Manufacturing from Waste Materials - A Lozi Talk
“ Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value. “
~ R. Buckminster Fuller, American Architect, Inventor and Futurist
Our planet is facing a waste crisis. Our oceans are suffocating with plastic, fast fashion has taken over and if food waste was a country it would be the third largest carbon emitter in the world. Reassessing our relationship to waste has never been more crucial to the well being of our planet and the growth of our economy.
Lozi hosted our first panel discussion, Manufacturing from Waste Materials, in September during London Design Festival and as part of the Shoreditch Design Triangle’s 10 year anniversary. This discussion shines a light on how a handful of groundbreaking UK businesses are challenging our views on waste. Four panelists, including Lozi’s founder Soroush, will discuss how they have redefined waste within their businesses, transforming it into a key component and raw material in their production systems and focusing their business model around it. By redefining what waste can be, this panel hopes to shine a light on creative ways of tackling a growing global issue.
Watch our edited highlights in the video below to get inspired to tackle this global crisis in creative ways.
With the expert and groundbreaking thoughts of :
Toast Ale: Toast Ale has launched a pint-sized fight to prove that the alternative to food waste is award-winning. They brew delicious craft beer with surplus fresh bread that would otherwise be wasted and gives all profits to charity to fight food waste.
Helen Newcombe, Founder of Davy J, a British swimwear brand that creates beautiful active swimwear, all manufactured in the UK and made using ECONYL® yarn, a nylon yarn regenerated from 100% waste materials including fishing nets and other marine rubbish.
Smile Plastics: As a materials design and manufacturing house, Smile Plastics transforms waste materials into unique decorative panels for the architecture and design industry. Their striking products continue to inspire designers around the world.
Lozi: Premiering our new technique for casting our sawdust, Lozi’s founder Soroush who will be also discussing our £9.99 collection, made entirely from our waste materials.
Hosted by Rose Etherington, Editor in Chief of Clippings.
Read the edited transcript below:
ROSE - So Rob, starting with you and Toast Ale. You were actually founded by Tristram Stuart, a key figure in the global fight against food waste and all of your profits go back to Feedback, the charity he also founded. How did the idea of brewing beer from surplus bread come about?
ROB - So the idea came about around 2 and a half years ago. A friend of mine, Tristram, who is a food waste activist, campaigner, best selling author, much better looking version of me, sort of came up with this idea. He has done more than anyone really to raise awareness of the issues around food waste. He has helped change government policy, shopping behaviour, the whole wonky fruit and veg campaigns people might be familiar with, the fact that food waste is even a thing is because he has spoken about it, banged on about it for around 15-20 years and he founded an organisation called Feedback that campaigns around these issues. He had just tried a beer in Brussels that was brewed with bread. The first ever beer recipe was actually brewed with bread thousands of years ago. Local bakeries and breweries would team up and as bread would become stale quite quickly if you still wanted to make good use of the carbohydrates and sugars in that bread you can turn it into beer.
We sort of had this realisation, we had this discussion that the biggest food waste int he UK is bread, in fact the biggest food waste in the world, 44% of all bread that is baked in the UK is never consumed. So we kinda put two and two together and came up with this delicious solution, to prove that the solution to food waste can be friggin tasty and pint sized! And so we went about starting Toast.
ROSE - How do you go about making beer from bread, can you talk us through the necessary techniques and where do you get the bread from first of all?
ROB - Well making beer is pretty straightforward, it is such an ancient concept. To make beer, you kind of create a porridge. You mix hot water with malted barley or any cereal or crop, but malted barley is typically used. You get all the sugars and the carbohydrates out of the malted barley from the hot water just leaching the carbohydrates out. You then move the hot surgery liquid over to a second big saucepan where you will add hops, and hops will give it flavour and aroma, and you will then add yeast at a later stage, and the yeast will work its magic because yeast is one of the most magical incredible things in the word and will turn all of those sugars into alcohols and so you get lovely tasty beer.
