5 unusual scraps upcycled into something new

  • Global waste generation is expected to increase by more than 70% by 2050, according to the World Bank.
  • Experts say transitioning to a more circular economy can reduce waste and save oceans and ecosystems from plastic contamination.
  • Here are 5 companies that have found innovative ways to reuse and recycle waste.

The global waste problem is getting worse. The World Bank estimates that without urgent action, the amount of items thrown away by humans will increase by 73% by 2050.

According to research conducted by the organization, high-income countries are responsible for more than a third of the world’s waste, despite representing only 16% of the world’s population.

Plastics are considered the most serious threat to the environment. If not managed properly, they could contaminate waterways and ecosystems for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Is the circular economy the solution?

Our current way of life is thought to use 60% more resources than the Earth can provide – and create too much waste. Transitioning to a circular economy is widely seen as the way forward.

In a circular economy, things are made and consumed in a way that minimizes our use of global resources, reduces waste and reduces carbon emissions. Products are used for as long as possible, through repair, recycling and redesign – so they can be reused again and again.

A circular economy infographic.

How the circular economy works.

Image: European Parliament

The World Economic Forum has created a series of initiatives to promote circularity.

1. Scale360° Playbook was designed to build sustainable ecosystems for the circular economy and help solutions scale.

Scale360° Playbook Journey

Image: Scale360° playbook

Its unique hub-based approach – launched in September – is designed to prioritize circular innovation while fostering communities that allow innovators around the world to share ideas and solutions. Emerging innovators around the world can connect and work ideas and solutions together through UpLink, the Forum’s open innovation platform.

Find out how the Scale360° Playbook can drive circular innovation in your community.

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2. A new Circular Cars Initiative (CCI) embodies the ambition of a more circular automotive industry. It represents a coalition of more than 60 car manufacturers, suppliers, research institutes, NGOs and international organizations committed to realizing this short-term ambition.

CCI recently released a new series of circularity roadmaps, developed in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), McKinsey & Co. and Accenture Strategy. These reports explain the specificities of this new circular transition.

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3. The World Economic Forum’s Accelerating Digital Traceability for Sustainable Production initiative brings together manufacturers, suppliers, consumers and regulators to jointly establish solutions and provide a supporting ecosystem to increase supply chain visibility and accelerating sustainability and circularity in the manufacturing and production sectors.

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The drive to recycle more has led to some unusual innovations. Here are five examples of things that would typically go to waste, put to good use.

1. Coffee grounds

The Belgian company PermaFungi claims to harvest around 900 kilos of mushrooms per month from used coffee grounds. The pomace is collected from local cafes and bagged with straw in a grow facility to create nutritious soil for the mushroom spores. Once harvested, the team delivers the mushrooms to organic stores and restaurants. “Belgians drink 5 kilograms of coffee a year, which is thousands of tons a year that is mostly thrown away, so the potential is huge,” the company’s chief executive, Stijn Roovers, told Reuters.

2. Tennis balls

The American company Recycleballs collects millions of tennis balls which are recycled into new products. According to the company, 125 million tennis balls end up in US landfills each year, which is 20,000 tons of nearly indecomposable rubber waste. Some balls are crushed and the felt is separated from the rubber. The rubber crumbs generated can then be used in the construction of tennis courts as well as horse riding arenas. Other balls are recycled into dog balls.

Infographic showing the need to recycle tennis balls.

125 million tennis balls end up in US landfills every year.

Image: RecycleBalls

3. Tubes

Cycle of Good is a Malawi-based company that collects and ships bicycle inner tubes from cyclists in the UK before they end up in landfills. A team of Malawian tailors then repurpose them into useful products like belts, wallets and tech cases. All spare cups of inner tubes are made into soft furniture for use by local schools.

4. Chewing gum

Two French students have come up with a scheme that turns discarded chewing gum into skateboard wheels. Backed by major brands Vans and Mentos, Hugo Maupetit and Vivian Fischer used special gum collection panels in Nantes, France to collect discarded chewing gum. The rubber is mixed with a binder and natural dyes before being molded into a skateboard wheel. “Our system may have started in Nantes, but it is designed to be used all over Europe! Through this collaboration, we can clean up cities and make them better, greener and more colorful for young people,” Maupetit and Fischer told Designboom.com.

5 steps to reproduce chewing gum.

How discarded chewing gum is turned into skateboard wheels.

Image: DesignBloom.com

5. Face masks

British company Waterhaul has launched a program to make waste pickers from recycled single-use face masks. The masks are melted down into plastic blocks which are then turned into waste collectors. The project has inspired beach clean-up projects in the UK as well as overseas. Waterhaul estimates that 129 billion face masks are used globally every month, many of which end up in the world’s oceans.


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