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

Living on a Landfill

In the rich West we usually forget where all the waste we throw away ends up, unless there is a landfill site not too far away from our house, in which case we might be concerned about potential health consequences, or the occasional unpleasant smell.

Yet around the globe hundreds of thousands of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, including many children, live and work on landfills and rubbish dumps, scraping a living from what the rich of their own societies throw away.

All live in desperate poverty with little in the way of health care or education, most are illiterate, and some will never have ever left the landfill on which they live.

In Indonesia over 2,000 families survive and make a living on the Bantar Gebang landfill outside Jakarta, typically earning the equivalent of £2.20 a day from the recyclables they scavenge. In Nicaragua, over a 1,00o people live and work on the huge La Chureca landfill, in a community which includes a school. At the Stung Meanchey landfill in Cambodia, 2,000 resident workers, more than 600 of them children, work, live, eat and play among the rubbish.

The disturbing winner of the CIWEM Environmental Photographer of the year 2011 competition depicts two young children clutching each other on a landfill in Kathmandu, Nepal. In the words of the photographer, Chan Kwok Hung:

“Every day they searched the junkyard for something useful that they can resell for money so they can buy food. If they don’t find anything their grandmother blamed them seriously. Unfortunately, they had found nothing for a few days, the little boy felt very hungry. I gave them some money and a biscuit after taking this photo. But who knows who will help them afterwards.”

The videos below show a child’s eye view of a life lived on two of the world’s landfills.

Photo by Marco Bullucci via Flickr

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Unsubscribe to Save Time, Stress, Waste & Money

Guest post by Rachel Papworth – decluttering coach and blogger at Green & Tidy, helping people with WAY too much stuff declutter and create homes they love, homes that support them to lives the lives they want to live.

A crucial element of managing clutter is mindfulness: noticing how you use your things, how you move them around your home, how you use your home. And constantly tweaking how your home is set up so that it works efficiently for you.

On Clear Your Clutter, Stay Clutter-Free and Live the Life You Want, I recommend that you don’t just delete unwanted emails, you make a point of unsubscribing. And you don’t just put unwanted mail in the recycling, you contact the company that sent it to you and request to be removed from their mailing list.

Of course, this only relates to companies that you’ve dealt with in the past. Stop direct mail from companies that you haven’t dealt with by registering with the Mailing Preference Service.

After writing my last blog post, about noticing how far I applied my own coaching when I decluttered my loft, I became even more mindful than usual. And, one day, I noticed myself slipping an unread catalogue from Dell computers into the recycling bin in my mail-opening station.  I realised that action had become automatic. I bought a computer from Dell years ago and, ever since, every time they send me a catalogue, I put it straight in the recycling bin.

So I pulled the catalogue back out, found an email address on it and sent an email asking to be unsubscribed. Within two days, Dell mailed back to confirm my unsubscription request.

Then I got rigorous about cancelling unwanted stuff that arrives through my door. I’ve cancelled sales catalogues from organisations of which I’m a member, hard copies of programmes from local theatres and cinemas (especially those that email me weekly, I don’t need hard copies too), catalogues from companies I’ve bought stuff from in the past . . . no more unwanted catalogues, less paper being wasted and less for me to do. Plus less temptation to flick through the pages and buy more stuff !

It takes a couple of minutes to email or phone each company. Time that I’ll get back cumulatively as I save a few seconds each day, not picking up catalogues from the mat and putting them in the recycling. As we rely less and less on snail mail, and more and more on electronic communications, cutting out catalogues and marketing mail means that, some days, I receive no snail mail at all.

Speaking of electronic communications – I got rigorous with my email inbox too. I noticed how often I was scanning and then deleting mails consistently from the same organisations. Given that I recommend to others that they unsubscribe rather than just delete, I wondered why I wasn’t practising what I preached.

So I took a look. I noticed that the emails in question usually related to my other business, Papworth Research & Consultancy Ltd. And that I was choosing not to unsubscribe due to a fear of ‘missing out’. What if, sometime in the future, there was something useful in one of these emails? Plus I was anxious about why I wasn’t finding them useful? Was it because I was out of touch, unaware of what was currently important?

Once I’d identified these fears, it was easy to let them go. Sure there might be something that I’d find useful one time. It’s not likely though, given how many such emails I’ve scanned and deleted. And how crucial would it be anyway? If the information was essential to me, I’d come across it elsewhere.

As for feeling concerned that I didn’t find the emails useful or interesting, the fact that I don’t is just an indication that they’re not relevant to the bits of my work that I’m passionate about. No-one’s interested, or an expert, in every aspect of their field. And trying to be is a surefire way to lose business, since you won’t be able to bring enough energy or knowledge to any one area.

