Spring Fair | Are businesses rethinking their relationship with waste?

Spring Fair | Are businesses rethinking their relationship with waste?

From traditional candlemakers and crafting specialists to robotic 3D printing hubs based in the Kent countryside – Spring Fair has forever been the site for eclecticism manifest. But if there was one unifying theme to take home this year, it’s that businesses are going through a big re-think over their relationship with waste.

Whether it is being nudged closer through financial incentives or simply a core principle of a brand’s ethos, the value of waste is not only beginning to be better perceived but, in some cases, even unlocked as slowly the consumer products sector edges towards an economy more circular.

The SME sector is not only where innovation blossoms, but where communities around brands and their stories can be built. And increasingly, as a growing number of brands re-evaluate their relationship with materials, so too do their relationships with customers and communities evolve in tandem.

The Recycled Candle Company, for example, engages with local communities – through churches, schools, and other community spaces – to act as a collection point for any and all used or old candles and their components (including metal and glass containers) which it will then process to be either recycled with Terracycle or melted down and used to create brand new ranges of candles.

Meanwhile, an innovator in the spectacles sector, Waterhaul is building a community of Cornish locals who will report ‘ghost gear’ sightings – areas where fishing gear has been left abandoned on Cornish beaches – to be collected by the team and used in the manufacture of its range of glasses frames.

In both cases, these are businesses acting to provide a solution and a service to local areas while recouping value from resources… that they haven’t even paid for to begin with. In fact, The Recycled Candle Company gets paid by Terracycle per metric tonne of materials it provides it, which might explain why everyone on the stand was so happy.

Elsewhere, Trashy Bags Africa is working with organisation on the ground in Ghana to collect plastic waste produced by the country’s reliance on plastic pouches for affordable and drinkable water yet left unprocessed by any waste collection system, to produce a range of items such as bags and pencil cases – money from which is reinvested in local areas.

Perhaps leading the charge right now, however, is Upcycle Labs, a waste management business that takes textile waste from some of the fashion sector’s biggest brand names, to process and transform back into products that can be sold in store. Led by managing director, Barry Kane, Upcycle Labs is part of the PDS Group – the parent company of other such pioneering fashion sector innovators as Yellow Octopus and Loop Digital Wardrobe – in what is could be the early sketchings for a working circular economy.

Partnering with retailers such as Asda, Yellow Octopus acts to collect deadstock fashion items to be sorted into items fit for resale and those that are not. Resaleable items redistributed through Yellow Octopus into areas across Europe, while items that cannot be sold are taken to Upcycle Labs for processing. It’s here that they are ground down in fibres used to produce resin which is in-turn used to make an array of new products.

“The only limitation for what we can make with this resin is your imagination,” said Barry Kane, speaking to an audience of Spring Fair attendees during a presentation this week. “We have used fibres from trainers and shoes to create new POS to be used in-store, or flooring for retailers, and even produced gifting items sold on the shelves at Asda.”

In recent months, business for Upcycle Labs has started to boom and today, Barry is in late-stage discussions to launch operations in the US market as well as the Middle East.

“The ultimate goal for us, though, is to establish a site in Ghana – an area where all our waste textiles end up dumped on the beaches – and act to stop the flow of textiles becoming landfill, helping locals to turn that waste into product, which they can then sell back to the Western markets,” said Barry.

From one end of the spectrum to the other, Made Happy is an emerging start-up established to tackle the issue of over-production from the off. A 3D printing specialist, Made Happy is based in the Kent countryside where it houses a robot built to print product on demand using a bio-based plastic made from sugar cane and cornstarch. Its mission is to help design waste out of the process from the beginning by enabling customers to print only what they need on a made-to-order basis.

“We have been having some very interesting conversations with retailers about their samples and manufacturing processes, and some pretty big brand names too,” a Made Happy representative told Products of Change. “It’s really encouraging to think these businesses are starting to think about their waste before they even produce it – and it’s perfect for us, because that’s what we do.”

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