The circular economy doesn’t have one solid definition, but it’s a term that many have heard in recent years. The general focus is around moving away from consuming finite resources and designing waste out of systems; rerouting materials, components and products into other supply chains to keep them in use and out of landfills, using things over and over again in a constant loop.
This means that applications of circular principles are fascinating, as they vary so much depending on industry, product and the technology being used. Today I thought I’d round up some of the most interesting applications that I’ve come across recently, to encourage you and to spread the news on innovation in these areas. Enjoy!
Check out my explainer on the circular economy here
From the heart of the Lake District, Millican’s bags are designed for use every day, in any environment, while also minimising impact. Hardwearing, lightweight and waterproof, they’re perfect for any adventure while also embracing the circular economy.
Their materials include GRS certified 100% recycled polyester fabric made from post-consumer waste. Each bag keeps plastic bottles out of landfills or oceans while also cutting energy by 50%, saving 20% on water and reducing air pollution by 60%. Their dyes are all Bluesign approved, and water is collected and cleaned after dyeing to prevent water pollution. All their producers are listed online, and are externally certified and audited to ensure a living wage, no sub-contracting and safe working conditions.
With options such as hiking bags, rucksacks and duffle bags galore, ranging from 15L to 60L, Millican’s bags are designed for the day tripper and the long term explorer. Whether it’s camping, hiking, or urban life, they’re designed to last a lifetime while carrying everything you need. They also recognise that 100% sustainability doesn’t exist, and are committed to researching, learning and adapting to continually improve.
They also offer repair services (if needed) and you can re-home fabric/canvas backpacks and messenger bags with them as long as they still have some life left in them! They accept bags from any brand; their local repair team can fix minor issues such as small holes, reattaching straps etc, before passing them on to organisations such as Action for Conservation, the Bristol Bike Project and Craggers: Adventures For All, who have all received these pre-loved bags and introduced them to new homes.
Millican are always searching for new partners and are very happy for charities or non-profit organisations to get in touch at email@example.com to discuss how to work together.
Use the code UNICORN15 for a discount at checkout.
Finisterre design functional and sustainable products for those that love the sea. They’re a certified B Corp, which means they’re legally required to prioritise their responsibility to the environment and society in all decisions on products, employees and suppliers. B Corp certified companies are also continually re-assessed and required to pass the re-certification process every 3 years, meaning they are continually held to account.
When it comes to circular principles, Finisterre have multiple initiatives. Firstly, all their products containing polyester and polyamide (Nylon) are made using GRS certified recycled materials sourced from both post-consumer and post-industrial waste. Whether it’s waterproof jackets or swimwear and accessories, this is their standard across the board.
However, specific recycled products are also really interesting to see. Their collaborations with Palladium and Malibu have resulted in a range of recycled shoes designed to take you from street to sea with no issues.
Their Pallafin boots and shoes are designed for urban and natural environments. Made with a mix of 100% Recycled PET, recycled polyester, recycled foam, recycled brass coil and recycled rubber, they’re vegan friendly, waterproof and lightweight. Designed with features such as a rubber toe cap for extra durability and gusset behind the laces to keep feet dry even when fully submerged in water, they’re perfect for every coastal adventure.
If it’s sliders you’re after, their Zuma Sliders use the inspiration of traditional Mexican huarache sandals to create a stylish unisex slider with grippy soles and sturdy handwoven webbing made from recycled materials. Their materials include 100% recycled GRS certified nylon and Vibram rubber. These materials are water-friendly and vegan friendly, and their shoes feature an anatomically correct moulded footbed for constant comfort.
But that’s not all, Finisterre also have an innovative approach to an often overlooked issue: wetsuit waste. In the UK alone approximately 380 tonnes of old wetsuits end up in landfill every year, while many more pile up in sheds and garages. While Finisterre transitioned from Neoprene to the much more sustainable Yulex rubber for their wetsuits, they realised there was more to do. After partnering with the University of Exeter’s centre for material re-engineering, and with Innovate UK’s support to create the role, in 2017 they hired Jenny Banks, the world’s first full-time wetsuit recycler.
For the first six months they used extensive lab testing to identify which wetsuit panels would need repair or could be repurposed, allowing them to challenge traditional wetsuit manufacture and question whether the material complexity of current wetsuits is even necessary. A single suit can use up to 15 different types of neoprene and/or rubber composites, and features like fabric linings make wetsuit recycling nearly impossible. While these are ostensibly used to add strength and durability, Finisterre have found recyclable alternatives, including designing a wetsuit seam that uses fewer materials and can be recycled.
One thing they did find was that wetsuits degrade far more slowly than people assume. After a couple of years the suit may not look as good, but performance is actually barely degraded.
Neoprene and Yulex are inherently difficult to recycle because, unlike plastic bottles, they can’t be melted down and reprocessed to new materials. However, they’ve been working with partners pioneering innovative approaches in this area, and their re-design phase has focused on simplifying the materials in their suits so that performance quality remains high.
After many long days in the lab, they have now created the world’s first recyclable wetsuit prototype.
