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Innovative materials to reuse waste 

  • by JW

Going beyond recycling – reduce, repair, reuse, repurpose.

“In Africa we have been practising the circular economy for centuries.” [Ghislain Irakoze, CEO and founder of Wastezon, Rwanda]

“Weaving waste into stylish floorings and rugs” [75 year of Bolon, Swedish designers]


We have to be getting more innovative in managing the huge amounts of waste we produce.

We need to do much more than recycle.

We certainly need to be looking at how to reduce what we use – for example reducing the amount of water we waste by using more greywater, or reducing food poverty by reducing food waste.

We can ‘dare to repair‘ – such as fighting back against e-waste.

And we can find new ways of using waste – in other words reuse – which might mean making food waste a resource or bringing plastic waste and electronic waste into the circular economy.

Recently, there have been huge developments in finding new uses for waste – whether it’s concrete and other materials in construction, or plastics and ideas such as polymer materials.

Perhaps however, we need to be looking beyond the headlines for ‘innovation’…

In the Global South, people are used to having to make the most of materials – and so perhaps the likes of Africa’s skills in repair and repurposing can point the way for the Global North, as reported recently by Laura Collacott at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation:

Reuse and repair are key loops in a circular economy, keeping products and materials in use and avoiding waste. But, despite the clear benefits of these functions, the Global North is still hooked on disposability. Although greater awareness and new legislation are beginning to drive better use of products and materials in the North, societies in Africa have long embraced strategies for maximising materials. So what can be learnt?

“In Africa we have been practising the circular economy for centuries,” says Ghislain Irakoze. “People don’t know it, but that’s the reality.” Irakoze is CEO and founder of Wastezon, a Rwanda-based company which repairs and remanufactures electronics, and resells quality-assured products back into the market. The company sprung from a near tragedy amid Africa’s growing waste problem: “When I was on a school assignment with my best friend, a heap of garbage fell on him. He was hospitalised for almost three months. That inspired me to explore solutions that could divert waste from landfill.”

Whilst innovation is happening in other places we might not think of but should, it’s actually been happening for much longer than we think.

Enrique Tovar writes in the ArchDaily this week about the 75th anniversary of the Swedish company Bolon and its sustainable flooring – where they have been weaving waste into stylish floorings and rugs as only the Scandinavians can:

This approach has stimulated the creation of innovative materials to reuse waste in various contexts. A notable example is the case of woven flooring and rugs, where Bolon took a step forward in 1949 by transforming textile waste into stylish products. Since then, they have continued to innovate in materials, fusing the traditional flooring branch with sustainable creative design...

In contemporary architecture, recycling has evolved from a desirable to an unavoidable necessity. This change is mainly due to the growing climate crisis, accentuated by the constant presence of waste (for which no use has been found beyond the initial one).

Where does the BIO-sourced PVC come from? – YouTube