Smart bins and grow-your-own lamps: the best green innovations for Recycle Week

To mark Recycling week, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon technologies and innovations that could help to accelerate the global shift towards a prosperous and zero-waste future.

edie has once again put the innovations into this neat and tidy little green package

edie has once again put the innovations into this neat and tidy little green package

It’s become increasingly apparent that the linear model, of “take, make, dispose” is broken. The circular economy is growing in prominence but at national and business levels waste is still an inherent problem.

From plastic bottles to coffee cups, it seems that high-profile campaigns and national inquiries are changing the way we view waste, although Pret’s head of sustainability John Isherwood has questioned the MP's coffee cup inquiry.

Isherwood is a believer that customers must be taken on this journey to zero-waste by businesses, to ensure recyclable products are actually recycled. A holistic approach makes sense, and a new report has claimed that London could reduce its waste by 60% by 2041 through a circular economy approach.

Outside of packaging, food waste is still a huge issue. Fortunately, companies like Tesco are treating the matter serious. The supermarket struck a deal with its largest food suppliers for them to adopt the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to halve food waste by 2030.

To mark Recycling week, edie has gathered a select few innovations that either enhance recycling prospects, or reduce waste that is currently being sent to landfill. Here they are in this neat and tidy little green package.

Planting with purpose

We start the round-up in our gardens, where UK consumers spend almost £1.5bn on new plants each year. These purchases are propped up by a supply chain that provides plastic labels, pots, trays and pallets, all of which could be greatly improved if they promoted better recycling processes.

Vanden Recycling has taken steps to solve one area of this supply chain, the labels. Labels account for large proportions of plastic waste due to plant seasonality, price and design changes and printing errors.

The company now purchases these waste labels, and regrinds them for reuse in the manufacturing process. The material can be embedded into a closed-loop system to increase the percentage of recycled content in products. Alternatively, the granulated material can be fed into other UK or European sectors.

Ware-ing away at the edges

The uproar over the lack of recycling of paper coffee cups has died down somewhat, but companies are still implementing new solutions to reduce the amount of food and drinks packaging being sent to landfill.

Edinburgh-based Vegware specialises in compostable coffee cups and other food packaging. The company has now launched a new composting collection service for its catering disposables in Edinburgh.

Vegware has set up zero waste systems with collections for clients around the UK, creating mulch in two weeks for its horticultural courses. The firm’s Close the Loop service has now been expanded to Scotland to create a second use for the packaging once businesses have discarded them.

How do you sleep at night?

When thinking of recycling, mattresses aren’t an area that springs to mind. However, only two of the approximate 20 members of the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers that were sending mattresses for recycling last year are doing so now. That’s where the Furniture Recycling Group (TFR Group) comes in.

Since the firm launched in 2012, it has recycled more than one million mattresses, and is aiming to divert the 167,000 tonnes of mattresses still sent to landfill each year in the UK. The company recently announced an investment into a system that allows a standard transportation trailer to increase load from 90 mattresses to 600.

The TFR Group hope the system will enable 20,000 mattresses to be recycled each week by mid-2018, alongside a decrease in transportation costs and emissions. The company also patented an automated pocket spring mattress recycling machine that speeds up the dismantle and separation process from more than half a day to 2.5 minutes. The John Lewis Partnership is already working with the firm.

Between a rock and a landfill

Recycling will reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill, but innovation is needed to find a use for all the waste currently found in landfills. Designer Inge Slujis may have done just that, with a new process that turns landfill waste into consumer goods such as tiles and vases.

The “Plasma Rock” is a durable and non-toxic material made through a plasma gasification process. The process heats landfill material at extremely high temperatures to create powders that are then moulded into products.

Around 20kg of Plasma Rock can be created from 100kg of landfill waste. The designer is also targeting coastal landfill sites in Essex. This is because researchers are concerned that rising sea levels will erode the landfill sites, adding waste and chemicals to the water. Plasma Rock can reduce the volume of landfill waste that might otherwise end up polluting waterways.

No likey, right lighty

If Pret want to bring consumers on board in the war on waste then a smart bin that can “learn” how to separate waste might be appealing. Cambridge Consultants are the British company that has created the smart bin prototype.

The prototype works when a consumer places their phone to the bin to register identity. The consumer then holds the packaging to the bin’s built-in cameras, which takes two photos. An algorithm allows the bin to identify the material and then lights up the correct part of the recycling bin where it should be discarded.

Users will be given rewards via an app, such as free merchandise from where they purchased the waste item or charitable donations. It is hoped that the solution will create a new culture around recycling in public areas, and the team is currently talking to companies that could be interested in the solution.

Shroom to grow

The other side of the waste argument, and a key benefit of the circular economy, is the need to move away from finite resources. Fortunately, a new collaboration between designer Danielle Trofe and Ecovative has created a kit that lets consumers grow their own products; specifically a lamp.

Ecoactive recently launched a Kickstarter for the Grow-It-Yourself Lamp Kit, that lets you create a lampshade from parts of a mushroom. By mixing the mushroom substrate with water and flour, growers can then bake their lampshade in an oven rather than using other resources. The kit comes as a hanging lampshade set, but buyers can also purchase a lamp stand made from certified sustainable wood.

While no plans have been disclosed to roll out other ranges, Ecoactive is a packaging supplier for tech giant Dell, which recently unveiled an aim to use 100 million pounds of recycled-content plastic and other sustainable materials by 2020.

Matt Mace


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