So our process is exactly the same except that in that first saucepan we put 1/3 bread to 2/3 malted barley. You could go as high as 100% bread but you would need to add an enzyme to get the sugars to ultimately come out of the bread, the malted barley has an enzyme in it naturally that helps the sugars break down. We have open sourced our recipe so anyone can go and brew their own version of Toast which has been downloaded 40000 times now so that has really captured peoples imagination.
It would be awesome if we had this nice romantic image of us on pedal bikes going from artisanal bakery filling up our baskets with sourdough loaves, but the reality is that most of the surplus bread is coming at an industrial level. The big sandwich manufacturers are churning out bread that will never even make it to the shop floor, the heel of the loaf never ends up on a pre packed sandwich, all this fresh bread just ends up going straight into landfill could be used for better things. The bonkers thing is that it is cheaper for the sandwich manufacturers to deliver the bread free of charge, deliver straight to the brewery than it is to pay for it to be disposed of!
“ A third of the food that we produce on this planet goes to waste. The amount of forests that are cut down to produce food, the transportation and the packaging that is wasted, it is the biggest issue, I would say, that faces our planet today. “ Rob - Toast Ale.
ROSE - So how big is this problem and how much bread is actually wasted in the Uk? Because you mentioned that it is 44% of all food waste, so quantity wise how much is it?
ROB - 900,000 tons wasted every single year. It is just bonkers the scale of bread surplus. A billion tons of food is wasted around the world every year, a third of the food that we produce on this planet goes to waste. […] It is a massive issue. The amount of forests that are cut down to produce food, the transportation and the packaging that is wasted, it is the biggest issue, I would say, that faces our planet today. People think of the mining industry and the transportation industry as being the biggest problems but it is the food industry that is the biggest user of any of those, so what we are really trying to do is post a spotlight on this issue and raise awareness in quite a fun way, and then pouring all of our profits into solutions as well.
ROSE - Amazing. And last question for you for the moment. You have received countless awards from the beer industry, even just last month a bronze from the international beer challenge awards, and you are growing exponentially, you have already expanded tot he US and South Africa. What is next?
ROB - World domination… Bigger than Heineken!… We have different prongs to our attack, one of them is to really scale Toast, so we are brewing in New York, we have licensed the concept to breweries in South Africa, Brazil and Iceland, not the most strategic global expansion model I know but it is working for us… We don’t do export that is why we partner locally, with the nature of our mission we don’t want to be shipping beer all over the world if we can brew it locally, tackle a local bread waste issue and raise awareness locally as well. It is more attractive for a media outlet to feature the story if there is a brewery down the road.
So on the one hand we are really trying to increase the growth of our product and hopefully really try to break into becoming a mainstream beer. I’ll now shameless plug the fact we are available in all good Waitrose stores and Tesco! And then we have the open sourcing of the recipe so that people can tackle this at local level, go into a local bakery find out if there is any surplus bread. We are collaborating with breweries as well. A really exciting project we are about to launch is called Batch, “Batch by Toast”, we are launching this platform that is sort of the Tinder of baking and brewing, where we are looking to connect every bakery in the world with every brewery in the world, give them all the know-how and knowledge and partner up with a local food waste charity. Rather than put our Toast stamp on it, it is “Batch by Toast” so it is clear that we sort of are behind it but it is not a Toast product. So it might taste a bit different to our Toast range but that is how we think we can really amplify this and start tackling this at global level and we need the entire beer industry on board.
ROSE - Well thank and we will look out for that soon. Thank you very much for providing such a great start to the conversation this evening. Adam, lets go over to you and Smile Plastics now, same question to start with, how did the idea come about?
ADAM - So Smile Plastics originated in the late 80s actually, there was a business set up by Colin Williamson who was a chemical engineer and it ran for about 10-15 years. It was probably one of the first examples of industrial up-cycling; before the word up-cycling, before the word sustainable design there was Colin. It was used a lot in engineering design books and industrial design guides as an example of how people could approach design in a different way, how you could use recycled materials and how you could communicate with them a message about the environment. Unfortunately that business shut down in the late 2000s , 2009 or 2008. I had worked in the factory on a number of personal research projects, connected with the engineer who created the factory and the last five years we have been re-establishing the concept as a new, a slightly different version of what was going on in the 80s and 90s.
