Circular Future Fund

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The Circular Future Fund

The Circular Future Fund sought trail-blazing ideas to accelerate the transition towards a more circular economy. And to challenge the outdated 'take, make, dispose' model or ‘waste age’ we live in. Hubbub ran the fund, supported by the John Lewis Partnership using funds generated by the 10p plastic bag charge.

The £1 million fund received 245 applications, focusing on textiles, food and household products, services, and technology. Four were successful: From mainstreaming menstrual cups to redesigning kids shoes to make them last longer, building ‘lend and mend’ hubs in libraries, to pioneering research to endlessly recycle polyester. Read on to find out what they achieved.

Could you explain what on earth the circular economy is?

The circular economy aims to remove waste and get the most value out of the resources we already have through good design. It’s a continuous circle in which resources are kept in use and used again and again and again, without losing value. It’s more than recycling (as materials lose value when recycled), so the circular economy aims to design out that waste altogether.

So, what do we have now? A linear economy! That means we take, make, use, and throw away products and resources, often using up valuable limited raw materials. The linear economy isn’t sustainable and contributes to climate change and biodiversity loss. Our current era of human civilisation has been termed the ‘waste age’ (like the iron or stone age), which can only last so long with a planet with limited resources. Not so civilised!

Let’s circle in: why do we need to make our economy circular?

There’s already lots of great circular economy ideas, businesses, and activity bubbling away, but we need it to go further and faster. Here’s why:

  1. It’s great for the environment

    The Ellen McArthur Foundation estimate that only 55% of emissions can be reduced by switching to renewables, whereas the circular economy can help tackle the remaining 45% - how we make and use materials, products, and food. It also makes better use of the finite resources we have on earth.

  2. More jobs and a sustainable economy

    It means doing things in new ways, which opens up new jobs and economic opportunities. It’s estimated it could create millions of new jobs and unlock $4.5 trillion worth of value by 2030, according to estimates by Accenture.

  3. Protects health and nature

    Less pollution in our water, air and soil would benefit all living life on earth, from humans to flora and fauna, meaning fewer deaths and health issues and better biodiversity. A big win!

  4. But it’s a big change

    It means challenging the status quo and finding new ways of doing everything, which needs great ideas, determination and funding.

What is The Circular Future Fund?

The fund called for pioneering new approaches to accelerate the transition to a more circular economy. Four projects were selected by the Grant Panel in 2022 as the most innovative, impactful, and interesting approaches to boosting the circular economy.

Find out more about them and the difference they've made

DAME aimed to break down the barriers to using cups. Their trial identified comfort, leaking, inserting a menstrual cup and cleaning it as the main concerns. So, they created a menstrual cup myth-busting user guide, featuring influencer Hayley Morris, to help get people to try and stick with cups. DAME also designed a groundbreaking self-sanitising menstrual cup, removing the need to boil or sterilise cups. This means each cup is predicted to contribute 99 times less carbon over its lifetime use compared to boiling a traditional cup (Climate Partner). Over a lifetime of periods that could save one person 2,860 disposable period products!

On average a young child replaces its shoes every four months with a staggering 85% of those shoes ending up in landfill (Better Shoes Foundation). Shoes are also hard to split apart for their various parts for recycling and often made of plastics.

Pip and Henry certainly have put their best foot forward, creating three concepts around their vision of an expandable shoe that grows with the child, and a shoe design that can be more easily sorted into their separate materials and therefore recycled. They plan to launch a capsule collection in 2024 and are exploring licensing their concepts to help scale their circular shoe ideas. As well as more sustainable kiddie steps, they hope to make some big leaps forward for the footwear industry to learn from their circular shoe design insights.

Polyester is the world’s most common textile fibre and yet only 15% of total polyester produced is made from recycled polyester (mostly from plastic bottles) as dyes in polyester can’t be easily removed, making it difficult to recycle (Textile Exchange, 2021).

The University of Leeds research project has created a revolutionary new dyeing process that proves that a new type of dyes they created can be added to and removed from polyester. This has huge potential environmental benefits, needing less, energy, water, and polluting ‘auxiliary’ chemicals. The team made a bonus discovery that their technology also works on other fabrics such as denim, nylon, and existing dyes in polyester. They’re exploring commercialising the technology to maximise its impact with the aim of creating a circular economy for polyester.

You might have borrowed a book from a library, but what about a drill? Or popping in to mend some clothes? That’s what the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC) have created in Scotland and they hope to help other libraries follow suit. Nine ‘lend and mend’ hubs have been created, offering equipment, workshops, and tools free of charge to overcome cost barriers for the public, making every day circular economy actions more accessible. And they’re already in high demand. The hubs were kitted out with repurposed office furniture and even upcycled peg boards that were part of Kenya’s display at COP26 in Glasgow!

Read more about the difference the four projects made
Our impact report

Have your say

Now you’ve read about four inspiring circular economy examples, where would you like to see less waste and more circular options?

  • Food and drink
  • Health and beauty
  • Household products, services, and technology
  • Fashion/ textiles
  • Manufacturing - behind the scenes to reduce waste
  • Anything else?

Pop over to the video to add your thoughts in the comments.

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