The NEXT Industrial Revolution

A guest post by Alastair Sloan, a social entrepreneur and journalist, and writer of the ‘serious and fun’ blog: Alastair Sloan.

At the beginning of this year, Ellen MacArthur set out a vision for a “circular economy” to the world leaders and CEOs assembled at Davos. Her foundation had teamed up with McKinsey to deliver a report challenged our current economic model of “take-make-dispose,” and proposed an alternative manufacturing mindset – “what happens to this when my customer finishes using it?” Her video, well worth a watch before you read further, shows how a “circular economy” takes inspiration from the energy cycles we see in nature.

Reducing waste is a topic I’m particularly passionate about. It’s why I founded The Living Furniture Project, which takes unwanted furniture from around London and upcycles it, employing homeless people to do the work. Last year in the UK, households threw out 670,000 tonnes of furniture. Research by Wrap showed that 45% was re-usable. This social enterprise is a good example of how re-use can not only reduce landfill reliance, but also create jobs by cycling materials back around the economy. It finds inspiration in other re-use schemes, like theLondon Re-use Network and re-use centres in Flanders, Belgium.

The Living Furniture Project will only scratch the surface. The UK landfills more than any other European country, and in 2018 we will completely run out of space for waste. We are so accustomed to dealing with these mountains of rubbish, that we easily forget that we are the only species that has to create landfill. Mother nature is far smarter than us, and as a consequence 100% efficient – every ounce of biomatter lives, dies, decomposes, is eaten and lives again. It’s a continuous cycle that sustainability visionaries William McDonough and Michael Braungart call “waste = food” (watch their film of the same name to understand this more).

The argument for moving to this “circular economy” is compelling – not just because of the obvious impact in areas like climate change, but because it makes commercial sense. Linear consumption (the status quo) is by its nature risky; it puts your business at the mercy of fluctuating commodity prices. And as resources dwindle, competition becomes even fiercer, and weaker companies will flounder.

Now imagine a product that is designed from re-usable materials, and in such a way that it can be easily disassembled. In that business model you can sell a product (for example, a running shoe), collect back all or part of the shoe (perhaps the sole, as Nike are currently exploring), restore it at a fraction of the price and sell it back to the same customer – you’ve made the same sale twice.

The McKinsey report estimated that this kind of innovation could create savings in Europe alone of $630bn. Taking mobile phones as an example, handsets which were easier to disassemble and re-use would be 50% cheaper than current models.

But if you must produce waste, don’t worry. Industrial by-product can be a commercial opportunity too, so long as you adopt circular design principles. A good example is Swiss textile factory Rohner, which before 1991 was creating huge amounts of harmful chemical waste. The chemicals used in the inks and wools meant that waste disposal was an expensive burden to the business. But working with McDonough and Braungart, they radically changed their manufacturing process to only use materials which hadn’t been chemically treated in any way. Once the change was made, the only waste the factory produced was 100% biodegradable. This meant the by-product of the manufacturing process could now be sold to local farmers as a fabric to protect their crops in winter (see picture below). Sales of this fabric represented a third of the $8m revenues generated by the factory over the following three years.

Harvard Business Review has looked at the relationship companies are seeing between waste reduction and profitability, and noted two effects. Companies are consistently more profitable when they reduce waste, and additionally are attracting a much higher calibre of managerial talent, who are particularly interested to address these kind of sustainability challenges. This high-quality talent has a huge knock-on effect across the business, with innovative thinking being applied in other areas and creating yet more profitability.

The argument for “the circular economy” continues if you look at the increasing sophistication of our information technology systems. A shift to globalised production has required digital solutions to managing complex supply chains that can stretch from Taipei to California, and back again.

These systems can be put to use immediately, in preparing the groundwork for a shift to cradle to cradle production. Companies can easily scrutinize every screw, plastic and thread in a product – and work out exactly where it’s from, what it’s made of and where it’s going to. This heightened visibility means that for a company to move to a circular model of production, they should have all the information at their fingertips to create a strong implementation plan.

There has also been a shift in consumer thinking, that strongly favours the case for change. In 2012, popular sentiment tipped in favour of sustainability, with over half of consumers now saying that sustainable production is “very important” or “important” to them (Euromonitor).