ROSE - Like Toast Ale, you manufacture using waste that you collect from other companies. Where do you source the plastics that you use and how much plastic is used to create your panels?
ADAM - A lot. It is a miserable task. I wish I had chosen sourcing beautiful grapes or something. Rummaging around dusty bin bags around the back or corner shops isn’t exactly attractive. Although I have been doing for 20 years now as all of my personal work, aside from Smile Plastics has been linked to industrial recycling so I have been rummaging around a lot of bins endlessly always thinking “why am I here?”…
So the materials come from a combination of post commercial, post consumer and post industrial waste depending on what we are doing. Essentially we operate like a whiskey company, we collect plastic from all over the place, in little bits and we get to look at it and we start to figure out how to convert it into one of the materials. We have a range of classic materials which are based on different types of recycled plastic waste. We are basically creating small batches of handmade recycled plastics, each batch will be around 5 to 6 tons of raw material. With each batch next generation of raw material is slightly different, so our materials evolve as the packaging industry changes, you see the nuances of what is going on about 6 to 12 months after the fashion industry’s push to change.
We are working with a collection of big and smaller recycling companies with the infrastructure for sorting, cleaning, washing and scrubbing plastic is relatively large. We work with companies to teach them how to clean and sort the waste so that they can be converted into something that has a Smile Plastics quality so we can focus on what we are doing really well, which is making really high quality surface panel products from waste material.
ROSE - So there is an education element to it as well…
ADAM - Yes it can be several years of training and then it doesn’t work…
“We are not really about mass manufacturing stuff, our focus is really on trying to make really high quality socially engaging materials that allow people to walk into a space and think ‘I want to change the world’.” Adam - Smile Plastics.
ROSE - And how did you develop the technology to convert that into a material product?
ADAM - Well, we are quite lucky in way that we worked with Colin who has 60 years of industry knowledge in manufacturing from waste, but additionally I have 20 years of rummaging around dustbins, also manufacturing for the circular economy from waste, so it is the equivalent of 100 years of one person trying very hard to make stuff from waste condensed into like five or six people. It is trial and error and a bit of luck along the way. And collaboration, we have obviously worked with a lot of companies to help us, to get waste to us. Colin was also the founder of the Industrial European Federation for Plastic Recycling and was also the co-founder for the British Plastics Historical Society, he probably has the largest private library on plastic history in the world, full of weird technology books going back to the 20s on weird ideas for plastic technologies.
ROSE - You mentioned collaborations. You recently collaborated with Bloomberg for example to use their old keyboards. Are there any limitations to what you can create and what would be your dream project?
ADAM - There are definitely no limitations but things take longer the more complicated they are. Something like the Bloomberg project was the brainchild of a design studio called Silo Studio who were commissioned by Bloomberg to come up with a project. They did a lot of manual labour, it was very painstaking, cleaning, sorting and managing the waste in order for it to be converted. The outcome though was so personal and so special that it can’t really ever become waste after that. Well you would hope so, I hope they are still treasured by someone in their head office it probably is somewhere., in some executive’s private penthouse somewhere, a boardroom table made out of keyboards and what nor. It definitely won’t get lost, it will last for at leats 50 years which is much longer than it would have lasted for as a recycled dust box for example, which we might see a little bit more commonly.
ADAM - I think yeah, and that’s the ethos. And coming back to what you asked earlier, we are not really about mass manufacturing stuff, our focus is really on trying to make really high quality socially engaging materials that allow people to walk into a space and think “ I want to change the world”. A little bit like what toast is doing with food, we are looking at the building environment and how we can use the language of materials to change the way people build and the building environment. Wow do use an awful of packaging for our food, the tow things link together. It is really unfortunate really because humans love to consume and the first thing that we can consume is with our mouth and then can put stuff on our bodies and you drive around to et more stuff to put in our mouths on on our bodies.
