Environment

Five UK innovations that could change our relationship with waste

From edible bottles to clothes that ‘grow’, these inventions could reduce waste entering our seas.Tuesday, 8 October 2019

By Simon Ingram
Notpla's edible Ooho container is made from sodium alginate gel – a material derived from seaweed.

One way of appreciating the effect of consumer habits on the worldwide waste crisis is simply to observe some of the products spotted amongst the piles of discarded fishing gear and ‘ghost nets’: bottles, bags, clothes, toothbrushes, single-use boxes. Their source lies in many of our homes, and habits, right now. 

Therefore, without even contemplating the waste already in the environment – an estimated 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic alone – the logical conclusion is that unless the source slows or the pathway modified, the problem will continue. And that pathway leads in many cases to our seas, littering our beaches and collecting in mid-ocean gyres, where currents deposit the most incongruous domestic waste in massive patches of debris.

Most of it is plastic, and, despite a comparative eternity at sea, may have only been used on land for the most transient of moments. As long as it takes to clean something, contain something or carry something before being discarded. 

Sea-change at source

This message to alter the ecological footprint of consumer buying – and the collateral packaging leading to the soup of microplastic representing its collective, slow breakdown – is spurring inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs to find solutions to stop plastic waste at source.  

Last week in London a number of products designed to offer new ways of tackling this were profiled as part of Sky Ocean Ventures –an initiative of grants, innovation challenges and events aimed at reducing marine plastics – of which National Geographic is a partner.

The list of developing businesses that have benefitted from grants runs long and varied – from biodegradable microbeads, to reusable tampon applicators, to in-home digital readers to help you determine what can be recycled, and how.

Here are a few that could influence the simplest of day-to-day tasks. 

Ditch single-use plastic bottles by using... a bottle made of paper

Along with bags, the signature scourge of domestic plastic waste is the single-use bottle. A million are sold around the world every minute; and it can take at least 450 years for a PET bottle to degrade.

The Choose Water bottle is made of recycled newspaper, and uses a plant-based lining, bio inks and a metal cap that ‘rusts down in the environment into naturally occurring minerals.’

Choose Water began as an environmental startup by entrepreneur James Longcroft, which sold Scottish mineral water with the aim of supporting Water for Africa – a charity that provides potable water infrastructure for African communities. 

Key to the company's environmental ethos is the Choose Water bottle – a container made, rather counter-intuitively, from recycled newspapers. A plant-based lining, a metal cap ‘that rusts down in the environment into naturally occurring minerals,’ and a label made with bio-inks, the company claims the bottle will biodegrade in less than 12 months, and meets EU compostability standards. It's expected to be available later this year.  

Curb fashion waste by buying... clothes that grow 

The clothing industry is the second most polluting industry after oil – exacerbated by the trend for ‘fast fashion’ and the rise of trendy, low-cost clothing with a limited wear life. The stats are worryingly wasteful: up to 100 billion new items of clothing are produced each year worldwide – and yet a lorry-load of used clothing is burned or consigned to landfill every second. 

Petit Pli is a clothing brand for children developed by trained aeronautical engineer Ryan Yasin, making trousers and tops designed to allow wear between the ages of nine months and 4 years of age; a time when turnover of clothes isn't just a sign of fickle fashion tastes, but a functional need. 

'Clothes that grow’ could reduce the huge volume of short-use clothing that ends up in landfill each year. Petit Pli's focus on the high-turnover childrenswear market aims to provide clothing that will last their wearer from nine months to four years of age.

Petit Pli's mission statement is to create ‘sustainability-focused fashion for the future of humanity, starting with the next generation.’ The brand won the 2017 UK James Dyson Award for Design Engineering.

The idea: the clothes grow as a child does, eliminating (or at least substantially slowing down) the need for  clothing bought for each increment of their development. The clothing contains is technology that was birthed in the deployable, variable-structure panels of nano satellites, inspired by a project published by the company's founder.  

“When designing today, it's more important than ever to be responsible in addressing the needs of the individual and society as a whole,” says founder Ryan Yasin. “We’ve been able to develop something that considers stakeholders along the entire value-chain and protects our world by up-cycling and increasing the utility of clothing.”

The space link isn't shied away from, either; made from recycled bottles, the clothing is shipped in a cardboard container that ‘can then be upcycled into a jetpack.’

Reduce food packaging by using... Packaging you can eat

Billed as a flexible packaging for beverages and sauces, Notpla’s most striking statement as to its environmental credentials is: you can eat it. A material derived from plants and seaweed (the 'Notpla' of the name) according to the company the ‘Ooho’ liquid container biodegrades in 4-6 weeks, were you disinclined to simply consume it on the spot. 

Notpla's edible Ooho container is made from sodium alginate gel – a material derived from seaweed.

As well as applications for drink – they were trialled at this year's London Marathon – the edible Ooho sachets made of Notpla are being deployed in the cocktail and dining industry with the aim, in the case of the latter, to replace the plastic and polystyrene pots containing sauces and dressings frequently supplied with takeaway food. The company has also developed a lining using the same material for cardboard takeaway boxes, in lieu of similar, non-degradeable plastic-lined equivalents.    

Cut plastic postage waste by using... Bubblewrap made of cardboard

Born when Cornish surfing twins Sam and Will Boez noticed the volume of bubblewrap encasing a new surfboard, FlexiHex recruits an expandable, impact-resistant beehive structure made from recycled cardboard to encase products as diverse as bottles to 'boards for transportation.

From surfboards, to bottles, to industrial packaging – this recycled cardboard 'bubblewrap' has an impact-resistant honeycomb structure and expands to 35 times its packed size. It was conceived when two Cornish surfers noticed how much plastic bubblewrap was encasing their surfboards.

With inherent high-impact resistance, compact storage and adaptable fitting – it expands to 35 times its packed size – FlexiHex is setting its sights as a postage solution for industrial suppliers. The company claims to have ‘removed 150km of bubblewrap out of the surfboard industry in 12 months.’ 

Banish plastic bags by using... Paper bags that pay their own way

Paper bags are no magic bullet to solve the plastic crisis. One of the drawbacks is cost, and the need to re-use them more to make the increased cost of transport and production beneficial – which is often fed back to the consumer, which for many still sees plastic bags a more financially tempting option when sold alongside their paper equivalents (typically 5-10p, versus 20p for paper.) 

Bagboard aims to ease the financial pressure by creating free paper bags that are also advertising boards for other sustainably-conscious brands, where space is sold to subsidise the cost of production. “It's an advertising platform that brings conscious brands and people closer together,” says Bagboard’s Harry Foden. As for the benefit to advertisers, the bags “will generate millions of impressions as they are used and reused.”

The Bagboard concept seeks to provide free paper bags subsidised by advertising sold on the bag itself. A user can then earn 'conscious coin' credits by logging its re-use.

Re-use is encouraged by using a ‘conscious coins’ system – earned by pairing a smartphone to the bag – which monitors its re-use and earns credits to spend on other sustainable products. An initial launch into 2,000 retailers is planned. 

 

Sky Ocean Ventures is a media-powered impact fund investing in promising new ideas that will help turn off the plastic tap and rid the oceans of waste. Its partners include National Geographic, Imperial College London, Innovate UK and Ambiente.

 

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