clothes or toys).

Why should the self be more recognized in the current sustainability agenda?

The self-concept is a general term used to refer to how someone thinks about, evaluates or perceives themselves. To be aware of oneself is to have a concept of oneself.

Baumeister (1999) provides the following self-concept definition:

“The individual’s belief about himself or herself, including the person’s attributes and who and what the self is”.

Carl Rogers (1959) believes that the self-concept has three different components:

• The view you have of yourself (self-image)

• How much value you place on yourself (self-esteem or self-worth)

• What you wish you were really like (ideal-self)

The impact of consumption on the self

Regardless, why or what we consume, it often relates to us – of course it does, since we consume it. However, media, advertisment etc. often distracts us from our true self and therefore encourage a desire to take on an identity by consuming something that does not reflect our true self. Our attention shifts towards a “fictive ideal-self”. An example is wanting to look like a celebrity , someone on advertisment, etc and therefore buying new clothes, dying hair or buying a product to align more with the desired persons’ trait. However, we are not that person, we are ourselves. We will never be that person and likewise, that person will never be us.

Desire for the fictive ideal supports a society less satisfied

Often, we are influenced by media, by friends, culture and societys’ expectations how we should be, what we should do, how we should look like and how we should behave. Many impulses that distract us from who we really are and want to be. Impulses that often lead to greater levels of dissatsifaction as we struggle to think about whether what we have and how we are is enough, or if we don’t need more or changes to be fullfilled.

After the point of consumption , and once realized that the image we created with the idea of the fictive ideal of us, stopped satisfying, the cycle of consumption, re-enters. In addition, other mental health problems might arise, because an image created does not align with the image of one-self. Think about advertisement that rewards or promotes white-caucasion skin types or even hollywood that (can) promote cultural stereotypes. What happens is that a society is created that does not thrive, but a society with wish-full thinking that imagines to thrive with a product that supports an idenittiy or part of it not true to themselves. That can happen, when buying or renting or changing something, that does not actually make happy.

An example is advertisement that illustrates a white rich man with a huge house and a loving wife. The image might create the perception that because of his white skin, a demanding job and a huge house his wife loves him. Because of that, one with darker skin might want to have whiter skin, wants to buy a house etc. In doing so the connection to the real-self gets lost and in doing so also the opportunity to identify success and happinnes for themselves (small job, free time, happinness to attract happinnes)

How can the true self be promoted more in the current sustainability agenda?

Feet are made for walking, jackets made for protection, blankets used to protect from cold, hair care products made to nurture them, body cream to make our skin less dry, to protect it. Food is made to keep us healthy, to connect us to others. Other products are made for comfort, help us sleep, help to support us. Many products weren’t made to sell a look or an image, but because of a fundamental function they support(ed).

A sustainability society or a sustainable industrial agenda, therefore needs to emphasize more to promote functionality over an image sold and a society that allowes for the production of healthy products, that are kept and not consumed to be trashed. This is possible if the self is satisfied with what it consumes. Therefore, products should provide a supporting function, align with the consumers true feelings and desires and likewise be accessible to a wide range of customers i.e. through product/market targeted business models (i.e. rental of healthy product to students, elderlies etc.). Doing so will allow society to thrive, be more happy, be more inclusive and to create an ideal image of the self, while also saving much of that CO2 .

Who cares whether you have bold or gray hair? Imagine time spent worrying , money spend on hair dressors vs. time spend on something fun and money spend to support that fun activity 😀

Resources/ Inspirations

Delmas, M. A., & Burbano, V. C. (2011). The drivers of greenwashing. California management review54(1), 64-87.

Fein, S., & Spencer, S. J. (1997). Prejudice as self-image maintenance: Affirming the self through derogating others. Journal of personality and Social Psychology73(1), 31.

Frosh, S. (1991). Identity crisis: Modernity, psychoanalysis and the self. Macmillan International Higher Education.

Levänen, J., Uusitalo, V., Härri, A., Kareinen, E., & Linnanen, L. (2021). Innovative recycling or extended use? Comparing the global warming potential of different ownership and end-of-life scenarios for textiles. Environmental Research Letters16(5), 054069.

Muller, J. (1985). Lacan’s mirror stage. Psychoanalytic Inquiry5(2), 233-252.

Velenturf, A. P., & Purnell, P. (2021). Principles for a sustainable circular economy. Sustainable Production and Consumption27, 1437-1457.

Whats a sustainable circular business model? A license plate!

By the end of last year, a group of high school students, aged 15-16 approached me and asked, whether I could support their newly formed school company with 10 Euros. Those 10 Euros symbolized a small share in the company and I joyfully said yes and was excited to become shareholder for the first time in my life. I asked them ” What excactly am I shareholder of and what exactly is this part of ?” ” It is an extracurricular activity, supported from JUNIOR . At JUNIOR, high school students set up their own student company, distribute their products to customers and earn real money. learn what the reality of entrepreneurs looks like – by trying it out for ourselves.” “Super cool! What is your business like?” ” We make products from license plates that aren’t used anymore by their car owners. Our company is called UsedPlates3 – UP3 . ”

Allthough they already hinted into the direction of circularity by highlighting the concept of “waste to value”, little would I know that they would fully develop a sustainable circular business model over the next months. And little would I know how their small business idea would receive growing attention from different German newsoutlets. And most of all was I joyfully amazed, when I heard that their company and efforts had made it as far as to compete in a Germany wide student entrepreneurship competition.

