The business world is starting to recognise that recovery and reuse of resources in efficient circular business models, as an alternative to the using-up of virgin resources, is a major opportunity.

Whether it is the flow of materials, component parts or entire products, circular principles allows us to make and do more with less, and offer the potential to reduce, or even reverse, the negative environmental impacts of our economic activity.  

I am privileged to have come across some great businesses that are bringing alive the central tenet of the circular economy, to ‘design out waste’. 

A life less throw-away

One of the best ways to reduce waste is to keep stuff for longer so that we throw away less. In the jargon, it is called ‘product life extension’.

Product durability is the focus of BuyMeOnce, the on-line retail business that champions ‘a life less throw-away’ by seeking out the most long-lasting products on the planet. As Tara Button, durability expert and Founder of BuyMeOnce, explains in her excellent book ‘A Life Less Throwaway, qualities we used to value – durability, longevity and repair-ability – have been elbowed out of our consumer minds by a big brand culture of planned obsolescence and corner cutting. Whether it is cut-price fashion or the latest must-have tech, the advertising machines have been feeding us the message that having new stuff is the way to health and happiness.

“Durability is the most overlooked solution to climate change,” says Tara, “A huge amount of focus has been on recycling, but most people have not stopped to make the connection that when people keep their products for longer, fewer new products need to be produced and therefore fewer resources and less energy needs to be consumed.”

Waste to product

When materials are left over, either as scrap from a production process, or because an item is broken or finished with, then those resources can be used in a ‘waste to product’ process.

Alusid and Smile Plastics both use this model to create high value products from waste streams. Alusid makes bathroom and kitchen tiles using post-industrial glass and discarded porcelain. Smile turns waste plastic into unique decorative panels for the interior design trade. These are businesses that understand the value in these underused waste streams. 

“Our mission is to change people’s perceptions around waste – to use art and technology to unlock the hidden potential in recycling and open their eyes to the unexpected beauty of scrap. In doing so, we hope to inspire more people about sustainability and recycling,”say Smile Plastics founders Adam Fairweather and Rosalie McMillan.

The materials they produce have inspired designers around the world. Their unique decorative panels feature in flagship commercial installations, including Selfridges, the Lyan Club (Hoxton) and The Welcome Trust, as well as private homes.

Similarly, Alusid’s high quality tiles and solid surfaces are nothing if not beautiful. Our strategy has always been that customers will not buy a product just because it is greener but because it is of premium quality as well as being sustainable,” says Dr Alasdair Bremner, co-Founder of Alusid.  

Ethical and valuable

Defra calculates that UK businesses could benefit by up to £23 billion per year through  improvements in the efficient use of resources (WRAP). While some may think that figure is optimistically high, I see signs of transformation popping up across supply chains in all sectors and proud to be involved with some of the most exciting innovators leading the way forward.

This blog is distilled from a longer version ‘Designing out waste, designing in value‘ written by me for the Green Angel Syndicate web site.