Zero Waste, and the recycling invention every circular economy home will have in 5-10 Years time.
Guest Opinion Piece By Aldous Hicks, CEO and Co-founder of ReCircle Recycling Ltd
One of the biggest threats to our planet is human beings and the way we live and consume. We burn coal, oil, gas, and wood for energy. We mine and exploit resources. These processes release tonnes of CO2 and other chemicals into the air, warming the atmosphere, melting the ice caps and rising sea levels. We’ve thrown 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic waste debris into the ocean so far. And we continue to tear down vital forests to make room for unsustainable, monoculture agriculture, pushing species to the brink of extinction. But it does not have to be this way. We need a circular economy, zero waste revolution by changing our attitude to how we consume.
As a civilisation, we know things have to change. The question is: what and how?
Amazingly there is not a lot we need to do to change. What we have to do is consider the cost and damage caused by our existing processes, like emitting CO2 and other chemicals into the atmosphere. To do this, for example a cost needs to be added to the emissions. This is easily said, though very difficult to achieve politically. So long as materials like plastics produced from raw materials (crude oil) do not include the cost of the damage they do the environment, these materials will continue to be used.
One way to compete against this unfair advantage is for more high-quality cost-competitive closed-loop recycled materials to be made available to manufacturers. Not only will this reduce emissions, and create a thriving industry of de-manufacturers – then businesses breaking down our waste into reusable products – will develop. This process has a name. It is called the circular economy and it is beginning to boom.
Ultimately, we need to develop a circular economy or ‘closed-loop’ economy, where the minimum amount of new materials is needed to make new products and existing products are reused and recycled indefinitely, if possible to create zero waste. The circular economy will decrease the amount of extracted and processed raw materials needed reducing per capita both the energy required and the damaging and costly emissions produced.
While the world population is still rising, we will still need more energy. It’s important to consider where we generate this energy, and how, in order to maintain the benefits of a closed-loop system. Infinitely recycling plastics is a start, but if we’re still burning coal, oil, gas and wood to power our other raw materials processing plants, factories and electrical power plants, then we’re still in trouble.
I also expect that green technology and eco-friendly home gadgets that will facilitate these changes will increasingly make their way into people’s homes. Empowering individuals to take responsibility for their environmental impact will lead to a tipping point – a critical mass of people all individually delivering a new paradigm.
Right now, these new technologies may seem fanciful and out-of-reach, but in time, definitely less than ten years and possibly five, they will become a cost-effective positive environmental contribution as part of our everyday lives. Just think back to how a microwave used to be seen as some futuristic invention for the super-rich. Now everyone has a microwave and you can pick one up for less than £20!
So, with that in mind, what eco- friendly, circular, zero waste homes recycling gadgets will we see entering homes over the next 10 years?
By 2050, it’s estimated that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. Cities will account for 80% of the increase in energy demand by 2030, according to research by LSE.
Fortunately, new storage batteries currently in development promise to unlock a range of in-home energy production methods. Batteries will then be able to store power at a local level and perhaps even distribute power across a community. But what will we use to generate the power?
Renewable energy is the most obvious solution within reach. Solar panels are constantly improving in efficiency and a number of companies are now developing solar tiles, such as Resilience Energy, which is a startup promising to cut energy bills by as much as 80%, and, most notably, Tesla who are also producing the batteries capable of storing all this renewable energy.
Rather than ugly black panels, the tiles will form the roof of your house, collecting energy from the sun while looking attractive. The benefit of solar tiles is that they can be retrofitted onto any property with a roof. A drawback, however, is the low energy production in less sunny countries.
New Wind Turbine Design
Wind turbines have proven contentious, with many arguing that they spoil the natural habitat, create disruptive noise, and can be dangerous. Individual wind turbines for houses are safer and quieter, yet they often aren’t very attractive and can’t generate all the required energy output.
New designs, however, could change all that. It’s easy to imagine fitting an attractive and super-efficient wind turbine to your roof – a piece of art that generates almost all the power a home needs.
Take the Liam F1 Urban Wind Turbine from Dutch tech firm, The Archimedes. The spiral design can be produced in a number of colours and shapes, resembling a big rotating flower. And at 80% efficiency, it is a forerunner of the high-efficiency turbines of the future.
I expect new, high-efficiency wind turbines will play an important role in energy generation, even if they need to be supplemented with other energy generation devices.
Bio-fuels have been used for centuries to generate light and heat by way of fire. Most modern bio-fuels rely on the same basic principle: collect flammable gases and liquids from organic sources and burn them for energy. But burning anything to create energy is likely to lead to more CO2 emissions, which feels like a step in the wrong direction.
Fortunately, scientists are working with species of bacteria and algae to make the process cleaner.
Microorganisms can break down organic material and CO2, passing the energy straight into a battery. Food waste and human excrement will feed the machine, providing energy-free sewage treatment and no need for composting. What’s more, the gases released by food and human waste can be captured before it’s released into the atmosphere.
I anticipate that within the next 10 years, we’ll all have one of these biofuel synthesisers fitted to our toilets and waste disposal pipes, turning our organic waste into clean energy. The Eco-friendly home gadget revolution is already underway!
