Upcycling is a great way to use waste to create new products and take the world one step closer to a circular economy. These companies are some of the latest to creatively incorporate the practice to optimize products while utilizing a variety of waste streams.
Veuve Clicquot has created a new 100 percent recyclable, biodegradable packaging for its champagne bottles. The boxes are made from a combination of grape skins from the champagne-making process and recycled paper.
Elsewhere in agriculture, materials science and engineering professor Richard Laine has developed a production process for silica compounds that could save up to 90 percent of the cost and 6 tons of carbon emissions per ton of silica compared to the current process. His technique, which he plans to commercialize through a startup called Mayasil, has virtually no carbon footprint since it uses hulls left over from rice production.
“I think eventually, we’ll be producing high-purity silica and other silicon compounds right next to the rice fields,” Laine said. “It will be possible to process rice and produce high-grade silica in a single location with little or no carbon footprint. It’s really very exciting.”
For about 80 years, researchers have sought a practical way to extract silica from agricultural waste. Laine focused on rice hulls – the outermost layer of the rice grain that is removed during processing. Billions of tons of hulls are produced every year; many are burned as biomass to produce electricity, leaving ash that contains high levels of silica. While some is used in construction or as insulation, much of it is dumped into landfills.
Silicon is difficult to extract due to the strong chemical bond it forms with oxygen, but Laine discovered that ethylene glycol, or antifreeze, and ethanol grain alcohol provide inexpensive ways to break the bond. The process is considered carbon neutral when the product’s entire lifecycle is considered. The carbon dioxide absorbed by the rice plants before the hulls are burned as biomass offsets the emissions from burning. The energy generated far exceeds the energy required to break the chemical bond.
Meanwhile, another startup called Süga is manufacturing yoga mats from recycled wetsuits. The company has partnered with three major wetsuit manufacturers to use their scrap neoprene and collects wetsuits from the wider community.
While companies including Patagonia have developed renewable alternatives, the majority of wetsuits are still made from petrochemical-based neoprene. Based in the surfing and yoga capital of the United States - Encinitas, California - Süga give these wetsuits new life as “instruments of yogic bliss,” saving the non-biodegradable material from ending up in a landfill. The neoprene lends itself to a closed-cell foam that doesn’t act as a sponge for bacteria, sweat, dust, or dirt and works well whether it is dry or wet.
Beginning Tuesday, the Süga mats will be available to order on Kickstarter. The early bird price for one mat is $69 or two for $135. To include a lifetime warranty, the prices increase respectively to $89 and $185. Beer koozies made from recycled wetsuits are also available as a perk for $10. The campaign closes on January 17, 2016 and deliveries are expected in February.