ROB - The apparel industry is crazy!
ADAM - Without the excess food we wouldn’t even be able to have the apparel because the food is what enables us to got to the shops…
ROSE - Well we will be covering the apparel industry very shortly but first we are going to head over to Soroush. What Lozi is working on is quite distinct from the first two panelists we have heard from int hat you are using waste from your own production process and se how you can keep that within the cycle. You launched the collection last November, it is called the £9,99 collection. What inspired you to start using your own waste in the business and how did that first collection come about?
SOROUSH - Well there were a few inspirations behind this collection. Our first consideration, obviously a hot topic right now, global warming. We thought, as a very small business, how can we contribute to this and at least be more efficient with what we do here. The second inspiration was actually a Christmas shopping trip with my wife a couple years ago when I visited Tiger for the first time. I was amazed, looking at all these products, all well designed, very shiny, it made me want to buy everything, everythng seemed amazing but it was all so cheap, like £1, £2 or £3 maximum so you will end up buying something. The way the shop is designed, one big loop, is very clever and almost forces you to pick up something by the end. Somehow I didn’t actually buy anything but lesson learned, I decided I wanted to use this model at Lozi. I wanted to make some products that are fun, beautifully designed and that won’t necessarily break or disappear within the next year, that people can keep for a while. And finally, about 5 years ago one of my clients bought a very small candle holder, at around the same price, and three years later came back looking for a desk and a kitchen! So we got a really big job out of a very small product, which was amazing and made me aware that you don’t always realise how much impact a good product can have on your clients. And we thought ok maybe this is another way of keeping clients engaged, having a wider range of products on show and maybe we can create more jobs in the future.
I then came back here and looked at our system. The main material that we use is plywood, we try to be as efficient as we possibly can but whatever we do you end up with some sawdust and offcuts. The main thing was walking around the workshop and trying to make sure no rubbish walked out of the door, trying to keep it all closed loop where we keep using it and using it. So the idea came to create a collection just based on this, little side products just using the offcuts and we launched it last year just before Christmas. Everyone loved it, kept on “saying its brilliant, it’s fun, it’s cool, it’s under £10 so you can easily buy it and it is not something we can break easily”. We didn’t expect this at all, we made batches of ten of each product, thinking we might sell one or two, but for months with my colleagues we ended up having to make more every day.
“The way I see it is that each sheet of plywood, if you think about it costs maybe a few thousand pounds if you think about how they make it in the first place… It is actually a lot of pressure on us to do something great with it, something that can last for a long time, it is beautiful, it is functional and to make sure that whatever is left we use it again. “ Soroush - Lozi
ROSE - During your MSc you wrote your dissertation on efficient manufacturing processes. How have you incorporated those ideas into how you run Lozi and how did they inspire you to work with waste?
SOROUSH - For my MSc, I focused on something very specific, a Japanese efficiency system called MUDA. I really recommend everyone look it up and see what it is. It is mainly used in car factories in Japan and that is how they are very successful. Material waste is only one aspect of it, it looks at 7 or 8 different inefficient processes, a lot of it is not even visible. It talks about how much time you can waste by moving around or by not doing anything, all these things can affect your production, it is all about being super efficient. I focused on that side of things first, and then thought lets look at our material waste, like our sawdust or our offcuts, later. A lot of our clients ask “oh where is the factory?” And we say “what factory?” It is a small workshop but we are very efficient. I try to use all these techniques. One of them for example is transport within your premises, everything single movement you have you should think about it otherwise it is a waste of time, money, everything. For example moving a chair over there you have wasted your time. So you should put it in the right place, find the right spot and never move it again. It is a very small thing, but maybe when you look at Japan, a very small country, very small amount of land, there are such big industries. Its like that for us here, we are a small workshop, only 3 or 4 of us but every week we have a lot of big projects coming out of the workshop so people think we are a really big company but we are not, we don’t have to be. I mean thanks to our CNC machine as well it is a great help. So we really worked on that aspect of things and recently tackled the material waste side of things.