Enabling a closed-loop economy means processing products and packaging back into their original form, or equivalent. The reason we can’t do this at the moment is the high cost and low-reliability of separating out different materials.
It takes just 0.5kg of PVC in 1,000kgs of PET plastic to spoil the batch, for example, yet how many of us can tell the difference? Separating materials on a bulk scale, however, is currently too difficult and expensive. As such, typically over 50% of what we put into the recycling bin is dumped in a landfill or the ocean.
However, many hands make light work, as the saying goes. If we can bring the guaranteed correct used-material separation and processing of products and packaging into the home, or place where the use-material is last used, then we can produce close to 100% pure materials ready to sell back to manufacturers.
ReCircle is currently working on eco-friendly home gadgets and business appliances which will do just that. It will use a sensor to ensure different materials are never put together. Then the near-pure used-materials are washed, ground or compacted to contaminant-free sized-reduced pure products ready for storage. The pure close-loop recyclable products will then be collected on-demand from homes when the storage containers are full. The pick-up service will be similar to the current Amazon styled home pickup service of returned goods. The products will be delivered straight to manufacturers to make back into products.
Using Materials in 3D Printer
While still in their infancy, 3D printers promise all kinds of efficiency savings as well as the construction of new energy-efficient products. Imagine being able to download a product blueprint and simply print it out. Such a system would reduce the energy needed to transport products to shops and homes, would reduce the industrial production of plastics to almost zero, and bring the responsibility of managing a product lifecycle into the hands of individuals.
What’s more, it may be possible to combine technologies like a recycling appliance and a 3D printer, ensuring that everything you print can be reprocessed into future ‘ink’ to make more products. Individual homes can instantly become closed-loop in themselves.
Progressing towards a closed-loop economy will require innovative and smart technology so individuals can see and benefit from the advantages. For example, once it becomes easy and attractive for us to recycle used-materials in the home, with the bonus of delivering a cash reward in addition to the convenience, time-saving and environmental benefits, then people’s attitudes to their used materials will be transformed. We will treat them like our clothes that need to be washed or dirty dishes. We will wash them and re-use them, again and again. People will see the value in their used-materials rather than seeing them as disposable.
It would also be great if government policy changed. If bureaucracy can enable rather than hold back circular economy developments, and if local government works with communities of engaged people, it will be possible to upgrade towns and cities for individuals’ and the community’s benefit. Similarly, it would be great if national governments would work together to support such changes. History suggests that local and national governments will not be at the forefront of must-have developments like the circular and zero waste economy. It will be driven by people power and new green tech, circular economy innovation.
And what about businesses? Disappointedly, in the last decade the emission reduction commitments made by many of the global leading FMCG brands, for example, have not been delivered. When it is clear the emission reduction commitments will not be met, a re-announcement with often lower emission commitments is made via the now customary green-wash media fanfare. As well, the time-delivery can is kicked down the road for another eight to ten years – out of sight and out of mind.
If virgin products do not include the cost of the damage to the planet caused by emissions our progress to the circular economy will be slower. Businesses need to be an active part of the move to a circular economy. With an open mind, they would see clearly that being part of, and especially a first mover in, the circular economy will be an opportunity to deliver justified higher profits.
The good news is that the new technologies will empower individuals and eco-friendly households to take the positive action they clearly want to take in their day to day life. Solar tiles, home wind turbines, bio-fuel synthesisers, closed-loop domestic recycling appliances and 3-D printers, among others will empower individuals to contribute actively to, and benefit from, the circular economy. And it won’t be because a local authority or national government or multi-nation corporate said so. Individuals will want to because they will benefit socially, environmentally and financially.
With the technology, we can take individual responsibility, be proactive and collectively redirect our consumer culture to contribute to and benefit from the must-have closed-loop/ zero waste/ circular economy. With technology, we can all start to look after our beautiful blue and green planet each doing a little bit every day and quickly change the world for the better.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aldous Hicks is the CEO and Co-founder of ReCircle Recycling Ltd. Aldous has over 30 years of business experience as a technology and software developer, project manager and mechanical engineer, including developing water and material recycling technology. He developed SOHO custom PC database software and prior to that worked with Mannesmann Demag AG, a multi-national German mechanical heavy engineering company.
Aldous has now turned his attention and expertise to the recycling economy, founding ReCircle to create a solution that will empower consumers while reversing the unsustainable and inefficient recycling system.
ReCircle Recycling Ltd (RRL) https://www.recirclerecycling.com/ aims to address the problem of contamination with our patented technology in the form of a recycling appliance.
The main function of the appliance, or “ReCircle”, is to ensure captured used-materials are kept separated with 100% accuracy. By keeping each type of used-material separated and pure, the appliance will ensure the inherent material value is not lost due to being mixed with other different materials – the major problem with the current recycling system.
By guaranteeing 100% purity of recyclable materials, ReCircle can;
● Remove the need for the current expensive and inefficient collection of co-mingled recyclables and the ensuing problematic sorting & separation processes.
● Guarantee 100% closed-loop recycling of glass, steel, aluminum and plastics (PET & HDPE) processed by the ReCircle appliance.
● Retain the value of used recyclable container materials, so they can be sold at a premium and successfully closed-loop re-manufactured after their useful life.
Edited by Alison Jane Reid.
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