A genuine circular economy is not possible without collaboration

The industrial symbiosis at Kalundborg is an example of collaboration in the circular economy

© Kalundborg Symbiosis Center

Turning waste into resources is one of the basic concepts of the circular economy. Consequently, some companies are looking into the possible reuse of their own products and by-products. But the best success stories in this field have been written by sometimes surprising associations, such as hair-dressing salons that combat oil slicks, or a carpet-maker that recovers fishing nets. Christian de Boisredon, the founder of Sparknews, takes a closer look.

The credo of the circular economy states that there is no such thing as waste, only resources waiting to be reused. As a consequence, certain companies, like Interface, are thinking about how their own used products and by-products can be reused. Even if the general public is not very familiar with this company, it is the world’s leading producer of modular carpets, and posted net revenues of $1.2 billion in 2018. This multinational has also distinguished itself by committing to the elimination of any negative impacts on the environment by 2020, a promise made in Mission Zero®, which was announced back in 1994.


Over the last 20 years, Interface has developed a complete recovery and recycling programme for its carpets by creating a carpet support containing 98% of recycled or biologically based materials (GlasBacRE®). In 2019, about 60% of the materials used in Interface’s carpets were recycled or biosourced. Since 1995, the company has avoided sending about 136 million kilograms of carpets to landfill sites and has slashed the waste produced by all its activities by 92%.


An inhabitant of Danajon in the Philippines collecting fishing nets abandoned on the shore © Net-Works


The most resounding successes in this field are the fruit of collaboration. Together with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Interface developed a programme to make carpets by recycling abandoned fishing nets. Interface worked with a consortium of organisations on the best way to use these fishing nets, which represented a deadly form of waste for marine fauna, to make its Net-Works carpets. The consortium included the ZSL NGO, the local Project Seahorse organisation for the protection of the environment and communities, the Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation microfunding organisation and Aquafil, a company specialised in recycled nylon.


The cooperation between all these players enabled the project to achieve positive results on the Danajon coast in the Philippines, and to be replicated in Cameroon in the meantime. To date, the inhabitants of the coastal villages have recovered 224 tonnes of fishing nets that have been transformed into raw materials to make Interface’s products and 2,200 families have joined the collection-based microfunding system.


The owner of the beauty salon in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield who collects hair © Les Coiffeurs Justes


Les Coiffeurs Justes has initiated another example of this type of collaboration. This association set up a collaborative collection with professional hairdressers in order to prevent waste hair from being incinerated. The hair recovered in salons in France is transported to a social work action centre in the Var department in “hair bags”. Some of the hair is stuffed into nylon stockings that are then used as floats for protection against oil slicks. Since hair naturally absorbs grease, these floats can absorb hydrocarbons. This surprising alliance has been extended on a regional scale, thanks to a consortium of regional members of Provence Verte.


The symbiosis at Kalundborg in Denmark is another fine example of an experiment, in which local players have joined forces to launch a transition. Located some 100 kilometres from the Danish capital, this industrial park was designed to use the waste from one company as resources for another. By way of example, Novozymes recovers the steam from the power station to produce enzymes. The power station also sends its waste gypsum to the neighbouring Saint Gobain Gyproc plant, which uses it as a raw material to make plaster.


Continew backpacks are made from the interiors of recycled cars © Continew


But, in my opinion, the collaboration that is necessary to break away from the linear model is not limited to alliances between businesses. The South Korean start-up Morethan recycles leather seat covers from car interiors and transforms them into new products, such as Continew-branded handbags and leather ware articles. While the partnership established with carmakers and major corporations was the key to the success of this project, it was also widely promoted by the singer of the boy band BTS, the top K-Pop group in Europe and the United States, who were the celebrities with the most comments on Twitter in 2017.


But there are too many examples like this to be mentioned in a single article. At Sparknews, we source thousands of examples, and we are convinced that these new alliances, where one man’s waste is another man’s resource, will make the circular economy revolution really happen. If you are part of a collaborative initiative, then please tell us about it in the comments!


A comment is required