Indeed, the “green economy” in the UK grew 4.7% last year (in stark contrast to other sectors suffering in the downturn), and now constitutes 8% of our national GDP.

This kind of consumer support is critical, as the required changes to consumer mindsets are radical. One of the major changes is around expectations of ownership, with more focus on “leasing and returning” and less on permanent ownership of goods.

For example, your washing machine could be “issued” on a 5 year lease and then returned to the manufacturer for “refreshing” and re-sale. McKinsey forecast that high-end washing machines would become accessible for nearly all households if they were leased instead of sold—customers would save roughly a third per wash cycle, and the manufacturer would earn roughly a third more in profits.

This might set alarm bells ringing for many -  what happens if the company wants their product back when you would rather keep it?

But the reality is we already live, to some extent, with these kind of arrangements. The percentage of American cars leased rather than owned has grown from 7% in 1990 to 20% in 2010. At one point, in 1999, nearly one in four American cars were not owned by their driver.

In 2009, Amazon Kindle users discovered that ebooks they thought they owned, were in fact only leased. In a spat with a publisher, Amazon had decided to recall copies of Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm” which disappeared overnight from Kindles all around the world.

It sparked consumer outrage, but Amazon pointed out the small print and showed that they were within their rights as ebooks were, in fact, leased not owned. Outrage aside, when we consider that this leasing arrangement had quietly existed for two years beforehand, before being questioned in an isolated incident, leasing rather than owning property doesn’t seem like such an outlandish idea. And even since the scandal, ebook sales have been soaring, now outstripping paperbacks by 14%.

The circular economy has been tested and intitally seen positive results. Over the past ten years, McDonough and Braungart have implemented their “cradle to cradle” concept with high-profile manufacturers including Nike, Ford and Nestle (see the video below).

However, working with the Chinese government to build a series of much-vaunted “eco-towns,” they failed to get convincing results. But this had more to do with the challenging Chinese business environment, especially for foreigners, rather than subverting the guiding principles of circular economics (for an excellent analysis by Christina Larson, see here).

It would constitute a total dismantling of the modern economic system. It’s been called “the next industrial revolution.” But the circular economy makes sound commercial sense. Companies have systems available now to start quietly exploring their options. Consumers are clearly asking for it. And building on the trials that “cradle to cradle” pioneers have now made, the possibility of a new era of industrial design, inspired by ecology, looks increasingly likely.


Similar articles – Meet Ellen MacArthur, Love Your Stuff, Can Christmas Still Really Change the World ?Buy Nothing DayTop 10 Anti-Consumerist Must Haves

Photo by USACEPublicAffairs, via Flickr

Meet Ellen MacArthur

The next few ‘Foto Friday’ posts will focus on individuals who are currently working in their own way to try and make a positive difference in the world.

Dame Ellen MacArther holds the world record for the fastest single-handed circumnavigation of the globe, and after leaving professional sailing in 2010 set-up the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The Foundation works with schools and businesses to promote the idea of the circular economy – including cradle-to-cradle reuse of materials, sustainable resource use, replacement of fossil fuels and building better communities.

The Foundation’s Sense and Sustainability handbook for schools is available for download.

Photo Wikicommons

Eco-Decluttering – What to do with it ? G to Z

Guest post by Rachel Papworth – decluttering coach and blogger. Third and final post in a series on eco-decluttering – Read parts One and Two.

I’m Rachel Papworth, from Green and Tidy. I help people with WAY too much stuff, declutter and create homes they love, homes that support them to live the lives they want to live. In this final post of the series, I look at more specific types of ‘ex-clutter’.


Glass is collected by all local authorities both from kerbsides and glass banks.

However, if a bottle is returnable, return it rather than recycle it. So return milk bottles for example. Remember, reuse is higher up the hierarchy than is recycling.

Wash bottles and jars and remove lids. Metal lids can go into can banks. Click here for advice on disposing of corks.

When using bottle banks, put the glass in the correct banks by colour. Blue glass goes in with green glass.

Only use bottle banks during the day, to avoid disturbing people who live nearby.

Reuse or recycle the bags and boxes you brought the glass in. And of course, avoid littering the area around the glass bank with them.

