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Cartoon - excavating chunks from our planet - from 360 Dialogues

Are you held back by last-century thinking?

It was great to be featured by Greenbiz in January, although after reflecting, I realised a couple of my ‘soundbites’ could be read to mean exactly the opposite of what I went on to talk about…! This blog unpacks those, explaining more about what I think is keeping business leaders stuck in ‘last century’ thinking, and how to avoid that trap.

Circular Economy Podcast episode 121 - Kitty Wilson Brown and Claire O'Sullivan of Contemporary Hempery

121 Claire O’Sullivan and Kitty Wilson Brown: Contemporary Hempery

Claire O’Sullivan and Kitty Wilson Brown are two inspiring people who are passionate about the properties and potential of hemp, especially for textiles. Their journey together led them to found a UK business, Contemporary Hempery. Hemp has amazing potential, for a wide range of products, and it’s brilliant for regenerative farming practices – so why aren’t we doing more with it? It’s useful as a textile, in construction, in food and personal care products, and as an alternative to plastic. But although cultivation is increasing and being encouraged by the European Union, elsewhere it’s a different picture.
Kitty and Claire outline some of the uses of hemp across different sectors, about the little-known history of hemp growing in the UK, and some of the ways it was used – many of them absolutely essential to our industrial evolution. We’ll also hear about some of the current issues, in terms of hemp production and processing.
Kitty and Claire also share the story of how they came together, the amazing coincidences that sparked their interest and what drove them to start Contemporary Hempery, to embark on this long and complex journey to rescue hemp for regenerative, contemporary textiles.

Circular Economy Podcast #113 Steven Bethell – systemic solutions to the crisis of stuff

113 Steven Bethell: systemic solutions to the crisis of stuff

Steven Bethell is a thought leader and pioneer in the post-consumer textile space for over 20 years, who’s creating innovative and relevant solutions to the crisis of stuff.
Steven is co-founder of the Bank and Vogue family of companies, which includes a major remanufacturing plant where the circular economy for textiles is brought to life. Taking post-consumer waste and transforming it into relevant products, Steven works with big brands to help them bring their sustainability platforms to the next level.
Steven is also behind Beyond Retro, the largest vintage retailer in the UK and the Nordics which launched in 2002 and now has 15 retail outlets and an online shop, offering a wide selection of handpicked vintage clothing.
When we donate clothes and shoes to a charity shop, how many of those end up being put on display and successfully sold? You might be surprised by the stats that Steven shares.
Steven explains how he at the leverage points in the overall system, to work out where B&V could get involved and how to retain more value, in particular by reselling. Steven then took this further, finding ways to repurpose and remanufacture clothing and footwear – at scale. Steven explains how this works in the retail business he set up – Beyond Retro – and how he then looked upstream to develop remanufacturing services for a major US footwear retailer.
Steven thinks at a system level, looking at the whole value network both upstream and downstream to see where he can intervene to make the biggest impact, and how to create the critical mass needed to create value, and overcome the sticking points.
In his spare time Steven lives off the grid in the Canadian wilderness. He is an avid woodsman: fishing, paddling and learning about the outdoors and its many wonders.

111 Sara Howard: symbiotic circular ceramics

How might we design and make ceramics in a circular economy? Ceramic products make our lives better in all kinds of ways. Some have been around for centuries (think bricks, tiles, pottery), and some are much more modern, in microchips and more.
To help us learn about circular ceramics, we’re going to meet Sara Howard, a very impressive and award-winning ceramic designer and materials researcher, whose practice is focussed on reducing the environmental and societal impacts of ceramic production.
Sara graduated from Central St. Martins in 2020, with a BA Honours Degree in Ceramic Design. In her final year, Sara designed an industrial symbiosis around the ceramics industry, in which waste from one industry replaces the raw materials in ceramic production.
Sara wrote a book, Circular Ceramics, to openly share her methods and processes and help fellow ceramicists to adopt these sustainable processes in their own practices.
On top of that, since graduating just 3 years ago, Sara has created two groundbreaking projects, collaborating with ceramic producers, artists and other industries to implement the use of industrial waste on a larger scale. Sara tells us how she’s set up a project for ceramics made with excavation waste from construction sites, and is launching a circular tableware startup in Bali, complete with its own factory.
We’ll also find out about the key problems with modern ceramic production and why making new ceramics from ceramic waste is pretty much impossible.

