5 unusual waste products recycled into something new


  • Global waste generation is expected to increase by over 70% by 2050, according to the World Bank.
  • Experts say transitioning to a more circular economy can reduce waste and save oceans and ecosystems from plastics contamination.
  • Here are 5 companies that have come up with innovative ways to re-use and recycle waste.

The global waste problem is getting worse. The World Bank estimates that without urgent action, the amount of items discarded by humans will increase by 73% by 2050.

According to research carried out by the organization, high-income countries are responsible for more than a third of the world’s waste, despite only accounting for 16% of the global population.

Plastics are seen to pose the most serious threat to the environment. If they are not managed properly they could contaminate waterways and ecosytems for hundreds and even thousands of years.

Is a circular economy the solution?

The way we live now is believed to be using 60% more resources than the Earth can provide – and creating too much waste. Transitioning to a circular economy is widely considered to be the way forward.

In a circular economy, things are made and consumed in a way that minimizes our use of the world’s resources, cuts waste and reduces carbon emissions. Products are kept in use for as long as possible, through repairing, recycling and redesign – so they can be used again and again.

An infographic of the circular economy.

How the circular economy works.

Image: European Parliament

The World Economic Forum has created a series of initiatives to promote circularity.

1. Scale360° Playbook was designed to build lasting ecosystems for the circular economy and help solutions scale.

Scale360° Playbook Journey

Image: Scale360° Playbook

Its unique hub-based approach – launched this September – is designed to prioritize circular innovation while fostering communities that allow innovators from around the world to share ideas and solutions. Emerging innovators from around the world can connect and work together ideas and solutions through the UpLink, the Forum’s open innovation platform.

Discover how the Scale360° Playbook can drive circular innovation in your community.

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2. A new Circular Cars Initiative (CCI) embodies an ambition for a more circular automotive industry. It represents a coalition of more than 60 automakers, suppliers, research institutions, NGOs and international organizations committed to realizing this near-term ambition.

CCI has recently released a new series of circularity “roadmaps”, developed in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), McKinsey & Co. and Accenture Strategy. These reports explain the specifics of this new circular transition.

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3. The World Economic Forum’s Accelerating Digital Traceability for Sustainable Production initiative brings together manufacturers, suppliers, consumers and regulators to jointly solutions and provide a supporting ecosystem to increase supply chain visibility and accelerate sustainability and circularity manufacturing and production sectors.

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The drive to recycle more has led to some unusual innovations. Here are five examples of things that would usually go to waste, being put to good use.

1. Coffee grounds

Belgian company PermaFungi says it harvests around 900 kilos of mushrooms a month from used coffee grounds. The grounds are collected from local coffee shops and packed into bags with straw at a growing facility to create nutritious soil for the mushroom spores. Once they’re harvested, the team delivers the mushrooms to organic shops and restaurants. “Belgians drink 5 kilograms of coffee a year, which adds up to thousands of tons a year which are mainly being thrown away so it’s got huge potential,” the company’s Chief Operating Officer Stijn Roovers told Reuters.

2. Tennis balls

US company Recycleballs collects millions of tennis balls which are recycled into new products. According to the company, 125 million tennis balls end up in American landfill sites each year, representing 20,000 metric tons of near non-decomposable rubber waste. Some of the balls are ground up and the felt is separated from the rubber. The rubber crumb generated can then be used in the construction of tennis courts as well as horse arenas. Other balls are recycled as dog balls.

125 million tennis balls end up in US landfill sites each year.

Image: RecycleBalls

3. Inner tubes

Cycle of Good is a Malawi-based enterprise that collects and ships bicycle innertubes from cyclists in the UK before they end up in landfills. A team of Malawian tailors then repurposes them into useful products like belts, wallets and cases for tech items. All of the spare cuts from the inner tubes are made into soft furniture for use by local schools.

4. Chewing gum

Two French students have devised a scheme that transforms discarded chewing gum into skateboard wheels. Backed by major brands Vans and Mentos, Hugo Maupetit and Vivian Fischer used special gum collection boards in Nantes, France to collect discarded chewing gum. The gum is mixed with a binder and natural dyes before being turned into a skateboard wheel using injection molding. “Our system may have started in Nantes, but it is designed to be used all over Europe! Through this collaboration we can clean the cities and make them better, greener, and more colorful for young people,” Maupetit and Fischer told Designboom.com

How discarded chewing gum is made into skateboard wheels.

Image: DesignBloom.com

5. Face masks

British company Waterhaul has launched a scheme to make litter pickers out of recycled single-use face masks. The masks are melted into plastic blocks which are then made into the litter pickers. The project has inspired beach clean-up projects in the UK as well as abroad. Waterhaul estimates that 129 billion facemasks are used globally a month, many of which end up in the world’s oceans.


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