Since then I’ve been clicking the unsubscribe link in emails, unsubscribing from groups on LinkedIn and other networks and altering my email preferences on a variety of websites.

Again, this takes a little time. Not only will I get the time back though, as I don’t have to deal with unecessary emails, I’ve also noticed a reduction in stress – both because there are fewer emails for me to deal with altogether, and because I receive fewer emails which trigger a sense that I should be finding them useful.

Join me in unsubscribing.

Rachel Papworth runs Green and Tidy. She helps people with WAY too much stuff declutter, and create homes they love, homes that support them in the lives they want to live. Rachel is a trained coach, with a degree in psychology, and self-obsessed decluttering and organising geek, she loves the way decluttering your mind and your stuff is interlinked and the contribution decluttering makes to living a low-impact life. For more tips on having a home that supports the life you want, subscribe to her blog at Green and Tidy, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Photo by Charles Williams, via Flickr

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

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Scrape Your Plate

177 - Food Waste

Imagine living in a closed room with seven other people.

One of the people in the room is malnourished and constantly hungry, another two are doing only slightly better.

But one of the other people in the room is much richer and more powerful than all the rest, and eats much more than everyone else – so much in fact that they are overweight and unhealthy.

The rich person is also very wasteful. Sometimes they hoard so much food for themselves that it goes rotten before they can eat it. They also throw perfectly good food away – more than enough to feed the hungry people.

Of course the earth is a closed room, and the gross unfairness of our current food system is clearer to see when we imagine just a roomful of people, rather than the world’s billions.

The scenario above comes from the book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal by Tristam Stuart, which disturbingly asserts that there is much, much more food grown in the world every year than needed to adequately feed everyone – but that the system we have for distributing this food is grossly unfair, resulting in hundreds of millions being left short of food and hungry.

The starkest illustration of this is in the food wasted in the world’s richest countries daily.

Some estimates put the total wastage of food produced as high as 50% or more – wasted by farmers, by processors, by wholesale distributors, by retailers, by restaurants and, of course, by us the consumer.

The causes are many and complex: we expect perfect quality (so cosmetically inferior produce is rejected), sell-by and use-by dates are often overly strict (often being based on preserving brand quality, rather than being derived on a health basis), we too frequently over-purchase (two for one offers, super-sized meals etc) and have a lack of imagination or desire to use our ‘left-overs’.

But the real problem is our attitude to food – in our own ‘rich worlds of plenty’, endless consumer choice and supermarket abundance, we seem to have lost touch with the real value of food ?

Throwing perfectly good food away is such a tremendous waste – not only of the food itself, but also of the fuel and energy, water, packaging, carbon emissions, pesticides and fertilizers, all used to grow, process, package, transport, store, and sell it, as well as dispose of the waste. There’s also the waste of land farmed to grow food for no purpose.

Throwing perfectly good food away while people are starving across the world is morally indefensible, but of course we can’t simply send the majority of our uneaten food to where it’s needed, it’s more complex than that.

Many foodstuffs are now traded internationally as commodities, from wheat to apples, pork to cooking oil. With increasing competition for food globally, as a result rising population, an increasing taste for Western style diets in several developing nations,  rising energy costs, and even honey bee decline, the market rates are steadily increasing. Everyone in the world has been noticing the increase in the cost of the food they buy – the difference is that most of us in the rich world are lucky enough to be able to afford to pay for it, while the world’s poorest are increasingly unable to properly feed their families! If the rich world bought less food from the global markets, there would be more left, and at lower prices, for the world’s hungry.

The stability and security implications for a country that can’t provide enough food for a large proportion of its population should be obvious.

What can we do ?

Buy only what we need.

Be less fussy about the appearance of what we buy.

Make sure we use all that we buy.

There are many ways we can do this – planning our meals better, being more mindful when shopping, getting better at managing our fridges and storing food, making better use of leftovers and managing our portion sizes better.

It’s not about finishing what’s on your plate – it’s about only buying, cooking and serving what we really need.

If we need even more motivation to ‘do the right thing’, we might also want to bear in mind that buying and wasting food also wastes our money !

He that gathered a hundred bushels of acorns or apples, had thereby a property in them, they were his goods as soon as gathered. He was only to look, that he used them before they spoiled, else he took more than his share and robbed others”.

John Locke the Father of Libralism

[More Ideas for ‘making a difference’ in my ebook The Year I Saved the World]

Photo Image used under Creative Commons License from Nick Saltmarsh, via Flickr

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