Currently Finisterre and undergoing rigorous performance testing and teaming up with pioneers in the recycling industry to explore the chemical recycling of suits in their current form. In the future they aim to launch a ‘buy back scheme’ where old suits can be traded in to be recycled, for discounts on new suits or store vouchers. Watch this space!
Retrospecced are a social enterprise that upcycle retro and designer glasses frames to give them new homes.
In the past old glasses would be sent to global south countries but this has been stopped in the last decade. Variables in prescriptions are so wide-ranging that it’s a logistical nightmare to match a donated pair of frames to individuals, and it was agreed that this wasn’t a sustainable way to expand vision care. Instead, local stakeholders are now trained to provide eye tests and dispense the correct prescription lenses to people, and donated frames are usually recycled for their scrap metal value.
Retrospecced saw an opportunity, and partnered with the charity Vision Aid Overseas, who receive over 70,000 frames a week in donations. They sort through them in their UK warehouse, saving the best vintage and designer frames for Retrospecced to give them a new home. Retrospecced sell on these frames, customising the lenses to your specific needs. Their experienced glazing house can expertly glaze any frames with prescription, sunglasses and blue light blocking lenses, tailoring each purchase to you.
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Retrospecced then donate 20% of profits directly to Vision Aid Overseas; funding the charity’s sustainable methods for providing global vision care through building vision centres, running community outreach programmes, working with local hospitals, and training local optometrists and staff so that countries can ultimately become self-sufficient in eye care.
Plus, in an extra circular win, Retrospecced glasses also come in reused cases. They work with local UK opticians, taking old cases off their hands and repurposing them. This reduces waste in two areas of the same industry, considering sustainable principles in areas many of us would overlook!
Underprotection are a Danish brand and certified B Corp specialising in sustainable lingerie, loungewear, hosiery and swimwear. All of their suppliers are all certified with Sedex, WRAP, GOTS, or BSCI, plus they all carry Oeko-Tex certification. All factories guarantee fair wages and working conditions, and are mainly female-owned.
Their sustainable materials include Tencel, recycled polyester, recycled nylon, recycled wool, banana fibres, milk fibres and GOTS certified organic cotton, all of which carry GRS and Oeko-Tex certifications. After moving a lot of production to Europe most of their trimmings, including elastics and metal, are Oeko-Tex certified too.
Their recycled polyester requires 33% – 53% less energy, while their Q-NOVA recycled nylon is made from at least 99% repurposed raw materials that would’ve been wasted in the textile industry. The fibre is made using a system that doesn’t involve chemical solutions, resulting in very strong lace and mesh fabrics.
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Their banana fibres are certified from the Union of Natural Fibers and Oeko-Tex, and come from the waste elements of farmers’ leftover stalks, processed after the fruit has been harvested. Their Oeko-Tex certified milk fibre is made from sour milk from the dairy industry. The protein is extracted from the milk and made into a delicate fibre that has similar properties to silk. While not vegan-friendly, this fabric is regarded as sustainable because the material is a byproduct that requires almost no chemicals to produce.
Underprotection also try to send as many products as possible by ship or train, and as little as possible by plane. They reuse the boxes they receive products in from suppliers to send orders to stores and customers, and all of their packaging is either recycled or made of biodegradable materials.
Stay Wild Swim
Stay Wild are a UK-based swimwear brand. They use materials such as Italian ECONYL, a fibre created from global waste such as discarded fishing nets that reduces the impact of nylon by up to 90%, thread made from recycled plastic bottles, Tencel sourced from Europe and Oeko-Tex®️ certified organic linen for other products.
All pieces are designed and produced in London with a small local factory. Not only does this allow for direct relationships with producers and high levels of transparency, but the factory also exceeds ethical and sustainable standards. It pays above living wage, providers workers with good conditions and is a Sedex member and SMETA certified. It also has a zero-waste approach to production, focuses on quality and longevity, only collaborates with ethical suppliers, uses biodegradable and eco-friendly packaging, and only uses carbon-neutral shipping. Stay Wild’s hangtags and packaging are also recycled and recyclable, their hygiene liners are compostable and made using tree pulp, and their shipping is carbon neutral.
In general, their pieces are designed to be high quality and long-lasting, promoting conscious consumption instead of new swimwear each season. They include a size and care guide, encouraging customers to wash synthetic fabrics in a GuppyFriend to capture microplastics, and now are working towards a completely circular production system.
This is where they really stand out. Stay Wild accept worn down and broken swimwear from any brand. They will send these on to their recycling partner to be repurposed into industrial products such as eco-carpet underlay. The idea is to keep materials that are no longer usable out of landfills in textile circulation.
To recycle your old swimwear you just need to make sure it’s clean, remove any metal attachments (zips, underwire, clips, buckles, etc) and send to:
Stay Wild Swimwear Recycling
The Carrier Group
If you then DM a picture of receipt of postage to their Instagram page, you can receive a 10% of code to use on your next Stay Wild order as a thank you.
Their long term goal is to eventually become fully circular; one day you will be able to send in old Stay Wild pieces that are worn down, and this same material will be used to create new designs.