ROSE - You are premiering a process for acting your sawdust to turn it into products. How does that work?
SOROUSH - We have just started experimenting. With us, sawdust is the main waste. There have already been quite a few experiments done with sawdust, turning it into a wood log so you can just burn it for example. Because it is plywood it is full of chemicals and glues, so you can’t burn it in homes and it is not good for the environment anyway. We are really privileged, really lucky because in London you can get every single item you want in london. You can call any supplier,… It is fantastic, I mean it comes from north of Russia, it comes from Latvia, it comes from France, Netherlands everywhere, and it is 40, 50 maximum £100 a sheet. We then cut it to size and that’s it, we can give it to the clients. They never ask what we did to the rest. We could just ignore it but we don’t want to ignore it. It is fantastic, you should celebrate it. The way I see it is that each sheet of plywood, if you think about it costs maybe a few thousand pounds if you think about how they make it in the first place. I know it is on a big industrial scale but that tree took 25 to 30 years to grow and then taking into consideration air, soil, water everything, it doesn’t matter if it is on the other side of the planet it is all interconnected. They chop it, it goes to the factory, very efficiently, we wait 24 hours and it’s here. It is actually a lot of pressure on us to do something great with it, something that can last for a long time, it is beautiful, it is functional and to make sure that whatever is left we use it again.
Going back to the sawdust - sorry - we tried to use it in different ways, maybe we can mix it with glue, with resin, with Bio-resin to find a solution to maybe cast it. Because the volume of sawdust that we produce is so huge, we can’t just think about making little things with it, like maybe coasters small products. Every two to three months we have a couple of massive bags that just leave the workshop and who knows where they end up, so we are trying to reproduce it, in fact turn it back into a plywood sheet made out of sawdust so we can constantly cut it and reproduce it. A couple of weeks ago we made come samples, you can see it over there, maybe after we can have a look. I think that is a good direction, if we can create larger sheets that we can make different products with it. So that’s what it is.
ROSE - That’s super exciting, I love the idea that in this workshop every single scrap of material is precious.
So a bit more context on Davy J swimwear. You started your career as an economist specialising in the circular economy. What inspired you to start Davy J and how did that experience shape the brand.
HELEN - Yes I am an economist, for my faults. I actually started Davy J a year ago and I have gone from being an economist to being a swimwear designer, which makes absolutely no sense but for those who know me there is an absolute logic to that journey. I have always been really interested in circular design and circular economics, spent a ton of my own time looking into materials, I always loved what products were made out of, the story behind them. I was at a stage in my career when I wanted to explore this area more so I handed in my notice and started speaking to companies like Elvis and Kresse who do amazing things with fire hoses and all these amazing companies int he circular economy space. I always had this little fire running that I would love to run my own business. I grew up by the coast in Devon, always spent my life in and out of the water and felt there was a gap in the women’s swimwear market for something that bridged the gap between performance wear and fashionable beach wear.
At the same time I got in touch with Aquafil, which is the partner that collect waste nylon fishing nets and regenerate them into a raw Nylon yarn. The nylon yarn is 100% made from waste and it is 100% circular so they create a product which has exactly the same properties as raw nylon, as virgin nylon, but it 100% made from waste. And women’s swimwear is traditionally somewhere between 65 and 75% nylon. So the two came together at the right time and I started sampling the ideas and I don’t know where the year has gone in all honesty, we were just at London Fashion Week!
“ I have always felt such a big responsibility, if we create something then we are responsible for what happens to it. So we have an end of life scheme at Davy J, when your swimsuit will eventually reach the end of its life, send it back to us. We are responsible for those materials. “ Helen - Davy J
ROSE - I can’t actually believe it has only been a year, if you look at the brand and the website, the Instagram feed in particular is amazing it has come very far in a short period of time. You are doing this at a good moment, as plastic pollution is really hot topic right now after Blue Planet 2. How do you go about transforming ghost fishing nets into swimwear?