Now, why am I that enthusiastic about their idea? It fully reflects not just a simple circular business model, but also a business model that is sustainable. So what’s a sustainable circular business model? To me that means that it is needs based.

First of all, many people need a car. Nowadays, a car might be almost as important as food. Something we likely cannot say no to, especially if we live rural and need to go to work. Even if we rented a car a la car-sharing, cars would still be needed. And with each car, a licence plate is needed as well. There is almost no expiration date to a licencse plate, yet each licence plate might have an end to its life such as when a car is not needed anymore.

There are of course many more needs based products. Such an example is clothing with the original aim to serve as protection from environmental hazards. However, many clothes nowadays are promoted in such a way that they do not fullfill this basic need anymore solely, but rather support the buying of new clothes that have little functional value. Let’s think of a pink glitter high heel instead of a boot that keeps our feet safe. In addition, fashion trends frequently change, particular by season and again, this encourages consumers to buy more and more, adding to the pile of sustainability disaster, form a social but also ecological perspective.

What purpose or need are these shoes fullfilling?

This differs to a licence plate, which again is needs based and therefore does not promote consumption of a new license plate to begin with. Because of that it is “sustainable” by origin. Now this product is also circular, because it can be transformed into a new product without having to recycle it. Recycling for instance, is linked to the lowest form of circularity, because a lot of energy is used to take materials apart and to transform them. A license plate on the other hand, can stay as it is , and only needs to be shaped into the desired end-product. “Only” to be used careful, because the students still create everything by hand and it takes quite some time.

What’s my favorite catch on their business model? That’s OMG that they had thought about the concept of “emotional durability” in their business model. Emotional durability bascially means that a consumer of a product feels strongly connected and therefore, wants to keep their product for as long as possible. That’s crucial if we talk about product life-cycle extension. What better product is there, than one made of a license plate of a car, with which the owner has experienced so many adventures and spent so much time with? I can’t think of one.

So you guys, your school, JUNIOR and most of all your amazing business UP3 super rock. You win my special sustainable circular business award 🙂 Interested to learn more about the work? Comment or message me and I will connect you.

Does circularity equal sustainability?

A circular business model adds onto a sustainable business model

I am a huge fan of the Circular Economy and business models for the Circular Economy, because they can help to capture the value of the product during and at the end of the life and likewise add on to the notion of “Sustainable Business Models”. Because materials and products “circle” , less pressure is put on the environment and therfore enable a more trustworthy notion of “sustainbility” i.e. producing in regards to a trees’ growth time without supporting deforestation. Such business models focus for instance on renting or leasing products. Renting out a product also stimulates the use of more durable “sustainable” materials to avoid repair costs. Although the price of production might increase, financial value is captured and returned over multiple renting periods.

Renting instead of buying

As example, instead of buying furniture for a few semesters (let’s think about students with a low budget), furniture could be rented and returned, instead of being thrown away at graduation. The latter happens frequently and had always amazed me as a student. Renting furniture, for instance, would put an empahsize on producing materials that are more durable and repairable and students or other customers likely take more care of it as they otherwise might have to pay a repair fee (just like when renting an apartment with a deposit). In following such a business model, less pressure is put on the environment i.e. trees, as products stay longer in the system. More happiness might also be provided to students, who can now afford to have furniture at home, that has not been pre-owned multiple times or furniture that matches their identity and therefore well-being. Likewise, they might even save costs as they don’t have to deal with graduation furniture deposit arrangements. 😀

Woop, woop, isn’t the circular economy fantastic and sustainable?

Yes, the idea of such a circular economy sounds fantastic, because it can help to save resources and minimizes waste. So, what’s the catch? Because customers are ought for new products on a frequent basis not all circular business models are sustainable. This particular accounts to those circular business models that encourage consumption instead of minimizing it. Such business models might be those that focus on short-term rentals. Short-term rental is not sustainable if it promotes customers to rent more products for various occasions be that for multiple seasons or meet-ups as oppose to promoting products to last or products that cater the customer’s identity and needs.

The problem with short-term rental such as for fashion might also imply, that although goods are taken back, they may not necessarily circle in the next season, as fashion or other products become outdated and therefore disposed. Therefore, there is also a lower incentive to invest into the ecological sustainability of a material or product. Likewise, these models also influence consumers into constantly seeking for the new and therefore encourage the desire for personal up to identity change. “What I have is not good enough anymore, What do I need to have to be accepted? What if I don’t follow trends? Who am I? What do others think of me if I have the same for too long? Is it okay to always wear the same pair of pants to different occasions? “. – Of course it is okay! 😀

What’s a sustainable and circular business model like?

Ideally a sustainable and circular business model therefore caters around the aspect of “promoting to need less, promoting materials and products I identify or create a meaning with and to promote products and materials that add value to my well-being.” These type of business models should fill a consumer need, instead of creating a psychological need for customers to buy something they don’t need to begin with. As an example, my friends will love me, regardless of me wearing a special dress for easter or my casual street wear / outfit. Of course, changes are fantastic, but do we need them daily or weekly?

