Sparks

A charming waste

 By Davide Perillo

The power of marketing is impressive. €250 for a pair of sneakers, a  bag for €450 and prices on a similar scale for jackets, armchairs and car seats. Not remarkable numbers you might think, until you consider that the raw material used to make them is a waste product, which is cheaper than leather or synthetic leather, does not involve killing animals or chemical compounds and comes from the circular economy…

The material is called Piñatex and is the brainchild of Spanish entrepreneur Carmen Hijosa, who set out to rediscover the techniques used by Filipino natives four centuries ago to convert pineapple waste into fabric. Now patented by Ananas Anam, a London-based company, it has already won several awards (including the Material Innovation Award 2018) and is taking an ever-growing share of the clothing and accessories market. Piñatex is an excellent example of the intra-company recycling trend which is gaining ground with the most environmentally and cost-conscious companies. Intra-company recycling sees production waste from one company being used by other companies, very often from completely different sectors, to make all manner of unimaginable products. The Piñatex shoes and jackets started life as discarded leaves left behind by farmers and the food industry. It might have taken Hijosa seven years to discover the right method, but now for every 500 leaves that would previously have gone up in smoke, her process can manufacture a square metre of ecological and biodegradable leatherette, and the waste from this process is then sent on to produce biomass.

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Companies like Ananas Anam and their wonderful products provide solutions to the damaging impact of the fashion industry on human health and the environment (ananas-anam.com)

Beer made of corn flakes and more

In the food sector there is nothing new about using production waste as a raw material for the production of lower grade food produce, animal feed for example, but what is surprising is the sheer level of creativity that has been born out of this circular economy boom. For Kellogg’s, what started out as an obsession about what to do with all the waste coming from those Corn Flakes or Rice Krispies that don’t pass quality control, perhaps because they are over or under cooked. But the concern got over when it occurred to them that malt was made from cereal. And so, they struck up an agreement with Salford brewery, Seven Bro7hers to recycle their unwanted Rice Krispies and Coco Pops into 440ml cans of 3 limited edition beers – Throw Away IPA, Sling It Out Stout and Cast Off Pale Ale, which experts say have “hints of chocolate and honey.” “Our primary objective is to convert every kilo of grain we buy into food,” explains Kate Prince, corporate social responsibility manager for Kellogg’s UK and Ireland. “However, perfection is impossible. At least in this way we are reducing our impact on the planet.” And evidence suggests this is a growing concern for companies. According to a survey by Brussels based FoodDrinkEurope, a European agri-food consortium, at least 8 out of 10 companies surveyed said they were aware of this issue. Welsh soft drinks producer, Get Wonky is just one of the companies featured in the consortium’s most recent report. To make their range of Flawsome drinks they extract juice from unsold but still edible fruit from supermarkets, which would otherwise be thrown away, and market it under simple but effective slogans like “From Misshapen to Marvellous.” A similar idea is being developed in the Netherlands by the Provalor company, where misshapen or dented fruit and vegetables that farmers struggle to sell on the market is transformed into juices and extracts. And nothing goes to waste here, they even manage to sell the left-over pulp to ready-made sauce producers. Another Netherlands based company, Sonnenveld has developed a system to produce yeast from bread production waste, putting it back into the production cycle to make cost savings. Scottish firm, CelluComp has found a use for sugar processing waste and a way to extract cellulose fibres from beet pulp to produce cosmetics and paints.

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Sling It Out Stout, Throw Away IPA e Cast Off Pale Ale di Seven Bro7hers (sevenbro7hers.com)

Waste, energy and fisheries

In France, Danone has brought 48 farmers together from the Gavot plateau in Haute-Savoie to develop a project that collects livestock manure to be transformed into 1.48 million cubic metres of biogas at a methane plant. The biogas is then fed into the energy production network, producing thousands of megawatts of energy and saving an estimated minimum of 2,000 tonnes of CO2. Meanwhile in Sweden, Unilever uses waste fatty acids from ice cream production as an added fuel in its plant boilers. While mayonnaise waste is being recycled more and more often to produce biodiesel. This concept of reclamation, recycling and working in partnership with other companies is spreading to other sectors, including the milk and dairy industry. The Beljie agricultural cooperative in Croatia takes the whey left at the end of processing (55 thousand tonnes from their Darda and Ivanić Grad plants) separates out the water, which would otherwise be thrown away, and sells it as a base for the production of biogas or pig feed, saving 70 thousand euros a year. While in the same country, meat producers have joined forces to recycle production waste, selling it to biogas plants or feed producers. Even the fishing industry, a sector under pressure and one where raw material is becoming scarce on a global level, is increasingly experimenting with forms of preventive recycling. The manufacturers of Sea Chips use often wasted salmon skin to create their crisps and prawn and crustacean shells have for some time been sources of chitosan, used to produce Craybon for textiles, similar to Corn fibre from corn scraps or Bionic Yarn from recycled plastic.

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Sea Chips are made using skin that is often discarded but rich in nutrients; 10% of the proceeds go to voluntary associations for the protection of the oceans (sea-chips.com)

Other people’s waste

And if direct recycling is not possible, you can always use other people’s waste to lower your own costs and waste. In Alsace, the Mars factory in Haguenau heats the cocoa paste used to make its chocolate bars with heat produced by a biomass incinerator a couple of kilometres away, arriving at the factory via a subterranean pipeline. Every year the company saves 60% of its energy and 8,700 tonnes of emissions. Back in Manchester, Kellogg’s upcycled cereal beers are just one aspect of its recycling approach. It also uses an ingenious pump system to capture the heat from cooling wastewater, cutting the hot water it uses to produce corn flakes and cereal bars by around a quarter and its gas emissions over the last ten years by 17%. A little further north, in Fawdon, food giant Nestlé has reduced waste to almost zero at one of its factories. Every day, up to 4 tonnes of confectionary production waste is processed again to get what they call “chocolate soup”. You can’t eat this soup, but by adding bacteria supplied by another company it is turned into biogas, meeting almost 8% of the factory’s energy needs and the remaining wastewater leaves the plant almost completely clean. These few examples are signs of a movement that is gaining critical mass. There is something of a culture shift taking place, where the term ‘waste’ is becoming synonymous with opportunity. This shift in thinking is contagious and has a trickle-down effect, with the idea of a virtuous circle moving from production lines to individual behaviour. In 2018, Nestlé launched an internal comms campaign urging its employees to cut down their waste in the company canteen. By simply providing staff with the option of a doggy bag to take their leftovers home instead of throwing them away, they have reduced the amount of food that ends up in the bin by 30%.

READ MORE: African creative ideas on recycling plastic by Eniday Staff

about the author
Davide Perillo