HELEN - So I have a partnership with Aquafil who are the people who actually collect and regenerate the waste. They have partnerships with fishing communities all over the world as well as divers who go out and pick up ghost fishing nets. They also work with carpet manufacturers to collect all the fluff that comes of their carpets and all of that goes into a big global collection system. The process is quite technical. They take the waste nylon and they turn it back into its raw polymer form and then they remake nylon thread. The nylon thread itself looks and feels just like virgin nylon, it doesn’t look or feel any different to what a normal swimwear material would look like, but it 100% made from waste. I have a partnership with Aquafil who do that, and I then bring the fabric into the UK (they are based over in Italy) and I manufacture all in the UK with a small factory in Wales.
ROSE - You talk about having an end of life shame for Davy J swimsuits. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
HELEN - Well the circular economy isn’t just about the supply chain, it starts right at the beginning designing products that last, so our swimsuits are built to last because so many will only last one holiday. They are built to last, we use a sustainable supply chain but also what happens to the product at the end of its life? I have always felt such a big responsibility, if we create something then we are responsible for what happens to it. So we have an end of life scheme at Davy J, when your swimsuit will eventually reach the end of its life, send it back to us. We are responsible for those materials and actually with our partnership with Aquafil we are in a much better position to regenerate that Nylon. The beauty is that it is 100% circular, so when we can separate out the Nylon from the elastane in our swimwear, that Nylon can be regenerated over and over again, infinitely. So we can make more swimwear, it can turn into fishing nets, it can turn into all sorts, anything made out of nylon.
ROSE - And on the back of all this you won the women of the future entrepreneur award, what is next and how would you like to se your business develop?
HELEN - You need to ask me in a few day time. London fashion week was a real surprise for us, to get that opportunity in our first year. Very interesting experience, you realise we have a long way to go in the sustainable sphere. This year London fashion week had a hashtag #positivefashion, and part of it was to do with the models they are using and the image they are giving, but part of it was also looking at the sustainability side of the fashion industry, which we all know is a complete nightmare. If you look at our instagram, I have a beautiful big skirt made of fishing nets and it really took a long time talking to someone for them to understand that it is possible to get that swimwear out of that waste. When we work in this field we think this has just become a bit normal now, but it is really not, there is really a long way to go in that field. Certainly after this week I think it will be interesting on the fashion side of our business, an education on how we get people to understand what it is we are producing, because I don’t think they really get it yet.
ROSE - That’s a really interesting point to open up on towards the panel. To what extent do you think that the product needs to be self evident about the fact that it is made from waste materials? To what extent do you think it is important that the product explains itself in that way?
HELEN - London Fashion Week is a trade event so it was buyers coming round mainly, and they … are not ready. It is quite interesting. They don’t feel like their consumers are quite ready to take a complicated message. They are really interested in sustainability, and the mark, the sort of tag you can put on it but they are very conscious of how to get the story across, particularly online. Still a way to go from our side.
ROSE - You could argue that eliminating or at least reducing waste int he first place could be a more environmentally friendly approach than trying to repurpose it once it has been created. As businesses relying on waste as a raw material, what balance between eliminating it and repurposing it would you like to see?
ROB - We have found, our trade buyers find that our story really resonates with the consumers. I would give (to Helen) some pushback, using examples that are out there, where consumers are really ready. I would kinda challenge some of your retail buyers, with evidence from other companies, I mean we are small but our company, Elvis and Kresse, others, if they say consumers aren’t interested and ready they absolutely are. Our story absolutely resonates with someone who comes into pub and says “have you got anything interesting” and the barman can say “yes try this one, brewed with surplus bread it is how beer was made for thousands of years and all profits go to charity”. It is kinda like boom boom boom, they don’t have to remember all the hops that go into it and all these other details they are sued to having to remember. Like with us, with what all of us are doing, consumers really love a story, a message. The evidence is showing that nearly 50% of consumers now are interested in products that have personality, authenticity or purpose, and if you have all three you are in an absolute sweet spot…
ADAM - It doesn’t have to be David Beckham underwear, believe it or not, which cost a million pounds … It can beautiful locally crafted beer from bread.