A sustainable and yet circular business model should be needs oriented

A circular business model becomes sustainable, when it caters around “our needs” and “identity” also. One of my favorite brands that supports such a business model is “OurChoiceFashion“. Besides its focus on durable and sustainable materials like leather, it also take into consideration aspects of time-less design, which allows customers to wear their shoes with multilpe outfits for various years. For customers to continue wearing their favorite shoes, they have implemented a repair service, that allows for shoe parts to be upgraded and returned back to you.

Something new should not be the primary sales objective of a business model

If we as customers feel like needing to rent or buy products that we never needed before, we think that what we have is not enough. We might therefore feel that buying becomes an essential part of our time spend, when quality time instead centers more around nurturing friendship and self-care. Think about a memory in which you enjoyed company or shared a meal. Does the memory make you more happy or the dress you were wearing as part of your memory ? 🙂

How can we then better promote circular business models?

Ideally, we would like customers to use their products for as long as possible and have them feel connected to it. We may also want to focus on a market-need and niche like student furniture rental. Likewise, can focus on design that centers around season-less colors, genderneutral styles, designs that fit into various waredrobes, furniture and other interior designs that easily match with other colors and of course purpose. For instance, I really enjoy up-cyling old furniture into new once by giving it a new life. Wouldn’t it be great to sell repair-kits in additon to pre-owned furniture to customers? Doing so would allow customers to feel more connected to their products, just like a child or even an adult that bakes a cake or builds a sand-castle or an image to be proud of. Often, we keep these products for as long as possible : ). Likewise, companies remain profitable – A win win situation.

References

Geissdoerfer, M., Vladimirova, D., & Evans, S. (2018). Sustainable business model innovation: A review. Journal of cleaner production198, 401-416.

Parguel, B., Benoît-Moreau, F., & Larceneux, F. (2011). How sustainability ratings might deter ‘greenwashing’: A closer look at ethical corporate communication. Journal of business ethics102(1), 15-28.

Wilson, M. C. (2013). A critical review of environmental sustainability reporting in the consumer goods industry: Greenwashing or good business. J. Mgmt. & Sustainability3, 1.

Feel it – Creating sustainable space to be

Almost eight months ago, I moved into my new apartment. I had not really rented my own apartment yet as I most often rented rooms or small studios with furniture in it. So I felt very much pumped and excited. My first thoughts wondered on how I was going to fill the empty space? Long story short; with a couch, a small and larger table in the living room and another foldable table and 2 chairs in the kitchen.

It looks okay..

Though, I was really happy with my apartment, something didn’t link with the kitchen. It felt just like a kitchen and I used my table and one chair with an average of 30-60 minutes a day ( Fast eater? ). Though the table and the plants around it averaged around 6 square meter. 6 square meter that are being heated every day and that were basically not used unless I was eating and was cooking, though my face was not directed towards the table but the cooking utilities.

Besides the space not being used much, I also felt it was empty; though filled with some furniture. Likewise I did not feel connected to the materials and neither had I created a specific feeling other then “needing to have a kitchen table and chairs” in the kitchen. But what else should be there? Are there laws on how space needs to be designed in apartments or can we go wild with it? Can we make our homes our homes, or should we make our homes the homes of interior cataloges? Or could we design homes, based on how we want to feel? Yes!

After liking the idea but having no clue, on how a kitchen space should feel like, I decided to free my mind by giving away my furniture. 4 chairs, which were quite functional could not be-resold, because ?? no interest and possibly minor material demage. Also, the material could for sure not be repaired. So they were happily donated.

The already pre-owned table, which was made of solid wood with a fantastic material quality, could be re-sold for 20 euros (as oppose to the initial price of 40 Euros). I felt it was difficult to re-sell the table, because it did not look as perfectly shiny as when I bought it. Though, unlike the chairs, it was possible to “refurbish it” due to its solid wood quality and if I had done so, I could have probably re-sold it for 30-40 euros. But then again, I would have made some € losses, because of the refurbishing materials needed so.. naaah. Did not.

😦

Though, I sold the table, I still wasn’t sure how I wanted the space to feel like. So for a couple of days cat and I decided to enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner on the floor. Eating on the floor, that made me feel connected to Moroccan friends; I liked it, but not too low, because well I like to sit on something. And then I thought about other space I felt very relaxed and comfortable at. And there it was “libraries, lounges a la James Bond, coffee bars, tropics, Jazz “. Though, lounges a la James Bond stuck in my head. Why James Bond though? I guess I like the feeling of mystery, smartness and strenght. So could I create such envirnoment and if yes, what would it need? A cigarre? No , but a fancy chair.

I needed a fancy chair, for sure. I was certain by 100% . But what is a fancy chair? It was defenitly a lounge chair and the very fancy once from the movies are most often made with leather.

waaa , they are expensive!

So I looked up lounge chairs, but well there were a little expensive. That likely is typical for many leather products, because depending on the the desired material quality on the leather, the processing of the cow-hide can become more cost-intensive. [Currently working in a leather project on more sustainable chemistry in the leather supply chains – h_da Hochschule Darmstadt (h-da.de)]

One could now ask: why not a synthetic or vegan leather chair? Simply, because there are no! feelings that I could possibly relate to syntethics only unless the imagination of a chemical wizzard and because I would not be sure how to maintain synthetic leather. Usually, with many synthetic or cheaply produced materials, they are difficult to maintain and last but not least to recycle and most of all to re-sell! They may also break more easily and I really wanted this chair to be the real deal. I wanted it to last a life-time . I wanted to see it age and shape my own James Bond history into that product that I did not have yet….

