Let’s go round again: turning waste into value

World rubbish is big and getting bigger, which wastes resources and harms nature. So the Julius Baer Foundation is fighting back with an initiative called RECYCLING PLUS.

There’s a dynamo in your dustbin. Garbage is growing at speed: over the past century quantities have climbed tenfold, says the World Bank, and they are on track to double or even triple by 2100. What a waste! We’re throwing value in the trashcan. And then there’s the junk that doesn’t make it to the bin, say, piles of rogue plastic that swarm the oceans, endangering wildlife and despoiling the seascape. Uncollected waste is not a major problem in the wealthier world, but in lower-income regions, says again the World Bank, half to two-thirds of rubbish is simply chucked out – most anywhere.

The good news is that this offers an opportunity. Recycling can not only help solve the problem, but also “make good business sense”, says the Julius Baer Foundation, which supports a portfolio of projects doing just that. Recently the Foundation gathered a group of recycling innovators to meet, greet and tell their stories. The aim, said Foundation General Manager Christoph Schmocker, was “to help build the circular economy into a pillar of main economy.” Here’s a look at the highlights.

A second life for coffee capsules 
Surely everyone has seen Nespresso, the single-serve coffee. Pop a capsule into the eponymous machine, push the button and presto, there’s your drink – plus coffee grounds and a perforated capsule. Making that latter part not go to waste is the mission of Christophe Boussemart, Nespresso’s sustainability manager. His current goal is for all customers to have easy access to recycling. Already 92% of them do, and 100% coverage is expected by next year. But that doesn’t mean that mean all customers actually return their empties – only 28% do. Participation is much higher, nearly 90%, in countries such as Germany that have a ‘green dot’ system for separate collection of spent packaging. In other countries, only 23% of used capsules are collected. The returned aluminium is recycled into window frames, automobiles, electrical goods and more. Nespresso is also piloting recycling of the coffee grounds, by turning them into compost used as soil improver.

Unwasting lives
Dadaab in Kenya can be a rather desolate place. One of the largest refugee camps in the world, it houses some 4,000 Somalians who have fled their war-torn homeland. Like most such camps, says Kathrine Vad of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), there is no waste management. Rubbish is dumped in the open, and often burned. Children play in it, animals graze it. Refugees usually can’t afford to have garbage carted out, because their incomes are so low. So at Dadaab, ICRC tackled both problems at once. They helped refugees form a company that manages waste and generates income. So far it has recovered 23 tonnes of material that has been sold on to recyclers in Nairobi. Revenues are enough to support eight refugees in jobs that previously didn’t exist. All of which amounts to less desolation.

Binned bag
A small company named Sealand has gone beyond recycling to upcycling: taking existing fabrics and repurposing them in a higher-value use. The company reclaims rugged fabrics such as yacht sails, truck tarpaulins and canvas tents, turning them into stylish yet tough backpacks, duffels and other handbags. (A company in Zurich, Freitag, does similar things with decommissioned truck tarpaulins.) Just this April, Sealand opened its first ‘experience store’ in its hometown of Capetown, South Africa. Further shops are planned for Johannesburg and London (UK). The company is also branching out into fabric made from recycled plastic (PET) bottles.

Eliminating single-use plastic?
That’s the mission of Will McCallum, Head of Oceans at Greenpeace, the environmental campaigner. “Plastic is everywhere,” he says, particularly in the seas, which take on 12.7 million tonnes of it annually – equivalent to a truckload every second. Some 40% of polymers are single-use packaging that he deems unnecessary and, he adds, cause $2.5 billion a year in clean-up costs and damage. So Greenpeace has launched a six-step program for companies to wind down their use of plastics. Its first major success came in September, when UK-supermarket-chain Sainsbury’s announced it will cut usage 50% from 120 thousand tonnes to 60 thousand tonnes by 2025. Sainsbury’s says it will “turn to alternative materials such as glass, lighter-weight plastics, and the introduction of refillable packaging at scale.”

And there’s more!
In total, 17 organisations have presented their projects at the RECYCLING PLUS CONFERENCE which took place last September in Lausanne. Five of them are supported by the Julius Baer Foundation:

  • A Plastic Planet – a UK based organisation to prevent just that, i.e. make life plastic-free through campaigns, various activities and the launch of the Plastic Free Resource Library.
  • Cooperaxion and Greencities– a plastics recycler and up cycler in Liberia.
  • Fair Recycling– a refrigerator-recycler in Brazil which trains adults in the profession as recyclist 
  • The Ocean Cleanup– like the name says, based in the Netherlands and active in the Pacific.
  • Zoological Society of London– getting plastic out of the Philippine seas by the support of the local communities, providing them new income streams and developing an alternative biodegradable material.
     
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