Glasses (spectacles)

Vision Aid Overseas collected unwanted glasses (though not cases). Every optical practice in the UK and Ireland can get glasses to Vision Aid Overseas free of charge. You can phone Vision Aid Overseas on 01293 535016 to find out which optical practices in your area collect for them.

The highest quality glasses (about ten per cent of those collected) are used in its international development programme, while the remainder are recycled.

Broken jewellery

Single earrings, broken chains, jewellery with bits missing, stopped watches…Bags of broken jewellery go fast on my local Freecycle, taken by people and charities that remake the pieces into new jewellery.

Or you can post it to Marie Curie Cancer Care, Freepost, Central Recycling, where donations are hand sorted by a professional recycling company, which sells valuable pieces and breaks-up/melts down damaged items for sale to a specialist scrap merchant.

Another option is to request a freepost bag from Jewellery Recycling. Pop your broken jewellery in the bag and send it back to them. They’ll sort it and turn it into cash for charity and you can specify the charity (or type of charity) you’d like the money to go to.

Jam jars

While glass jars can be recycled in the same way as other glass, and metal lids can be recycled with cans, jam jars can also be reused. And remember that reuse is higher up the hierarchy than recycling.

Jam jars with lids can be used to hold homemade jam while jars without lids can be used as candle holders. If you don’t want to use them yourself, you could offer them on your local Freecycle.

Light bulbs

Put incandescent light bulbs into landfill, not glass banks.

Low energy light bulbs on the other hand must not go into landfill as they contain mercury. Contact your local Council to ask where to dispose of them.

If you break a low energy light bulb:

  • Open a window or ventilate the room.
  • Put the broken bulb in a sturdy (though not necessarily airtight) plastic bag.
  • Wipe the area with a damp cloth and place the cloth in the plastic bag with the broken bulb.
  • Use sticky tape to pick up small residual pieces of powder from soft furnishings, and add the tape to the plastic bag.
  • Seal the bag.
  • Place the bag in another, similar bag and seal that one too (this minimises cuts from broken glass).
  • Dispose of the sealed bag as advised by your local Council.

Mobile phones

There are loads of organisations that will buy your mobile phone and either sell it on to developing countries or, if it’s beyond use, recycle it. And there are a variety of websites that enable you to find the best deal for the make and model you’re looking to sell. Just type ‘sell mobile phone’ into a search engine.

Organic kitchen or garden waste

Here’s Recycle Now’s guide to composting. If you don’t have a suitable space for a compost bin, an option which takes up less space, and can even be kept inside is a wormery.

Contact your local Council to find out whether they collect organic waste for composting (and encourage them to do so if not!), and/or where to take garden waste.


Community RePaint is an award-winning UK network of over 50 community-based paint reuse schemes, managed by an employee-owned, non-profit distributing environmental consultancy called Resource Futures. Unwanted paint is redistributed to local charities, community and voluntary groups and individuals in social need.

Find out what type of paint you can donate here and where to donate here.


It’s easy to get most paper recycled. Most, if not all, Councils collect it, plus there are paper recycling banks all over the place.

There’s no need to remove staples, glue, paper clips (though you could remove them for re-use) or plastic windows from envelopes, unless you are specifically told to by your Council.

Not all local authorities recycle envelopes as some paper mills can’t process the types of glue used in envelope production. Check directly with your Council or Recycle Now.

Plastic windows aren’t normally a problem for paper mills as the window can usually be screened out during the manufacturing process. Check your Council’s recycling guidelines to see if you need to remove these.

Padded ‘jiffy’ envelopes can’t usually be recycled. You can reuse them though. Just stick a piece of paper over the old address. And, if you’ve got a lot of them, I find it easy to get rid of them through Freecycle.

You might like to remove stamps though.

Shred any paper with personal information on it, to protect your identity from theft. There is conflicting advice around as to what counts as personal information. Some people go so far as to shred anything that has so much as their name, or their email address on it. Some also feel that you should shred credit card receipts that show only the last four digits of your card number.

There’s also conflicting advice about how to shred. Some people feel that a strip-cut shredder is adequate, others than you should use a cross-cut shredder (which cuts in two directions, reducing paper to diamonds rather than strips).