Dedicated to find the real life-deal – that I could afford- I scanned through a secondhandmarket platform, where consumers re-sell preowned items to others. Its more a local or regional type of site. Well, so there were some leather chairs that looked quite nice, but here I was weighing around 60 kg, doing a little weight lifting without car and there was no way I could have it transported. But there it was. The real deal, waiting for me, for 43 WOW Euros, only 200 km away from me.

And so I took my chance, called the owner, asked to send it via post, realized the many complications with the product, because the leather was not much bendible (how great!) and I decided to pick it up the next day via train. I knew it was worth it. Just when I saw it, I felt this instant connection. I loved how the previous owner maintained it , it was real thick leather, a nice upper cut, nicely aged in time- giving me that instant mystic , luxurious old and fancy feeling. Not only that, but the comfort also outweighted many other chairs I had previously been sitting in.

To be honest, I never had a better train ride, and never before had sitting and waiting been that comfortable. Also never before had I realized what an amazing panorama view one could have, if a chair was placed into the direction of the window in the train. Never had I felt such James Bond, advanterous but likewise luxurious trainride than this one. It was a James Bond (whatever James Bond at that point means) experience in itself. And so I was also congratulated by the train staff for my fancy way of travelling. 😀

And of course, the real deal and I eventually made it home, where it now fits well in my tropical lounge home. Now James Bond chair and I will have a sit and think about the feelings we wanted to create around us and based on that choose new materials that make us happy and according to my favorite interior designer Kelly Wearslter – are at the same time useful 😉

Space and Sustainability?

Besides the fun – much space is often not used efficentily, and we may pay a higher price for rent or houses, to have that extra room or space we do not use much. For instance, in families kitchens are used actively more often then bed rooms. So there is the cost-question on what type of space you need, what for and how you can design it to fit your needs.

On the other hand, a lot of materials are produced cheaply with a short-life. Buying materials that are more durable, last longer, have a higher re-sell value and can also be more easily maintained, provides yourself but also the industry incentives for sustainable production – > Circular Economy : ) . Though there is for instance much debate around leather – leather still remains a waste product and using the material for multiple years, might be more beneficial than the use of synthethics, that likely have to be replaced more often.

Of course, I am not a designer and neither does my space now look like from a James Bond movie, but being connected, a story or a feeling, also motivates us to keep materials longer and it also helps to create homes that reflect us, our feelings – homes that feel like homes.

Linking the Circular Economy to Sustainable Development – an SDG perspective

Over the last years, we have become familiar with the term „sustainability“ and at least those working in the sector are familiar with the „Sustainable Development Goals“. But yet, we face difficulties in measuring these and what sustainability means to begin with. Does sustainability imply to act ecological, to stop buying and moving into a rural house, while maintaining self-sufficiency? And if yes, does that mean we can simply change the system? Likely not, because in some ways we are all connected to the system, whether it is us using renewable energy sources to power our homes (who produces the means to do so ? where can it be bought? and how is energy even transferred? ) or whether we make use of other public services like hospitals, the legal system, medicine, transportation, education and IT services?

At the same time we are aware that consuming and producing -as we do now – has drastic effects on our health and the planet and we therefore need to take into consideration more sustainable approaches. Yet, putting sustainability into practice seems difficult and my favorite way of doing so is by looking at the circular economy.

Why the Circular Economy? The Circular Economy looks at keeping our resources as long as possible in the loop and by changing the way we design, produce, consume and dispose goods and services. The circular economy therefore appears  „sustainable“ by design and adds economic incentives for actors to transition instead of „good-will“ only.

How can we link the Circular Economy to Sustainable Development?

Dictionaries define poverty as “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money, means of support or material possessions” (1)(2). Using circular approaches could help to lift people out of poverty by creating new markets. Examples are new jobs that focus on waste-products accross the supply-chain such as transforming agricultural waste into value added products. An example is the transformation of coconut-husk into chips or fiber-boards for the construction industry – instead of burning it. Or the production of paper from agricultural waste.

According to the EllenMacArthurFoundation, 10% of the global population continues to go hungry. In a circular economy, food is designed to cycle, so the by-products from one enterprise provides inputs for the next. Depending on the stage of the supply chain, end of life food waste can be used to produce new foods like pasta made from bread waste. Another example is the opening of restaurants and supermarkets that sell and transform produce that does not meet the typical “beauty and quality standards”.

In a health assessment published by the World Health Organization (WHO), direct and indirect benefits of the Circular Economy can be related to a reduction of environmental impacts of manufacturing processes (by improving air, water and soil quality and by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions). Other positive impacts could deprive from a greater focus on material health of products such as by developing bio-based products, i.e. compostable bags and building materials.

