UK waste finds new life
Clothes made from waste at an exhibition in London Photo credit: AFP
From facial scrubs using coffee grounds to clothes made from plastic bottles and furniture decorated with agave fibres, efforts to recycle or reuse waste are gaining momentum in Britain.
Every day, a bicycle courier for skincare brand Upcircle visits 25 cafes in London and collects some 100 kilograms of coffee grounds that would otherwise be thrown away.
Founded six years ago by Anna Brightman and her brother Will Brightman, Upcircle reuses coffee grounds to make beauty products, adding ingredients like chamomile tea or olive pit powder.
The siblings took the leap to start their own business after working for multinational corporations.
“I wanted to do something that was more close to my heart,” Anna Brightman told AFP.
“It was my brother who got the initial inspiration by asking the coffee shop out of curiosity where he goes every day what happened to the coffee grounds,” she said.
“He was shocked to find out that the coffee was dumped in a landfill and they had to pay extra.”
She joked that she and her brother had since “made a name for each other [for themselves] as crazy siblings picking up coffee around London and making cosmetics.”
Once the coffee drives started, “people started contacting us with all types of by-products,” Anna said, noting that more than 15 of them are now part of their lineup.
These include water from making concentrated fruit juices, wilted flowers that are discarded by florists, and leftover chai spices.
Upcircle pays for some of these ingredients, although coffee grounds, for example, are free.
But the logistics involved in collecting them can be complex and expensive.
Every year, half a million tonnes of coffee grounds are thrown away in the UK and the company claims to have recycled 400 tonnes to date.
Nevertheless, the idea of marketing a beauty product made from “trash” was initially rejected by industry insiders, Anna Brightman admitted.
She said they had to work to get the message across that “these ingredients we work with are not gross, old or impure”.
Young people are “more open to the idea of the circular economy”, she added.
“For obvious reasons, they are concerned about the future of our planet.”
Demand is growing rapidly, especially in the United States, according to the company, which is reluctant to give figures on its sales or growth.
The growing interest in recovering food waste puts Upcircle in competition with other brands of natural cosmetics, such as the British Wildefruit or the Australian Frank Body, or even the British giant Body Shop.
As a result, coffee grounds are starting to get sought after, Anna Brightman said.
“Some cafes tell us that they would like us to be able to divide the week: they collect coffee waste on Monday and Tuesday, and we collect the rest of the week,” she added.
To fight against the devastation of the planet’s resources, entrepreneurs and designers are increasingly imagining new ways to recover waste.
An exhibition called Waste Age at the Design Museum in London showcased the use of agave, or sisal, fibers by Mexican designer Fernando Laposse, who studied at Central St Martin’s art school in London.
Laposse transforms the natural fibers of the plant, used to make tequila, into avant-garde furniture such as tables, benches and hammocks.
He also uses colorful corncobs from his homeland to make furniture and veneer, helping to boost the “circular economy” and create jobs.
“In the UK we recycle 15% of our waste, the rest is incinerated or landfilled,” said exhibition curator Gemma Curtin.
The Design Museum exhibit also features chairs made from old refrigerators, baskets decorated with fishing nets salvaged from the ocean, and creations by fashion designers, like Stella McCartney and Phoebe English, who use recycling.
Curtin added that it makes visitors wonder what “luxury” really is? »