Bear in mind though that shredded paper is less valuable for recycling than non-shredded paper and that this is even more true of cross-cut shredded paper. The reduction in the length of the fibres reduces the quality of the recycled paper that can be produced.

Not all Councils collect shredded paper. If yours doesn’t, you might be able to avoid sending it to landfill by using it as animal bedding (mixed with straw) or composting it. Or you could offer it on Freecycle for such uses.

If you are shredding credit card receipts, remember that thermal paper can’t be recycled, so you shouldn’t put the pieces in with other shredded paper going for recycling.

Opened cosmetics and toiletries

It’s worth offering these on Freecycle.


Plastics present several recycling challenges, including the fact that different types of plastic can’t be recycled together. The different types of plastic are identified by Plastic Identification Codes (PICs), as shown in the table on this webpage.

Nonetheless, more and more local authorities are now accepting plastic bottles via recycling banks or kerbside collections. When recycling plastic bottles, you will usually need to remove lids (and put them into landfill) and wash & squash the bottles. If they have a loosely-attached paper label, I remove this before washing, and put it in the paper recycling.

Reduce the number of plastic bottle you use by avoiding buying bottled water. Buy a good quality water bottle instead and fill it with tap water. UK mains tap water supply is totally safe to drink and of extremely high quality: one of the best in the world. In taste tests across the UK, people can rarely tell the difference between bottled water and tap water if they are served the same way (fresh from the mains and cool).

Some also accept carrier bags. And there are carrier bag collection points in most Sainsburys, Tescos and Somerfields. Try to reduce your use of carrier bags though. Take durable shopping bags with you when you go shopping and turn down offers of carrier bags. Remember reuse is higher up the waste hierarchy than reuse or recycling.

Contact your local Council or check Recycle Now‘s searchable database to find out what plastics are recycled in your area.

Printer and toner cartridges

Printer and toner cartridges are collected by a wide range of local and national charities, to raise funds. Some such organisations are listed here.

Safety pins

Some dry cleaners will accept safety pins as they use them to attach labels to garments.


Most UK Councils collect food and drink cartons, otherwise known as tetrapaks. Check Recycle Now‘s searchable database for the situation in your area.


In some local authority areas, there are Toy Banks on the street for complete, reusable toys, including teddies, dolls, games and battery-operated toys. The toys are distributed within the UK or taken to Pakistan, where they are cleaned, repaired if necessary, and sold on at affordable prices, to raise money for charity.

Used stamps

Many local and national charities collect used stamps to raise money. Just put “used stamps” into an internet search engine.

Vinyl records

Some charities, such as Oxfam and the British Hearth Foundation, run specialist charity shops for music, including vinyl records.

Anything else?

I’m committed to helping people reduce their environmental impact. If you know of other ways to move on unwanted goods, please tell me about it via my contact form so I can spread the word.

And, if there’s something you’re struggling to find a way to dispose of, let me know and I’ll see if I can find an eco-friendly solution. You’re probably not the only one. Visit my site at Green and Tidy.

Photo by London Looks via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES Eco Friendly Decluttering , Eco Friendly Decluttering: What to Do With It ? A to F

Eco-Decluttering – What to do with it ? A to F

Guest post by Rachel Papworth – decluttering coach and blogger. Second post in a series on eco-decluttering – Read Part One here.

I’m Rachel Papworth, from Green and Tidy. I help people with WAY too much stuff, declutter and create homes they love, homes that support them to live the lives they want to live. In this second post of a series of three, I look at a number of ways to move on specific types of ‘ex-clutter’.


Reduce being higher up the waste hierarchy than recycling, reduce your battery use by using rechargeable batteries wherever possible, recharging your batteries with a solar powered recharger, running electrical equipment from the mains whenever possible, and buying appliances that use renewable energy, such as wind-up or solar powered devices.

Shops selling more than 32kg of batteries a year (approx 345 x four-packs of AA batteries) are legally obliged to provide battery recycling collection facilities in-store.

Check Recycle Now‘s searchable database to find out how to recycle batteries in your area.


Recycle Now provides information on how to dispose of unwanted bicycles.


