On the daily

The trouble with banning plastic straws and everything else

On holiday with the extended family – brothers, sisters, cousins all together to celebrate the Matriarch’s 80th birthday and the conversation turns to straws with my brother who works in hospitality in the UK.

His hotel is making the switch to paper straws and have immediately run into two issues: (1) The paper ones are 4x the price and (2) in some drinks they disintegrate: a failure of price and performance.

This will likely be repeated as we work our way down the list of plastic goods to be banned. Price is certainly an issue in our category as we prepare to launch gCycle in the UK. There is nothing in the world as cheap and effective as plastic. Over 70 years we have refined and perfected the art of extracting oil, extruding plastic and making everything we can think of out of plastic. It’s really the McDonalds of a material. In small amounts as originally intended, all good but today like the fast food / obesity epidemic plastic is killing us.

So what is the answer in a world where we all want cheap, convenient and now sustainable?

The combination of China banning the importation of recyclables along with very low recycling rates globally, I do not believe recycling is the answer. It’s missing the surge of the problem, the material we use to make products in the first place. And most recycling is really down-cycling: an ever-decreasing value of the products being made from recycling.

I think the answer is to bring into the world new materials that are designed with the end in mind. These are materials used in products that follow Cradle to Cradle principles.

By definition, these materials are more expensive than plastic and will remain so until mass adoption is achieved. To bridge the gap between here and there, I see Government subsidies as a key piece of the puzzle. I see no other way to accelerate to a Circular Economy away from the current Linear one.

With the price issue resolved, there will be more viable businesses able to test and tweak new materials to make products that match the performance of their plastic alternatives.

Banning plastic products alone will not see the change we seek. We need a little pricing support too to kick things off.

Circular Economy, Conferences

Summary of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2018 Circular Economy Summit

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The overarching theme this year was how can technology accelerate the shift from a “line to a circle” (Linear to Circular). We heard from:

New Harvest – making meat but not as we know it.

Provenance – Using Blockchain to create supply chain transparency. Material becomes currency because you know the value and can see the value.
The Real Real  –  A NY – based online luxury goods consignment store with market with $700M in revenue after just 7 years. They are seeing a switch buying habits to people buying things that have a better resale price. They are the antidote to fast fashion as quality luxury goods have a second, third and fourth life. They will be the first billion dollar Circular Economy company.

Estonia – The country boasts an “invisible” Government. Embracing technology including Blockchain, citizens can vote from their mobile phones and can complete tax returns in under a minute. Since 2012 all citizen’s details are on a closed Blockchain and kept decentralised across 2000 locations. No one location knows all the information.
And Citizens can see who has been looking at their data. Meanwhile in Australia, I need a utility bill to prove my identity. (#CuttingEdge)

Estonia will be paperless in 10 years. They are also  working on AI policy and using algorithms to rework legal / insurance frameworks. One consideration is: “does AI get their own separate legal entity?”. In 4 years, AI will be fully implemented and that will see a 50% reduction in civil servants and they are all happy with that as they know other employment opportunities will emerge. Contrast that to Germany where civil servants are still guaranteed lifetime employment.

The shift has got little to do with technology. It is culture and mindset. It’s about defining the relationship between citizens and the Govt, culture and mindset.

China – That massive country. They have embraced the Circular Economy since 1997. Their approach to the Circular Economy is fundamentally different to the West as they started 10 years earlier and started in the middle of their Industrial Revolution compared to the Developed World where the damage has been wholly done.
The developed world pollutes first and then looks for clean up solutions. In China, they do not want to pollute in the first place. In their recently announced 13th 5 year plan (gotta love a planned economy), their Circular Economy priorities are:

(1) Bio-design of products – upstream
(2) Extended Producer Responsibility – downstream

Two unrelated random facts of the day: 
(1) 50% of Facebook’s workforce earn more than $240K pa while California has the highest incidence of poverty in the US.
(2) Fortnite, the game every adolescent around the globe is playing is pulling down $300 million profit every month!

It was another great summit with some really good connections made.

Circular Economy, Cradle to Cradle, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Day Two: Ellen MacArthur Foundation Circular Economy 100 Workshop in Krickenbeck, Germany

Before I launch into a review of the day, let's take a look at our digs for the event. It's a castle. Yes, a castle. 

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Sunrise at the castle. 

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A room with a view. 

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The dining room. In our room…Yes a dining room. 

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The living room. In our room.

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And finally a place to sleep. The room in it's entirety is larger than our flat at home. I lost Kim for a full 30 minutes in here. 

Then we move into the common areas of the place.  

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The chapel becomes a bar / lounge…

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The TV has been replaced by an ocean of alcohol. 

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Google's research. 

 

Co:Projects. 

 

Grappling with issues of never-ending consumption and under-utilisation of all the stuff we own. 

 

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Wrapping up a "Troika" process. Super valuable. 

The City of London's efforts to get Circular. 

And finishing with the beginning in mind, today we started with a 6 km run. I am not sure I've been at a conference where so many runners came together. impressive!   

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Conferences, Cradle to Cradle, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

First week down in London

Last week was jam packed full of meetings. And there were tailwinds for us too. The UK Government announced significant funding to end single-use plastic waste, Sky (yes, Murdoch's outfit) announced their own funding to support new technologies to end ocean plastic waste and the full impact of China's ban on importing recyclables from around the world is now starting to hit home. And it's not pretty as stockpiles of waste start accumulating. 

We started north of London at Cranfield University and their Graduate students who are working with us on our gCycle business modelling. 

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I like to call it Strategery…

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We met with Milton Keynes council to figure out their nappy waste issues. Note the sustenance we offered from Australia. 

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Kim got all MBA like on us and started writing stuff on the white board. Really hope she didn't use a permanent marker!

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And we finished off with a Pub dinner. 

We then headed due west, nearly running into Wales to meet our engineering partners.  We have co-designed some great kit to make resources from dirty nappies. As a Bachelor of Arts graduate I did my very best to look informed and in-the-know as we saw machines whirr. I nodded heaps. 

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Stuart

Again, note the nutrition we brought to the table…

Then we headed South East and spent an afternoon with gTeam member Steph. A shocking hair day for me. Unforgivable really. 

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It wasn't all work.

Completely coincidentally I ran into a Mum of one of my son's best mates at a cafe in Chelsea. We also met up with my brother, hit a pub with our fabulous friend Tom who is putting us up and thanks to the power of social media, spent Friday night at an impromptu dinner party with old friends from Portland, Oregon and others all in the impact investing space. A remarkable group and much fun. 

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Just bumping into friends on the other side of the globe. 

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Mini family reunion. 

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Portland Reunion in London. 

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Pub

After work Pub time. 

Then the weekend hit and we headed to the Continent to meet up with the kids (a much longer story for later) and then headed to a conference in Germany on all things Cradle to Cradle & Circular. More updates to come!

 

Circular Economy, gCycle

3 years on…

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Three years since my last blog post and so much has happened.

We are three years living back in Sydney and gDiapers  continues on with our team in the US and UK. 

We have been toiling away on a new offering for childcare centres starting in the UK and EU.  It is called gCycle .

We have developed a new kind of nappy / diaper that we sell to childcare centres. Each week we collect their nappy waste, take it offsite and convert it into resources: soil, power or fuel. It's a waste to energy business and we are very excited by the possibilities. If you are too, please join us by visiting gCycle and adding your name to the cause. 

 

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