Unsustainable production and consumption patterns are directly linked to the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, requiring innovative solutions to address these key environmental issues. Presently, 13% of the global food supply is wasted post-harvest before it even reaches the retail market, a figure that rises to 30% when the consumer market is included. Solid waste treatment and disposal is also damaging to the environment, as our current systems result in an estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide being released, or 5% of the global carbon emissions. It is also estimated that 75 to 199 million tonnes of plastic, a material greatly used and quickly disposed of, have accumulated in our oceans.
To tackle key environmental issues such as excess waste and poor waste management, The Earthshot Prize was launched by Prince William and David Attenborough, seeking to identify and help scale up the solutions created by eco-innovators that will help repair and regenerate the planet by 2030. The Earthshot Prize, Roadmap to Regeneration, sets out the priorities for the five Earthshots, including the ‘Build A Waste Free World’ category. Each year, one winner is chosen per each category with two other shortlisted finalists.
The ‘Build A Waste Free World’ Earthshot states “By 2030 we choose to build a world where nothing goes to waste, where the leftovers of one process become the raw materials of the next – just like they do in nature.” The shortlisted initiatives for this category are innovators whose projects align with the category’s main objectives including eliminating food waste, single-use packaging and urging people, businesses and industries to reuse, repurpose and recycle materials.
The prize in this category was awarded to the project who eliminates single-use plastics and packaging; cities making their waste management system more sustainable; or those who reuse materials that would have otherwise made its way into landfill.
The three innovations from the ‘Build A Waste Free World’ category provide insights into key global problems outlined by some of the SDGs including Sustainable Cities and Communities, Responsible Consumption and Production, and Life Below Water. They also provide a roadmap to Itriom clients as to initiatives they may seek to support or create to contribute to solving these issues leaving behind a positive impact and lasting legacy.
The winner of the ‘Build A Waste Free World’ category, Notpla, was rewarded for their efforts to combat excess amounts of plastic packaging. Globally, it is estimated only 9% of all plastics ever produced have been recycled and only 12% had been incinerated. The remaining plastic waste makes its way into landfills or is dumped in the ocean. The litter accumulates, the largest example of ocean plastic accumulation being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and adversely impacts the marine life and environment including micro and nano plastics moving along the food chain.
As a sustainable alternative, Notpla have created alternative plastic consisting of seaweed plants. The material is natural and biodegradable and can be utilized in different packaging products including a bubble to hold liquids, coating for food containers and a paper material for the cosmetic industry. The company is already supplying boxes for takeaway food, and at the 2019 London Marathon provided their liquid filled bubble, the Oohos, to be handed to runners.
The impact of the alternative plastic is numerous. Not only does it remove excess plastic waste from landfills and waterways, but the seaweed farmed captures carbon twenty-times more efficiently than trees. The seaweed farms also boost fish populations creating new opportunities for fishing communities. With work underway to find new usages of the plastic alternative, scaling up Notpla and similar projects could provide an answer to ending the use of single-use plastic packing that continually accumulate in the environment.
Hundreds of millions of people and wildlife rely on the Ganges River as a life source, making it one of the most populated river basin in the world. It is a sacred site for Hindus, but also the main source of water for growing cities, agriculture and industry in the area. However, the river is also the second most populated in the world.
During a Hindu festival in 2015, the founders of Phool, a company in India, saw Hindu pilgrims drinking the polluted water as well as flowers grown using large amounts of pesticides being dumped in the river. After identifying this issue, they began their business by turning the floral waste that is dumped into the Ganges River into incense sticks. During the production process the employees noticed a thick substance growing over the unused fibres in their factor and discovered they could turn this mat-like substance into a sustainable alternative to animal and plastic leather. The alternative was coined, Fleather, and can be used to replace both animal and plastic materials that are environmentally damaging.
To date, Phool has collected around 13,000 tonnes of floral waste. Using this, they can turnover 90 square feet of Fleather daily, while still producing other products like incense. The production of this leather alternative not only reduces waste and aims to help clean the Ganges River, but has positive social impacts as well; the factory currently employs 163 women from the Dalit caste, a group who are often marginalized, to collect the flowers from the River, with the aim of eventually employing a total of 5,000. Companies with a vision like Phool to address issues local to them can be identified and scaled up across different regions, with the ultimate goal of removing waste from all of our natural environments.
In 2020, the City of Amsterdam committed to becoming a fully circular economy, where zero-waste is produced and everything is recycled by 2050, becoming the first city to do so. To reach the goal of halving the use of raw materials in 2030, and being fully circular in 2050, the city aims to cut waste in three key areas: food and organic waste, consumer products, and construction of the built environment. The Circular Monitor, a system built by the City of Amsterdam, is used to track all the material streams in the city and provides the data to help prioritise which materials need to be addressed to make the economy circular.
The city is already finding opportunities to cut waste and extend the life cycle of products through rethinking and redesigning the usage of materials. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they worked with local textile businesses to lower the cost of clothing repairs by 80%, therefore encouraging residents to fix damaged clothes and re-use them, instead of buying new. Amsterdam has even begun recycling artificial grass and designed new grass pitches to be more long-term. The changes the city are implementing provides a blueprint for others, on how to reduce waste and become more sustainable for the future.
Alizah Beg is a Sustainability Consultant in Itriom’s London Office.
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Alizah is an ESG Consultant and researcher. She supports Itriom developing sustainability related products and services, helping our clients identify potential opportunities for creating positive environmental, social and sustainable impact.
Georgie is an ESG Analyst and researcher. She researches trends, develops insights and reports, and writes insight articles on sustainability and ESG related topics to ensure Itriom’s clients are up to date on the latest policy, progress and initiatives to inform the platform and help our clients maximise their positive impact.
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