The circular economy makes it easier to observe our constantly changing world comprehensively and offers a good foundation for lifelong learning and the education of new professionals. What better way is there to introduce business models or for the CE/sustainability then at the educational level already? Preparing our current generation to become agents of change for a world with wicked challenges and where creative /entrepreneurial solutions are needed – see Windesheim Honours College NL

Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development (4). Bamboo, for example is a bio-based/cricular material, that can be easily grown and transformed on homesteads and thereby helps women to create an income – frequently responsible for household tasks. In addition, bamboo can be used to create new jobs and materials that feed into other sectors and provide women with an economic opportunity not to return to their abusing (GBV) homes.

Loss of productivity to water- and sanitation-related diseases costs many countries up to 5% of GDP (WHO 2012). Universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene would reduce the global disease burden by 10% (5). One way the Circular Economy can help, is through the development of applications that collect and transform human waste into value; i.e. energy produced through anerobic digestion systems and the promotion of, for instance, compostable toilets.

Modern society depends on reliable and affordable energy services to function smoothly and to develop equitably (5). As the demand for energy is growing, new ways of producing energy need to be found. A fantastic way of creating circular and affordable energy is through the transformation of biomass waste products into energy. Biomass is a renewable energy source to begin with and waste will always exist (6).

According to the EllenMacArthurFoundation it is estimated that, in the sectors of complex medium-lived products (such as mobile phones and washing machines) in the EU, the annual net-material cost savings opportunity amounts up to USD 630 billion. For fast moving consumer goods (such as household cleaning products), there is a material cost-saving potential of up to USD 700 billion globally (7). This does not yet take into consideration the amount of new jobs that could be created i.e. through innovation and new industries.

Infrastructure has a major influence on whether resources can be preserved to use again or whether they are lost forever(8). A few Circular Economy approaches are the building of modular houses, renting of materials, LEGO like buildings or the use of bio-based materials for entire buildings like up-cycled paper brickets, wood and bamboo (reinforced concrete). Did you know that UNMigration uses bamboo for emergency shelter?

Inequalities in income and wealth are severe and have been widening globally. Businesses are engines for economic growth, having the potential to create jobs, foster economic activity through their value chain, and contribute tax revenues for public services and infrastructure (9). The circular economy can be used to create employment opportunities accross the supply-chain and by creating new jobs and markets in producer regions, thereby promoting reduced inequalities across the globe.

 According to the Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation, cities consume over 75% of natural resources, produce over 50% of global waste and emit between 60-80% of greenhouse gases. Cities are places, where most challenges are encountered, but they are also the places to find the most suitable solutions. Cities can serve as innovation hubs by experimenting with circular buildings and the integration of animals into cities to feed on grass instead of using machinery as example.

Circular Economy implies developing new business models such as paying for performance, designing products for using them as long as possible, reusing and remanufacturing products at the end of service life, and recovering/recycling a maximum of resources to avoid waste in production, supply, use and disposal (10). Could we rent clothes, furnuniture and other products and return them for a discount or a new product? Yes!

As populations, economies and standards of living grow, so does the cumulative level of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions (11). By focusing on renewable resources and replacing the use of finite materials we can avoid an increase in GHGs emissions. An example is the building with bio-digradable or recycable materials that return to the manufacturer at the end of the life – This could be particular relevant for the hotel industry, which tends to refurbish the interior i.e. tiles at an average of five years.

The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind (14) The Circular Economy supports to keep our waters clean and profitable such as by using treated waste water for factory cooling towers instead of freshwaster. This helps the environment and keeps factory costs down as treated waste water is 50% cheaper than freshwater (15). Other examples are the replacement of plastics with bio-degradable materials.

A flourishing life on land is the foundation for our life on this planet. We have caused severe damage to it through deforestation, loss of natural habitats and land degradation (16). We can halter deforestation and still create profit. An example is IKEA in Australia that provides customer with a discount for returning their old furniture. The furniture is up-cycled and/or resold at a discounted rate. In addition, green designs i.e. rooftops bring nature back to cities and help to cycle air at a discounted rate. (Imagine the cost of treating respiratory infections due to pollution and the cost saved).

We cannot hope for sustainable development without peace, stability, human rights and effective governance, based on the rule of law. However, lack of employment and economic growth opportunities, often seem to play a barrier for sustainable development and peace and thus, leads more likely to corrupted behaviours. With the CEs huge job market potential and slower resource consumption, it could be expected that corrupted behaviours decrease and more financing for good governance was made available.

Circular Economy is one of the 14 themes for the Urban Agenda for the EU partnerships established as part of the Pact of Amsterdam. Several of the partnerships have developed actions to reduce barriers for a transition towards a circular economy in cities (17). Nowadays, where challanges are complex and unstructured, and supply-chains connected more than ever, partnerships are essential. An example is the complex construction industry in which different glues, different types of materials and building ownerships play a huge role in the circular potential of a building.

Of course, the Circular Economy is extremely complex, but what I like most about it is, that it has multiple solutions for complex problems. We just need to look at it from different perspectives and view our global economy as an interactive and creative system. We don’t necessarily have to eradicate the system, but we can work with it and begin with circular changes step by step, consume a little less, produce a little better, cycle materials as long as possible and think in systems [and ideally bio-based].

