In the UK, waste is turned into valuable products

Cosmetics with coffee grounds, dresses from recycled plastic bottles or designer furniture with agave fiber. In the United Kingdom initiatives to transform waste into valuable products are multiplying.

Every day, Drew Wright cycles through London visiting 25 tea rooms and coffee shops to collect a hundred kilos of coffee grounds for Upcircle that would be destined to end up in the rubbish bin.

The company created six years ago by Anna Brightman and her brother Will manufactures beauty products from coffee grounds, chamomile infusions and powdered olive pits, among others.

The couple comes from the managerial ranks of multinationals, Anna explains to AFP. But "I wanted to do something that was closer to my aspirations".

"My brother got the idea for Upcircle just by asking the café where he went every day out of curiosity what they did with all the grounds. He was shocked to learn that everything was going to landfill and that they also had to pay for it"recounts.

Since then, Anna and Will have made a name for themselves as "the slightly crazy brother and sister who scour London to retrieve the coffee grounds".

"People started contacting us about all kinds of waste" and "we currently work with 15 ingredients"among them the water resulting from the manufacture of fruit juice concentrate, faded bouquets of flowers thrown by florists or leftovers from the decoction of spices.

They pay to recover some ingredients but not all. Coffee, for example, is free, although the logistics of picking it up are complex and expensive.

Half a million tonnes of coffee are thrown into British landfills every year. Upcircle is proud to have recycled 400 tons so far.

And yet when Anna and her brother asked cosmetic industry veterans for advice, the answer was that beauty and waste didn’t rhyme.

"neither nasty nor dirty"

But for the businesswoman it is important to convey the message that "these ingredients are neither unpleasant nor dirty".

According to her, "young audiences in particular are more open to the idea of ​​the circular economy" that reuses products and materials, "because for obvious reasons they are more concerned with the future of the planet".

Barbara Scott-Atkinson, the chemist responsible for formulating Upcircle’s products, says that coffee grounds are better for cosmetics than raw ground coffee "because it has been heated, is moist and has even more antioxidants".

All recovered materials are shipped to the company’s factory in Bridport, a town three hours southwest of London.

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The site gives off an aroma of citrus essential oils, one of the compounds in the scrub made that day. The preparation is very simple: coffee ground mixed with sugar and essential oils, to which is added whipped shea butter and a natural preservative.

The blend is bottled in glass containers and distributed throughout the UK at a rate of 3,000 units per week.

Demand is growing rapidly, especially in the United States, explains Upcircle, which refuses to give concrete figures on its sales or expansion.

The company now has to contend with numerous competitors that also reuse food waste, such as Wildefruit, Frank Body and the giant Body Shop. And, as a consequence, the coffee grounds begin to be a precious product.

"Now there are cafes that ask us if we can share the week with another company that also wants to reuse the grounds"says Brightman.

rethink luxury

Faced with the depletion of the planet’s resources, entrepreneurs and creators around the world are imagining new ways to create value with all kinds of waste.

The exhibition "Waste Age" ("The era of waste") of the Design Museum in London sheds light on the reuse of agave fibers in avant-garde tables, benches or hammocks made by the Mexican creator Fernando Laposse, trained at the prestigious Central Saint Martins art school.

He uses multi-colored corn from his native Mexico to devise tables or glazes, among other creations that fuel a circular economy and generate local jobs.

In the United Kingdom, "we recycle 15% of our waste, the rest is incinerated or landfilled"indicates Gemma Curtin, curator of the exhibition.

The amount of plastics and chemical products produced by humanity is so great that scientists urgently call for production limits to be set. The UN, for its part, will address a possible treaty or agreement on plastic from February 28 to March 2 in Nairobi.

The exhibition shows chairs made from old refrigerators, baskets decorated with fishing nets recovered from the sea or the work of fashion designers such as Stella McCartney or Phoebe English, who use recycled plastic bottles.

For Curtin, this allows reflection on "our conception of what luxury is".

The last room in the Waste Age is dedicated to furniture or building blocks with cups of drinks to go. In the UK alone, 2.5 billion of these plastic-coated cups are thrown away every year, making them unrecyclable.

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