Circulate on Fridays: what happens when you dump 12,000 tons of orange peel onto degraded land?

Publication Date: 

Friday, 25 August 2017 - 3:48pm


Joe Iles

A varied Circulate on Fridays menu today! We’re talking automotive innovation, 3D printed toys and home made batteries, and save room for a great story of the regenerative power of orange peel. Bon appétit! 

It’s hard not to smile at first sight of Royal Mail’s new electric delivery vans, announced this week. Nine of the cute, boxy vehicles have been produced by UK manufacturer Arrival, and as well as being powered by electricity, apparently they’re based on a modular design that can be assembled by one person in just four hours. Arrival also says the vans are super repairable, and any part can be changed in 15 minutes, which could mean less time in the garage and more time in use.

It’s been over a year since the term ‘peak stuff’ started floating around, and a recent piece from Tom Verde in the New York Times highlights a specific area in which symptoms of this problem are beginning to emerge: family heirlooms. It used to be the case that items like furniture, kitchenware, keepsakes and other antiques were handed down through generations, but it looks like that practice is hitting its limits. Sure, changing tastes is one factor, but Verde says it’s also down to young adults seeing household goods as “temporary or disposable”, a resurgence in minimalism, and smaller home sizes forcing people to declutter. It’s leading to a boom for storage companies and oversupply for charities and redistribution channels, but could it also encourage us to re-think the way we make and use stuff to avoid such redundancy in the future?

Motherboard gives us an thorough insight into the ‘DIY Powerwall scene’, in which savvy makers are building their own alternatives to Tesla’s home energy storage device. To save money, it’s common to use batteries from old laptops, but the ‘finished product’ can hold more than the Tesla offering. The author calls it ‘recycling’, but we’d argue that this is clever reuse – rather than getting a component from an old device and returning it to its material level, these hackers are using a battery in its original form, preserving more of the value of the product.

Toybox is a 3D printer designed just for kids toys, and it looks on course to hit its crowdfunding goal. Generally speaking, whilst this technology could enable more customisation, greater availability of spare parts and local manufacturing – good news for a circular economy – there’s a chance that 3D printing could just accelerate the take, make, dispose way of doing things. And with a five year old’s attention span, could Toybox just mean more throwaway trinkets?

Could the circular economy give purpose to the digital revolution?

The folks behind Toybox aren’t alone of course, and this week’s reports on Y Combinator’s 2017 Demo Day reminded us of all the other weird and wild applications of the latest technology. It made Tom Littrell’s ‘Sustainability in the Startup Era’ even more vital reading, with a poetic questioning of current innovation trends. That’s something we’ve explored here on Circulate too – could the circular economy be the framework to guide today’s startups and entrepreneurs?

This story of regenerative agriculturhas been 15 years in the making, and is our favourite piece from this week. In the mid 1990s, ‘1000’s of truckloads’ of orange peel and pulp, waste material from juice maker Del Oro, was dumped on a barren piece of Costa Rican national park at no cost to the business.  It was part of a experiment to see the impact that the biodegradation of the material had on the environment, but following a lawsuit (this story has it all) the project fell off the radar, and the findings from recent research are only now emerging. A paper in the journal Restoration Ecology states that there are “dramatic differences between the areas covered in orange peels and those that were not. The area fertilized by orange waste had richer soil, more tree biomass, greater tree-species richness and greater forest canopy closure”. Regenerative agriculture examples can get quite technical and complex, so there’s something appealing about the crudeness of this orange peel case study.

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