ROB - Yeah it really resonates. One of the big challenges we have with ourselves is “is it just one big oxymoron” this concept of sustainable retail consumption, because it is a real challenge. Whilst beer is being consumed, it is much better to make a beer that is better for the planet and making use of this surplus bread, but we would much rather surplus bread didn’t exist in the first instance. For example, we actively campaign for sandwich companies, that we take their bread from, I was in a buyers meeting with Waitrose today and I was trying to tell them to just launch a range of crusted sandwiches. For goodness sake, just stop the surplus in the first instance, this is crazy! I think it is about all of us lobbying for the supply that we receive to not be there in the first place, I suspect that all of us have that as our passion that got us into this world in the first place. We definitely don’t exist for the sake of it, if bread surplus wasn’t there we would definitely not exist. It is a mission to end that surplus, to cut that off to lobby for it to stop and then for us in general to try to work out how we can be as environmentally positive as possible. So drinking beer on tap in a keg is much better than in a bottle, then bottle versus can etc. We are looking at a material, (to Adam) you seem like a massive material geek I should speak to about this, we are really interested in creating a new material to drink from, within there is a really interesting sphere there to create materials from bio-waste. We are hoping that that could also be an interesting support.
ADAM - I think with the plastics economy being the hot topic, then I think there might a reduction in usage but we are not ultimately not going to stop consuming. It is a horrible situation but the scale of human civilisation needs to have industrial food in some way just to keep it propped up for a long period of time. We can't collect or produce or make out own tools to collect or forage or grow our own food anymore so we do have to have an industrial system. Along with food production comes all the packaging, the apparel, the other waste streams, which links it to the supermarket. There has to be a really major major change in the way society consumes in order for there not be a waste issue, and I don’t think we are going to see it for a very long period of time. I think we can tackle in clever ways, in creative ways, and that is what Smile Plastics is trying and do what other companies are doing as well. Ultimately it is there and I think it is about engaging with it and not looking at it as this terrifying thing, trying to take pleasure out of it and trying to optimise its usage rather than sort of panic about it and hide it under the rug which is what we have done for the last 50 years.
“I think there might a reduction in usage but we are not ultimately not going to stop consuming… There has to be a really major major change in the way society consumes in order for there not be a waste issue, and I don’t think we are going to see it for a very long period of time.” Adam - Smile Plastics
ROSE - what advice would you give to businesses wanting to re-assess their relationship with waste?
ADAM - I guess as a business it is about an internal audit of what you do and then trying to identify where there is waste. You could just a be supply chain business, you could be making a specific thing, you could be a office and there is waste inside the office. It is about identifying when things come to you and the things come of you, like what is happening here with the wood waste. There is wood coming in and there is wood going out and there is a problem there if half the wood going out is waste and the other half is beautiful product. So its about identifying that then coming up with a local solution, which is what you are doing and what has happened in this situation.
SOROUSH - It seems that a lot of these problems are created by bigger companies, and now, you (to others) have to come and say this is a problem and then you have to turn it into something, and maybe not that many people take that responsibility. We are aware of it, We are very small but if we have come up with a solution then maybe we can offer it up to the other companies similar to us saying, lets share it. We are small right now but what if we become bigger, there will be less time to sort out these things and it is just easy you, easy to just chuck it, someone will come and dispose of it. One of the sides is the financial side of it, you have paid for this material, it is here but not doing everything right you are losing money. Also, I think it is a great story for everyone, for the clients, going back to the fashion industry, as soon as you tell the story people get engaged, tell us more what have you done! And it gives more value to your brand as well. You can feel like a tiny drop in the sea but wow I have done something for the earth. As a very small local business, if it is a giant factory, you create mess and a lot of other people have to come and sort it out, but imagine if at the end of every recycling we had major companies coming to pick up their bottles, or the bread maybe we would be a bit safer, but it is not like that.