Untapping the value of bio-based waste in Asia

Article featured in : 5th Edition Circular Asia Magazine

South-East-Asia (SEA) is noted for several plantation cash crops, of which the most important are tea, rubber, palm oil, coconuts, and sugarcane. Besides these, SEA is also home to many fruit trees and fruit bearing shrubs that are productive throughout the year. Some of the fruits most familiar to us and available for direct consumption are jackfruit, dragon fruit, banana and mango

We quickly notice that many of these fruits are covered with a protective layer such as the peal of a banana or the hard shell of coconuts. Once the flash is consumed, the protective layer is often disposed, accummulates in a landfill-mix or is being burned. The consequene is that the burning and the accumulation of bio-waste contributes to an increase of GHGs emissions either in the form of methane through organic breakdown or carbon dioxide through burning.

Bio-based waste can be profitable

Many of us, including farmers and consumers, are used to this type of linear production, consumption and disposal. But, with the circular economy, we can go one step further by creating value from organic waste. In doing so, we can provide environmental benefits, but most of all create multiple employment opportunities with carbon friendly products. The uses of these products are versatile and with this issue, we would like to begin with providing entrepreneurial incentives for two organic waste products.

Banana

Banana is counted as one of the most important global food crop and is currently cultivated in around 129 different countries, with India contributing approximately 15% of the total fruit production worldwide. Banana fibre is produced from the ‘pseudo stem’ of the banana plant, which would usually be burnt or left to rot (apart from a small amount that is fed to cattle) (Mavulo, 2018).

Turning banana waste into profit

Instead of letting it rot, one one oft the world’s strongest natural fibres known as musa fibre (banana fibres) can be produced from it. The natural fibre is made from the stem of the banana tree and consists of thick-walled cell tissue, bonded together by natural gums and mainly composed of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. Banana fibre can be used to make a number of different textiles with different weights and thicknesses, based on what part of the banana stem the fibre was extracted from (Hendriskz, 2017). Of course, other products can be produced from it as well such as paper and rope.

Dragon-Fruit

Although dragon fruit is not included in the most consumed fruits or the highest produced  fruit,  the  cultivation of dragon fruit  is increasing. As people consume largely the flesh of the fruit, the amount of dragon fruit peel waste increases likewise. In Indonesia dragon fruit peel waste contributes to the 40% organic waste out of 200 tonnes of annual waste (Putri et al. 2018).

Turning dragon-fruit waste into profit

One of the most beautiful things about the dragon fruit is its color. Dragon fruit peel provides natural red color produced by pigment called anthocyanin which can be used as a subtituent from synthetic dyes to natural dyes (Sudarmi, Subagyo, Susanti and Wahyuningsih, 2015).  Because of that it has been identified as a potential source of red-purple colour with a moderate antioxidant activity for food and cosmetic decorations. Its ecological origin is meeting an economical perspective and consumers’ preference for green products as well.

Why natural dye?

  • They have a minimal environmental Impact – Because they come    from natural sources, natural dyes are not harmful to the environment, which makes it so appealing for consumers.
  • Renewable – Natural dyes are obtained from renewable sources that can be harnessed without imposing harm to the environment or simply our foods, clothes and hair 😊 (Keycolors, 2020)

Bio-waste can help us untap full environmental and economic potential in Asia.

With a growing population and more people to feed, the demand for food increases rapidly, but so does waste. Each plant and each organic material has unique featurest hat can be used and tranformed into value. In doing so, we do not only provide  enivronmental benefits, but we can also create circular employment starting on  the farmer level and rural regions.

                                               We are looking for you!

Are you an entrepreneur who already engages or produces products from bio-waste? Then, we would love to hear from you and feature you in our next magazine!

References

Hendriskz, V. (2017). Sustainable Textile Innovations: Banana Fibres. FashionUnited. Retrieved from: https://fashionunited.uk/news/fashion/sustainable-textile-innovations-banana-fibre/2017082825623/amp

KEYCOLORS (2020). Advantages and Disadvantages of Natural DYES. Retrieved from: http://www.keycolour.net/blog/advantages-disadvantages-natural-dyes/

Mavolu (2018). From Waste to Value: Banana Fibre for Fashion and Textiles. Retrieved from: https://mavolu.com/blogs/news/from-waste-to-value-banana-fibre-for-fashion-and-textiles

Putri, C. H., Janica, L., Jannah, M., Ariana, P. P., Tansy, R. V., & Wardhana, Y. R. (2018). Utilization of Dragon Fruit Peel Waste as Microbial Growth Media. The 10th Conference of Indonesian Student Association in South Korea, At University of Science and Technology, Daejeon

Sudarmi, S., Subagyo, P., Susanti, A., & Wahyuningsih, A. S. (2015). Simple Extraction of Dragon Fruit (Hylocereus polyrhizus) Peel as Natural Dye Colorant. Eksergi12(1), 05-07.

Could the future of paper be cow-dung? An experiment to turn cow and horse dung into paper.

Background (Initially posted in April, 2020)

Since toiletpaper has become an important topic over the last weeks, I became dedicated in learning about its production process. I quickly learned that to extract fibers from wood ligning (acts as natural glue) for (toilet)paper but also textile, a lot of chemicals are needed.  Because I had no machinery to produce toiletpaper, I experimented with producing paper only with naturally abundant resources mechanically.

To begin with, I started producing paper made of grass, as the fibers are very long and stick well without having to use any glue.