Circular Economy Podcast - Episode 108 Sian Sutherland part 2

108 Sian Sutherland – fixing plastics can fix so much else…

In the 2nd part of the conversation with Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet and PlasticFree.com, Sian tells Catherine Weetman why, instead of seeing a miserable picture of the future, we can reinvent a better, brighter future. As Sian says, by “fixing the plastic crisis, we will fix so much else”
A Plastic Planet is one of the most recognised and respected organisations tackling the plastic crisis and PlasticFree, the first materials and systems solutions platform, empowering global creatives to design waste out at source.

Sian Sutherland, an award-winning serial entrepreneur across several industries, wants to ignite social change, and. At the UN Plastics Treaty negotiations (INC2), this year, Sian and A Plastic Planet partnered with the Plastic Soup to launch the Plastic Health Council. This brings expert scientists to the UN Plastics Treaty negotiating process with the irrefutable proof of plastic chemicals impact on human health.

In the 21st century, we find plastic in almost every part of our lives – but that doesn’t mean it’s the best, or only solution. Many of those people who resist the idea of a move away from plastics tell us that it’s a fantastic material, that it enables us to create a wide range of products to solve all kinds of challenges.

On LinkedIn, you can see people – mostly with roles that depend on the continued use of plastics – cherry-picking examples of plastics used in medical and safety products, such as syringes, PPE, safety glasses, life jackets and so on. But those examples don’t mean that plastics are necessarily safe in use, or at the end of use. Nor do they mean that we should go along with the continued expansion of single-use plastics.

The plastics industry spends millions on promote plastic as the perfect material for thousands of products, being cheap, lightweight, clean, and convenient. But we’re becoming more aware of serious downsides, for our health, and for the health of our living planet.

Who says we can’t find better ways to design products, packaging and systems to meet the needs of people, planet and prosperity? Sian is passionately pro-business and solutions focused, and believes the plastic crisis gives us all a way in to changing both materials and systems to create a different future for next generations.

In the first part, which went out in the last episode, 107, we discussed the new PlasticFree.com solutions platform for creatives, showcasing plastic-free materials and products, such as the Degenerative sneaker. We moved onto greenwash, and why Sian thinks the word ‘recyclable’ should be banned. Then, we explored the importance of understanding chemistry, especially in helping designers and material technologists get clear on the good and bad aspects of chemical processes – and we discussed some of the very new scientific advances that are shining a light on the links between plastics and a wide range of serious health conditions.

In this episode we discuss neuromarketing, some of the uses of microbeads and microcapsules that you might not know about, and why systems change is even more important than changing the materials. Sian tells us about the work of the Reuseable Packaging Coalition, founded by another podcast guest, Jo Chidley.

And we ask why big companies are finding it so difficult to break away from those last-century systems – take, make, use, and dispose – and how those businesses risk becoming irrelevant, following in the footsteps of Kodak – disrupted by better solutions.

Circular Economy Podcast - 107 Sian Sutherland - plastic is last century's material

107 Sian Sutherland – plastic is last century’s material – what’s next?

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, tells Catherine Weetman why there are compelling reasons to design plastic out of our lives, and how and PlasticFree.com helps us do that…

Plastic is embedded in pretty much every part of our lives. The plastics industry promotes it as the perfect material for thousands of products, being cheap, lightweight, clean, and convenient. But is that really true? And are there better ways to design products, packaging and systems to meet the needs of people, planet and prosperity?
I’ve been a long time admirer of Sian Sutherland and her work. Sian co-founded A Plastic Planet, one of the most recognised and respected organisations tackling the plastic crisis, and PlasticFree, the first materials and systems solutions platform, empowering global creatives to design waste out at source.
Sian is passionate about igniting social change, and creating brands and businesses with soul, and is a serial entrepreneur with a varied background across industries. In 2023 at the UN Plastics Treaty negotiations (INC2), in partnership with Plastic Soup Foundation, A Plastic Planet launched the Plastic Health Council, bringing the expert scientists to the negotiating process with the irrefutable proof of plastic chemicals impact on human health.
Sian is passionately pro-business and solutions focused, and believes the plastic crisis gives us all a way in to changing both materials and systems to create a different future for next generations.
I particularly like the courageous way that Sian helps us unpack the key issues around plastics and is actively creating and powering up a range of solutions of plastic-free solutions. As Sian says, by “fixing the plastic crisis, we will fix so much else”
I felt this was a really rich conversation. Sian and A Plastic Planet are involved in so many initiatives and I didn’t want you to miss out on any of Sian’s insights and ideas, so I’ve split the conversation into two episodes.
In this episode we talk about plastic free.com, a new systems and solutions platform for creatives, including designers technologists marketers strategists – that has thousands of case studies and proof points for plastic free solutions. We cover greenwash, vegan leathers, why chemistry is now essential for designers and makers, plus recent science on plastics and health.