HELEN - First and foremost, our swimwear is great swimwear. You don’t buy it just because of what it is made of, you buy it because it is great swimwear. So we are designing a high quality luxury product. And I think that is one of the most important part sin the education process right now is that people do think , when they think waste they rubbish, they are not thinking actually this could be a high quality product, this is something beautiful, this is something I am going to love and I think that off us probably here are in the process of teaching people not to judge and that actually waste can be beautiful, with a fantastic story behind it, you know to love their pieces, to be really proud of what they are drinking, or wearing or putting into their house because of the backstory to it. So both from a business and a consumer perspective that s the line we are pushing at the moment, we all have a different perspective on what waste can look and feel like or how it can perform, it doesn’t have to be a secondary product.
ROSE - Would anyone apart from me like to ask a question?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: you have already said that creating products out of waste is more expensive than using traditional materials, so do you think that people’s perceptions of how much things cost need to change or do you think that the cost of things made out of waste needs to come down.
HELEN - Yeah, well both. I would love it for there to come a time when the recycled alternative that has exactly the same properties is cheaper than the virgin alternative because then it is a no brainer, then everyone will switch. We argue two lines because we also create a luxury product, we built to last, we manufacture in the UK, all our pieces are double lined, they have a high elastane content so they last a lot longer than a normal swimsuit so you also have that argument as well. You are trying to encourage a consumer to buy something longer term, it is not fast fashion. We have become, certainly over the last five years, so used to the churning out of cheap clothing that our idea of pricing has just dropped, particularly in the apparel industry. So it is both. It is encouraging people to look at the value of the story behind the product, the value of what it is made of but also the value of the length of the life of the product. This is going to last three four, five times as long as your other swimsuits so are you willing to pay three, four five times as much. The answer is usually no, but are people willing to pay a small premium if they can understand it can last longer that’s something we are struggling with at the moment.
ROSE - I think actually it is an interesting point (to Soroush) because I think your product range in general, because the way you manufacture is so efficient for a workshop of the size, your price points are actually really quite reasonable to begin with. How does that then contribute to pricing when you add in manufacturing from waste?
SOROUSH - perhaps because we are inc control of everything, it isn’t going outside and we don’t have to go pick it up from somewhere and then do something else to it, it is all happening here, from this side of the workshop we can take it over there, mix it with with resins, bio resins, or other glues, vacuum form it and make a sheet it doesn’t need to go out of here and it doesn’t need another premises so in a very small scale it works perfectly. But at least sawdust is a big problem for a lot of people. We have similar businesses around here and what they produce in sawdust is just beyond, like maybe ten or twelve bags every two weeks like as big as this workshop and it goes to nowhere. So if we come up with something we are willing to spend that time and energy to develop it and if it is something fun…. In fact we are talking about this, we thinking that maybe we can have a small company on the side that starts doing this. We can start with our own area and pick up everything from the woodworkers and maybe then sell it to them again or we just use it for ourselves. So we are just exploring the idea. It is a lot of effort, the way you said it, you collect it, you have to go pick it up and all of that adds to the cost. I really wish the raw material was cheaper so we could come to you and use more of (to Adam) but again it is difficult to tell this story to clients saying you have to pay more for beautiful recycled plastic, and they say recycled plastic but it should be very cheap? No its not, this is the story this is how they make it. It is all about educating people as well and this is maybe one of the reasons we are all here, we are expanding it we are going towards less consumption and buying quality products that last longer. Furniture pieces that you don’t need to change each time you move flat, something slid that you can rely on. Just bringing back the quality to items I think is the key thing.
ROB - Are any of your offcuts the size of a tap handle?