Charity shops do a brisk trade in books and some, such as Oxfam and the British Heart Foundation, have specialist shops to sell them.

Contemporary fiction sells well at car boot/tabletop sales.

There are a variety of websites for giving away and trading books. They include BookCrossing, Read It Swap It, BookMooch and BookHopper. While they’re not the quickest way to move books on, they can be fun. And, as this article explains, I found that becoming a Bookcrosser cured my tendency to hoard books.

Brita water filters

Click here for Brita’s searchable database of shops with recycling bins for its filters.

Candle wax

Offer candle wax on your local Freecycle networks. People take it to make into new candles.


Wash and squash food and drink cans and put them in a can bank or your Council’s collecting boxes. I remove paper labels before I open food cans and put the labels in the paper recycling.

CDs, DVDs, audio cassette tapes, VHS video cassette tapes, computer games, hard drives

MusicMagpie buys secondhand CDs, DVDs and games, to sell on.

The Recycling People take CDS, DVDs, audio cassette tapes, VHS video tapes, computer games and hard drives, for recycling. There is a charge for recycling audio cassettes tapes and VHS video tapes. As they charge a standard rate up to certain number of items, if you haven’t got the full number of items you’d be paying for, it would be worth banding together with others and splitting the cost.

You can send CDs and DVDs (at your own expense) to RecyclingCDs to be recycled or refashioned into clocks.

Gardeners use CDs and DVDs as bird-scarers so they’re worth offering on Freecycle, even if they’re not playable. Make sure they don’t contain personal data though.

Charity bags

All those charity bags that plop through your letterbox can easily become clutter. Of course, one way to avoid this is to fill them up and put them out for collection. Watch out for scams though.

If you haven’t got stuff to go in them though, or you don’t want to dispose of your stuff this way, you’re stuck with them as empty bags are rarely collected in my experience.

You can also recycle them in the same way as carrier bags.

If they’re from a charity that has a shop near to me, I usually drop them back in when I’m passing in the hope that they’ll be reused (as reuse is higher up the waste hierarchy than recycling).

Clothes, shoes and textiles

Charity shops and on street Clothes Banks and Shoe Banks are an obvious place to take unwanted clothes and textiles.

Do your clothes need repairing? Maybe you’d wear them if you had the time or skills to mend or alter them. If so, how about joining a Local Enterprise Trading Scheme or Time Bank. You build up credits by offering another skill and could spend them on having your clothes altered or repaired.

Most charity shops will also accept unwearable/unusable clothes, which they sell on as rags for recycling. Just label the bag ‘rags’.

In some local authority areas, bras can go into a Bra Bank from where Against Breast Cancer will collect them, sending wearable ones to traders in developing countries, and recycling unwearable ones.

Similarly, you can post unwanted bras to BreastTalk, which sends wearable ones to homeless and under-privileged women in the UK and overseas, and recycles damaged one into quilts for homeless charities and the emergency services.

Don’t forget that textiles made entirely from organic fibres (wool, silk, cotton, hemp, linen/flax) can go in your compost bin or wormery, and can even be made into wormery moisture mats.


Are they the type you get from the dry cleaners? Some dry cleaners will take them back for reuse.

Otherwise charity shops are often glad of them for displaying clothes for sale.


Recycle Now provides advice on what to do with unwanted computers.

Corks from wine bottles

Even if you don’t fancy making a cork board (a noticeboard made out of used wine corks) yourself, someone in your area probably does so collect up your corks and offer them on Freecycle.

Some bowling greens put used corks in the ditch around their greens so it might be worth contacting your local club to see if they want them.

Electrical items

Electrical items can be problematic for charity shops because they have to pay to make sure they will pass a PAT (Portable Appliance Test) before they can sell them. And, if they can’t, they’ve lost money. Nonetheless, some charity shops do take them (and even collect them), including the British Heart Foundation and Emmaus.

Broken/not-working electrical items might be useful to Freecyclers for parts.

Otherwise, contact your Council, or check Recycle Now‘s searchable database to find out which municipal recycling sites have a section for electrical items.

Electrical items go through an impressive range of processes to sort out the various types of material they contain.


Food can be offered on Freecycle, even if it’s opened or out of date.

