There’s inspiring creativity & power in the recycling, upcycling and circular design worlds. Here are some of the ideas and people that get us excited.
Make, transport, buy, use, discard. Buy again, use again, discard again. And again. This is what mainstream consumption patterns have become: an unthinking linear lifecycle.
The world has, however, slowly woken up to the terrible crisis this is creating for us. In South Africa alone, in 2019 (latest figures), we sent around 95m tonnes of waste to 826 landfill sites. We’re running out of landfill sites; each new space identified for such is further away from towns’ centres, more inconvenient, more expensive, increasing the volumes of trash that are likely to be dumped by the sides of roads. Each item of waste has a carbon and water footprint as well as a waste footprint; everything we use and throw away contributes to global warming, water fragility, climate change and destruction of plant and wild animal life.
Is it too late to rethink?
You’ll have been hearing more and more about circularity – not the panacea, but certainly an important part of any solution. The circular economy adopts a paradigm built around a system of closed loops in which raw materials, components and products lose as little value as possible through each iteration of their use. Used and unwanted items stay in the value system in a framework that aims to gradually decouple growth from the consumption of finite resources. Waste is either designed out of the system, or the things are designed so that value is sustained.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) describes circularity as “the means to save the planet, as well as an enormous market opportunity”, while also pointing out the mismatch between “multinationals struggling to keep pace with circular innovation, and entrepreneurs who lack the resources to scale up”. WEF calculates that the circular economy represents a market opportunity worth upwards of $4,5 trillion by 2030.
In the hope that it might spark some further thinking and potential collaborations, we’re sharing the V&A Waterfront’s own initiatives with you.
The Waterfront’s sustainability strategy – how it manages water, power and waste – is built on a circular design.
To manage the waste generated within the precinct and reduce what it sends to landfill, the Waterfront is establishing a pyrolysis plant to burn waste produced on the precinct in a low-oxygen environment to produce syngas, a form of energy.
Simultaneously, a programme to install solar panels across the precinct continues. It’s estimated that between the pyrolysis plant and the solar input, ±2m kWhrs may be produced, which will contribute most of the power needed to run a desalination plant.
This desalination process, supplemented by blackwater recycling, will largely meet the water needs of the precinct.
CIRCULAR DESIGN IN DEVELOPMENT
The 6-star green building that is home to Deloitte has picked up many awards and gongs, not least that it is a pioneer in the use of ecobricks, (in this case) 2-litre PET plastic bottles stuffed to a given density with plastic waste. It is the first time a large commercial building has made use of ecobricks, and some 12 000 were used as void formers in the concrete slabs in the central toilet areas on each floor of The Ridge.
Lightening the concrete load is a first step in circular design in construction: concrete has a colossal carbon footprint (around 8% of global emissions caused by humans come from the cement industry).
The Portswood Alternative Build Kiosk:
The brief to the architect leading this project was to build a Food & Beverage kiosk outlet using primarily salvaged materials from other V&A projects. An example is the public lift lobby, constructed primarily of recycled glass bottles sourced from the onsite waste handling and recovery facility.
The completion of this structure will be a first of its kind for the V&A, and another step forward in the advocating for the innovative use of recycled materials built environment. It’s designed to be highly energy-efficient, and will contribute towards accelerating the transition to net-zero carbon for the Waterfront.
The Joy from Africa to the World campaign (beg. festive season 2019) is a charismatic example of upcycling sensibility in action. For instance, 2 800 recycled bottles (mainly shampoo and detergent bottles), were upcycled to create colourful chandeliers at The Watershed. In addition to being home to a large number of innovators, entrepreneurs and creative businesses, the Watershed is also a significant attraction for arts-and-crafts-focused visitors to the Waterfront. The Joy from Africa visuals were thus an inspiration to a varied and influential group of people.
Festive Season 2022 saw another highlight – every year has them! – in the form of a “magic” hot air balloon from which children are flying away, with books as their wings. It was made by the Cape Town Society for the Blind and Bedlinen Direct together with other suppliers.
It is a testament to how Adidas views the V&A Waterfront’s circularity and sustainability credentials that it chose to open what it described as “its most sustainable retail space in Africa” in the main shopping area.
Globally, adidas has made a commitment that by 2025, nine out of 10 adidas articles will feature a sustainable technology, material, design or manufacturing method.
Another upcycling champion is Sealand, a lifestyle brand focused on responsibly made gear and apparel. All Sealand goods are handmade from waste and responsibly and ethically sourced materials. In this, it diverts waste from landfills by using predominantly upcycled materials such as yacht sails/spinnakers and canvas, poly twill and ripstop. These are supplemented by eco-friendly materials such as hemp and CmiA certified cotton.
Finally, for a stroll through upcycling ingenuity, there is no better destination than the Watershed. Of the 150+ tenants showcasing 365+ brands, there are some excellent examples of circularity.
The Waterfront also offers prototyping space for innovators wanting to test their products in a high-traffic environment. One company which has done well out of this is Ocean-I, a start-up that offers designer urban furniture incorporating recycled plastic waste – either 100% recycled plastic or high-performance concrete incorporating recycled plastic and cigarette butt ‘sand’.
Ocean-i used the V&A Waterfront’s public spaces to prototype their benches and cigarette bins, generating significant profile and feedback for refining their products. They now have some permanent installations.
The Waterfront is also home to Ocean Hub Africa, an ocean-impact catalyser accelerating African ocean-minded startups. Its mission is to provide a platform on which entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, businesses, and other stakeholders can connect, inspire, collaborate, and access the resources they need to succeed. Among Ocean Hub Africa’s alumni network are businesses across the continent built on circularity (you can find out more here).
We’re also running an innovation challenge, partnering with UK-South Africa Tech Hub, an initiative of the UK Government, and OceanHub Africa, to find innovative solutions for problem plastics. Get all the details here – it’s going to be super-exciting.
Through its commitment to good practice and its support of purpose-driven business, the V&A Waterfront has evolved into a living example of circularity. In a world of cynical greenwashing, the V&A Waterfront is the real deal: an accidental pioneer in this space, driving both a corporate strategy that incidentally embraces circular design, and providing a home to retailers whose core strategy involves circular design.