Because I was drying and then processing the freshly cut grass, it appeared rather time-consuming; This made me remember the role animals play in digesting only parts of their food and dispersing seeds and other residues for further use. To avoid the processing of fiberous grass or hay mechanically, I came up with the idea to experiment with my neighbors’ cow and another neighbors horse dung.

And hurray!  the processing of it into paper was much simpler. Because the residues were rather short, I mixed it with grass fibers to hold the paper together. Ta-daa; I created different types of paper using only organic (waste) materials.

The Process

Extracting Grass Fibers as dung chip paper binder

Step 1

  • Cutting wildely growing grass
  • Drying it (i.e window or on top of a heater)
  • Because grass has long fibers, I recommend cutting it into smaller pieces
  • Cooking it between 1 and 2 hours

Step 2

  • After cooking, rinse the fibers. To do so, I used a simple noodle strainer.
  • Feel free to pour more water over the strainer and wash the grass more often with your hands.

Step 3

  • Because grass is very fiberous, I recommend using a small portion, fill it in a bucket with water (rather use more water then too less) and mix it. To do so, I used a simple blender with two blades.
  • It is likely that the fibers will quickly tweeze around the blades and knot together.
  • Unplug the blender from the socket and add the blend back into the bucket and rins it out.
  • Repeat this process multiple times until you do not see a lot of greens around the fiber mix anymore (This could take between 10 to 20 minutes)
  • Your fibers are ready and can be put aside.

Extracting dung-chips for paper

Step 4

  • Find a horse or cow dung supplier (for paper I recommend using horse dung, because the diet is less mixed. The horse dung I used came from a horse that is mainly fet with natural grass, so the residue, I would call it dung chips is available in high quantity and quality)

Step 5

  • If you try it at home, please cover the area around the sink, because you don’t want the dung splashing around
  • Fill the bucket with water and mix it with a spoon until the dung dissolves into one liquid mass. It goes very quick with horse dung in oppose to cow dung.

Step 6

  • Rinse and wash it multiple times.
  • The water will become gradually lighter

Step 7

  • Here is now the part where I am washing the horse chips with laundry detergant.
  • I followed the same processing of washing and rinsing it out. The laundry detergant (used it 1 time) really helps in cleaning the chips as you can see on the lighter water.

Step 8

  • Cook the chips (I added 5 tablets of soda) for around 20 minutes to remove the bacteria.
  • Rinse it out again for two more times to have pure and clean horse/cow chips/dissolvant.

Step 9

  • We are ready to mix horse dung chips with grass fibers.

Step 10

  • Now we can follow a simple paper making process using the grass fibers and the horse chips.
  • I recommend watching the video below, because it nicely illustrates the entire paper making process

Here are a few photos of my paper making process for which I used an old picture frame and a mosquito net.

Step 11

  • Ready!

Congrautlations – We made paper from farm waste and wild fibers!

  • Amazingly as gift 🙂
  • The paper smells very natural (not like dung)
  • The chips can be used for many more products (creating a truly circular bio-based economy), i.e. pallet parts and pellets.
  • Nature (fauna and flora) has many interacting solutions towards a more sustainable world. By using animal chips, we skip the process of wood chipping and simply create value from waste.
  • Could animal could play a solution for deforestation?
  • A mind shift may be needed to move our thoughts away from “stinky dung” to value dung.

Special Thanks to

  • Amazing YouTubers
  • Friends and family
  • My former teacher in ecology at TU Dresden for teaching me about seed digestion and dispersal
  • My former university Windesheim Honours College that engaged us students in a human waste challenge
  • My last university (Maastricht University) for reaching out to alumnis and asking how we spend our time in the face of covid-19 and motivating to write a blog on that topic
  • Maastricht Sustainability Institute, who taught us students to think in systems and about innovation for sustainability
  • My enthusiastic cowfarm neighbor
  • The wonderful owner of a horse
  • Very much, the innovative farm I get to stay and help out at 🙂

Interested to learn more about it or curious to think about new bio-based innovations? Please feel free to reach out.

Biobased materials are the solution for mitigating Scope 3 emissions

One of the many reasons that make me support bio-based materials, is their untapped potential as circular material. There is no sand or mineral that can transform itself as a result of anerobic digestion processes as ecological and energy efficient then bio-based materials.

Transforming bio-based resources has multiple benefits. One of them is the fact that we use re-growing organic matter that (quickly) captures carbon, we then move it or simply transform it and at the end of the materials’ life-cycle it can become [ideally] one with nature again- dead organic matter.

In addition, using, re-using, up-cycling and recycling bio-based materials will be one of the key components in tackling the climate crisis and accounting for environmental responsibilty as well. The reason is that bio-based materials can be transformed into other by-products along the value chain and therefore aid in reducing scope 3 emissions (nex tto scope 1 and 2 emissions).

Scope 3 emissions are those emissions that occcur outside of control of the company such as transport and waste disposal. They constitute up to seventy-five percent of a company’s emission footprint and therefore inhibits a firm’s ability to pursue the most cost-effective carbon mitigation strategies (Downie and Stubbs, 2013). Another disadvantage is that scope 3 emissions are not accounted for in the National Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. Our current GHG inventories are therefore incomplete, or misleading.