Alternatively, raw vegetable matter can be composted in a compost heap/bin and all types of food (including meat and cooked food) can be composted in a worm composter.


The Emmaus movement enables people to move on from homelessness. Residents work full-time collecting, renovating and reselling donated furniture. This work supports the community financially and enables residents to develop skills and rebuild their self-respect. This page gives information on what goods your nearest centre takes and whether they collect.

The Furniture Reuse Network is a national body which supports, assists and develops charity reuse organisations across the UK. Its website has a searchable database of reuse organisations with social and/or environmental aims.

Photo by Timtak via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES – Eco Friendly DeclutteringEco Friendly Decluttering: What to Do With It? G to Z

Eco-Friendly Decluttering

Guest post by Rachel Papworth – decluttering coach and blogger. First of a series on eco-decluttering

I’m Rachel Papworth, from Green and Tidy. I help people with WAY too much stuff, declutter and create homes they love, homes that support them to live the lives they want to live.

Reducing clutter simplifies life. Plus regularly and frequently reviewing your stuff, and moving stuff on, helps you  let go of the past, mentally as well as physically.

Decluttering and organising saves time and money. You can find anything you own quickly and easily, you don’t buy duplicates because you know what you’ve got, and you can fit everything you own in the space you have so you don’t have to pay for off-site storage.

And decluttering reduces your environmental impact. By decluttering, you keep stuff in circulation, rather than hoarding and storing it. So other people can use it rather than buying new. Plus you need less space because you’ve got less stuff. And you consume less because you don’t buy duplicates.

For me, decluttering and organising are a key element to living a low impact life.

Yet, at the same time, being green-minded can be a disincentive to declutter. Green-minded people can struggle to part with things before they’ve totally worn them out. Even more so if it seems unlikely an item will get reused by someone else.

We end up hoarding things because we can’t bear to send them to landfill and we don’t know what else we can do with them.

I’ve collated some ways to reuse and recycle goods in general, and ways to move on specific things. This post covers general approaches. Next week, I’ll cover some specifics.


In the reduce, reuse, recycle waste hierarchy, reuse comes before recycle.

If you’re committed to being as eco-friendly as possible, of course you only recycle goods that no-one is able/willing to reuse.

So the first thing to consider when moving something on is whether it can be used by someone else. Ways to get stuff to people who might use it include:

  • Giving to family/friends. This could be as birthday gifts or gifts for other special occasions (regifting), or just passing them on for no particular reason (check they actually want the items though. They may feel cluttered too!
  • Donating goods to charity shops. You can find out where there are charity shops near you and get information on the sort of goods they accept here. Don’t leave goods outside charity shops while they’re closed as your bags may get torn open and the goods end up all over the street and/or stolen. If you’re in the US, you can deduct the value of goods you donate to charity from your tax. Click here for details.
  • Selling through, for example, ebay, Gumtree, Amazon, local classified ads or a car boot/tabletop sale.
  • Websites for trading goods, such as Swapshop.
  • Websites for giving stuff away, including Freecycle, Freegle, AnyGoodToYou, EcoBees, JunkSniper. You can give away a wider range of goods on these sites than charity shops can sell. For example, through my local networks, I’ve either given away or accepted:
  • - Broken jewellery
  • - Corks from wine bottles
  • - Empty jam jars
  • - Opened cosmetics/toiletries
  • - Food
  • - Broken electrical items
  • - Empty plastic yoghurt pots
  • - Empty cardboard shuttlecock tubes
  • - Empty plastic thread reels
  • - Candle wax.

You can find more advice on Freecycling here.

Some people leave their unwanted goods outside their home, perhaps with a ‘please take’ notice on them. Bear in mind that, though this can be a quick and easy way to move stuff on, technically it’s fly-tipping. Plus, if it rains or the goods stay outside for several days, they can deteriorate beyond use. Not to mention be unsightly for your neighbours.


Different Councils collect different materials for recycling. Find out what your Council collects, and what you can take to local recycling sites by visiting Recycle Now and entering your postcode.

Recycle Now also tell you how your goods are recycled so, if (like me) you’re a recycling geek, have a nose around it.

Recycle This has been running since 2006 with the aim of finding and sharing ways to recycle things.

Photo by Kodomut