Circular Economy Podcast - 104 Richard Burnett – Diversity and packaging innovation

104 Richard Burnett – Diversity and packaging innovation

Innovation and diversification is key to the success of James Cropper, a 6th generation family business, based in the English Lake District. Richard Burnett is Head of Technology and Innovation at James Cropper, a prestige supplier of custom-made paper products to many of the world’s leading luxury brands, art galleries and designers.

Richard oversees the Technology & Innovation (T&I) function at James Cropper, with projects including the Colourform moulded packaging proposition and the acquisition of Technical Fibre Products Hydrogen, a world leader in green hydrogen technology.

Richard led the implementation of the CupCycling programme, introducing the world’s first upcycling process for take-away coffee cups.

They discuss the challenges facing the packaging industry, and how James Cropper is both innovating and diversifying, with innovations in speciality paper, bespoke luxury packaging, and advanced non woven and electrochemical materials. We hear about developments in materials, in packaging design, and in manufacturing technology.

Circular Economy Podcast - 96 Nick Oettinger - Keeping mattresses in circulation

96 Nick Oettinger – keeping mattresses in circulation

Nick Oettinger is Founder and CEO of The Furniture Recycling Group (TFR Group) in the UK. Nick has 12 years’ experience in recycling and waste management. He was previously Managing Director of a specialist construction company before moving into the waste and recycling sector, where he spent five years as an improvement consultant and nine years in product recycling.
The Furniture Recycling Group (TFR Group) provides mattress recycling, rejuvenation and collection, working in the UK with bed retailers, local authorities, home delivery companies and waste management sites to keep mattresses and their materials in circulation. They rejuvenate and recycle over 10,000 mattresses each week, and are responsible for diverting nearly 9% of all UK mattresses away from landfill.
We’ll hear how online retailing has transformed the market for mattresses, and led to increased levels of returns. Nick explains the complexity of mattress designs, and how TFR Group is going beyond recycling to help its customers recover more value from unwanted mattresses.
Nick describes the broader circular services and advice offered to The Furniture Recyclng Group’s clients, and what makes mattresses such a challenging product to reuse or remake, including barriers created by our sub-conscious perceptions.

Circular Economy Podcast - 94 David Peck – navigating Critical Raw Material risks

94 David Peck – navigating the risk of Critical Raw Materials

David Peck, Associate Professor at TU Delft, explains why we need to know more about critical raw materials – what they are used in, and how we might navigate the future challenges they present.
David Peck is Associate Professor, Climate Design & Sustainability, Circular Built Environment and Critical Materials, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft).
David researches and teaches in the field of circular design, focusing on remanufacturing and critical materials. He is a founding member of the Circular Built Environment Hub and works cross disciplinary on circular challenges, in particular on digital, ICT, mobility and renewables fields.
David explains how critical raw materials are defined, helping us understand why they are ‘critical’ from the perspective of different countries or regions, and how they are assessed and scored.
We discuss the pressure on CRMs, particularly from the perspective of low-carbon technologies, and how this presents ethical dilemmas around ‘fair shares’ for countries, and even across different industry sectors.
I ask David about the conversations he’s having with businesses and policymakers, and whether he’s noticing positive trends towards a good understanding of CRMs, and a recognition of the complex issues and risks.
We discuss the ethics and other issues around mining, and David unpacks the dangers of over-simplifying the arguments for avoiding more mining.

Circular Economy Podcast Episode 81 René Bethmann – circular designs for outdoor sports gear

81 – René Bethmann – circular designs for outdoor sports gear

How do we navigate the tensions of having brilliant products that help us enjoy outdoor activities, yet which are difficult to repair and recycle? René Bethmann specializes in textile and apparel technology, and is leading new approaches to the design of more circular products and materials at Vaude Sports. René focuses on emotional durability, repairability and renewable or recyclable materials. Plus, if we focus on defossilization, not decarbonization, we can unlock new ways of thinking about textiles, coatings and other materials.