Yesterday, I watched an excellent Webinar by UNDP on the Circular Economy and a New Generation of NDCs. It was highlighted that a country could be well on track to achieve its NDCs as most of the production, where emissions are occuring, have been outsourced. But if we would look at emissions from a “consumption” perspective”, countries would be much less likely to meet their NDCs. This particular relates to the fact that only scope 1 and 2 emissions are accounted but not scope 3 emissions.

Type 3 emissions can be largely reduced if we look at bio-based materials

When we look at the bio-based model of the circular economy, lets say for housing, it is relatively easy to point out that organic waste can be used for multiple purposes. On the image below, waste water is used and transformed into energy, which is again used to supply energy for the household and other applications.

This model can also be applied to entire cities such as on the image below. This model also runs on the integration of renewable energy and bio-based waste to generate energy and add value to the urban setting as well. The model would not function, if it would not incorporate organic waste.

The bio-based economy is more efficient then the non-bio based economy

Of course, circularity also works with other non-biobased materials, but there are limits to their re-utilization and their potential in mitigating scope 3 emissions. In the webinar an excellent example of a “smartcrusher”, which breaks concrete back into its homogenous ingredients was pointed out. I like that it is possible to reutilize these ingriedients, but there are emission limits towards their reutilization and value additon.

Bio-based materials are the answer to carbon neutrality

On the opposite, if we were to adapt more bio-based materials, we could use less finite materials, create value from organic waste products and meanwhile, add value throughout the production. An excellent example for me is bamboo, because of its versatile industrial applications and alternative to steel.

If we look at the production of bamboo boards, each waste component can be used and transformed again either in the form of energy [i.e. gas, electricity] or products [i.e. pellets, charcoal, bio-char]. I like the image of a wood production process below, because it illustrates the versatility of timber waste products. This also applies to bamboo, besides that bamboo grows much quicker and drives well in degraded soils.

Bio-based materials help our planet thrive

A few months ago my former thesis -supervisor introduced me to the concept “ThriveAbility”. ThriveAbility reframes sustainability by focusing on the positive benefits of collectively living within our means ( operating within the carrying capacities of capitals). ThriveAbility does this by weaving two additional dimensions into the sustainability equation that remedy the Social and Governance weak spots, while catalysing context-based environmental performance. It basically looks at adding value to our environment instead of exploiting it (Baue, 2016).

With bio-based products we can do so. An example is bio-char that can be produced as waste product and be fet back into farms. Biochar can be used as soil enhancer as it holds carbon, boosts food security, and increases soil biodiversity, and discourage deforestation. The process creates a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water. Biochar is found in soils around the world as a result of vegetation fires and historic soil management practices. Intensive study of biochar-rich dark earths in the Amazon (terra preta), has led to a wider appreciation of biochar’s unique properties as a soil enhancer (InternationalBiocharInitative, 2019)

Mitigating scope 3 emissions works well on the local level

Since our supply chains are connected across the globe, it is more difficult to achieve carbon neutrality during transportation. But if we would overall , in each region and city of the supply chain focus more on bio-based materials [and renewables], we could feed more energy into our transportation system and therefore ensure that we are meeting our global target under Paris.

My ideal supply-chain would be an integrated bio-based supply chain, which integrates circularity on each stage of it. Since there are growth-limits for bio-based materials, I would emphasize circular business models for end consumers and producers; 1. To capture product value and 2. To have sufficient time for circular systems to regenerate within out planetary boundaries.

My ideal and over simplified global circular supply-chain . On factory level, we can drive on bio-waste products and feed some components back into the farm level, such as bio-char as soil amendment

On a global level, there are of course more barriers and I recommend reading the article on “Bio-based Materials Within the Circular Economy: Opportunities and Challenges” by Brundklaus and Riise (2018) to receive a greater insight into that topic.

Have you become intersted to calculate your Scope3 emissions? I found an excellent technical guideline by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which provides standards, guidance, tools and training for business and government to measure and manage climate-warming emissions. You can access it here.

For questions and comments, feel free to contact me below.

References

Baue, B. (2016). An Intro to ThiveAbility: The Next Stage of Development for Sustainability. Retrieved from: https://sustainablebrands.com/read/new-metrics/an-intro-to-thriveability-the-next-stage-of-development-for-sustainability

Brunklaus B., Riise E. (2018) Bio-based Materials Within the Circular Economy: Opportunities and Challenges. In: Benetto E., Gericke K., Guiton M. (eds) Designing Sustainable Technologies, Products and Policies. Springer, Cham

CarbonTrust (2019). What are Scope 3 emissions?. Retrieved from: https://www.carbontrust.com/resources/what-are-scope-3-emissions

Downie, J., & Stubbs, W. (2013). Evaluation of Australian companies’ scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions assessments. Journal of Cleaner Production56, 156-163.

GreenhouseGasProtocol (2020). Scope3 Calculation Guidance. Retrieved from: https://ghgprotocol.org/scope-3-technical-calculation-guidance

InternationalBiocharInitiative (2020). Biochar is a Valuable Soil Amendment. Retrieved from: https://biochar-international.org/biochar/

Soezer, A. (2019). Circular Economy and a New Generation of NDCs. UNDP Webinar. Retrieved from: https://www.ndcs.undp.org/content/ndc-support-programme/en/home/impact-and-learning/ideas-and-insights/20190/circular-economy-new-ndc-generation-.html