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Companies Urged to Reuse and Recycle as part of Circular Economy

The maiden outing of the Resource Event in London showed many companies remain resistant to the green mandate, although a number of the larger players are now starting to wake up to the commercial and environmental opportunities.

Photo: Novelis: A canny approach to aluminium recycling.
Novelis: A canny approach to aluminium recycling.
Photo: Novelis: A canny approach to aluminium recycling.
Novelis: A canny approach to aluminium recycling.

Bringing together like-minded people passionate about the circular economy, the Resource Event was a new venture on the expo front. It certainly seemed to fulfil a need, however, with some 11,000 people coming to listen to 123 speakers, attending 26 workshops and visiting 85 exhibitors.

For his keynote speech, Professor Walter R Strahel, the Founding Director of the Product-Life Institute in Geneva, took as his theme: 'Reuse or Recycle – Impact of Human Life on Earth'. One of the most respected figures in the science of sustainability, Strahel outlined the essential differences between The Linear Economy, The Circular Economy, The Lake Economy and The Performance Economy.

While the finer points of his presentation may have been lost on some attendees, one message came through loud and clear – many manufacturers still lack a real understanding of the Recycle or Reuse concept. Citing one of the undoubted success stories in the sector, Strahel highlighted the work done on the re-construction of the ANA Intercontinental Hotel in Tokyo, with many of its original materials used as part of the re-build. For many delegates, this proved an inspirational presentation.

Warp It (the Waste Action Reuse Portal), as its name suggests, fits squarely in the 'Reuse' side of the circular economy. According to Daniel O'Connor, Founder of the North East of England-based company, it was his interest in the reuse of resources concept that inspired him to start the business.

Warp It's mission statement is to help organisations maximise the lifespan of their office furniture and equipment. The idea is that you post the items that you no longer have use for on the Warp It portal, while searching for items that you currently need. At present, the portal is used by a number of local authorities and large organisations within the UK, with some claiming savings of up to £400,000.

As with Warp It, simplicity is also the key to Brighton-based Bag ReBorn. Richard Simmonite, the company's Chief Executive, sees the UK introduction of a plastic bag tax in October this year as inevitably providing a boost for his business. Looking to the future, he said: "We're being trialled at HiSbe, and M&S are talking to us about the system, which sees a standard plastic shopping bag convert into a 60-litre refuse sack. When taxes were introduced into Ireland, the sales of refuse sacks rocketed."

Less simple, but still compelling, was the approach taken by US-based Novelis, a manufacturer and a world leader in aluminium recovery. According to Andy Doran, the company's Sustainability and Recovery Manager, its ultimate target is to use 80% recycled aluminium in its manufacturing process, with the current level around 50%.

Explaining the company's philosophy, Doran said: "We consider ourselves to be above-ground miners. While we still have to use a percentage of mined bauxite, we recycle more aluminium cans than anyone in the world – the processing cost of the cans being a fraction of the cost if we manufactured from raw materials."

Photo: Furniture recycling: The Wrap It Portal.
Furniture recycling: The Wrap It Portal.
Photo: Furniture recycling: The Wrap It Portal.
Furniture recycling: The Wrap It Portal.
Photo: Green chutes: The Ibex Sorta.
Green chutes: The Ibex Sorta.
Photo: Green chutes: The Ibex Sorta.
Green chutes: The Ibex Sorta.

The company is one of the world's leading producers of rolled aluminium products, for cans, cars, building and architecture, and many more markets, and views the metal as a completely sustainable resource.

Closer to home – quite literally – was Ibex Sorta, a recycling concept for the kitchen. According to Clare Bevan, Founder of the Cornwall-based company, the concept is simple and cuts out the need for any internal bins and bags, with sorted rubbish going directly into collection bins.

The Ibex Sorta actually made its debut at the show, receiving a largely positive response. Sally Gimson, the former UK Cabinet Member for Sustainability and Environment, went as far as to tweet: "I like this bin. It works through three chutes in the kitchen so you never have to store rubbish indoors."

Gimson's view on Re Fil, a Dutch exhibitor at the show, sadly, goes unrecorded. The product – a filament created from recycled plastic for use in 3D printing – clearly has potential, though. The idea originated at the Better Future Factory in the Netherlands, with Gaspard Bos, the founder of the company, understandably keen to expand upon its potential.

He said: "We created this installation which, in a continuous process, recycles plastic cups, turning them into filament. Via 3D printing, this can be used to create a number of small objects such as rings.

"Currently, we are on a mission to demonstrate the process at events like the Resource Show. We find it really engages people to understand the process and to watch it unfolding in front of their eyes. We have also realised that we could produce a recycled filament that would complete the cycle."

Moving away from the smaller players who were hopeful of gaining recognition through their presence at the show, to some of the more established businesses, brings us to DS Smith, the London-based packaging giant. The lead partner at Resource, the company had a suitably imposing stand, largely dedicated to promoting its report into the need for higher levels of recycling – The Power of Less. This British-based packaging company is well known for its corrugated and plastic packaging, as well as its recycling initiatives. According to its report, some US$1 trillion per annum is lost globally by the packaging industry's failure to adopt a more circular business model. Hopefully, no unwanted copies of the report were left lying around.

Overall, there did seem a degree of commitment from the major players in the sector to tackle this huge squandering of resources. Emma Griffiths is the Recycling Officer for The UK Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE UK), an industry-wide green steering group. She said: "We currently act for Tetra Pak, Elopak and Sig Combibloc and, under our auspices, cartons are now collected from the majority of local authorities for recycling. We process them back into paperboard, polymers and aluminium."

Looking more to the future was the Smart Cities seminar, hosted by representatives from local authorities, environmental management businesses and architects. Most of the discussion focussed on how individuals could benefit from a more circular economy within their own homes.

The particular emphasis here was on the recycling of all waste matter and the use of advanced piping systems to sort and send waste for processing. In terms of motivating consumers, Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive of the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association, suggested that people could actually be paid for their waste if it generated profit.

Photo: Rotterdam: The smartest city?
Rotterdam: The smartest city?
Photo: Rotterdam: The smartest city?
Rotterdam: The smartest city?

When asked to choose which city was currently leading field, the group was unanimous in its choice of Rotterdam. This was, perhaps, no surprise given the number of Dutch exhibitors and products on show throughout the event.

The Resource Event 2015 took place at ExCel London from 3-5 March.

David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, London

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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