Circulate on Fridays: dissolving trainers, C2C design winners & nature-inspired gloves

The REX re-usable packaging. Image: Mallory Barrett

The Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge is a showcase for products or services re-imagined for a circular economy, offering inspiration for other ‘circular designers’. The winners of the fourth annual challenge are now in, and as always the entries demonstrate how well designers embrace the creative brief of designing for a circular economy. One highlight is ‘REX’, a new approach to packaging for pharmaceuticals – pill bottles – that shifts the product from single use to a reusable model. As the recent New Plastics Economy: Catalysing Action report noted, reuse could provide an economically attractive opportunity for at least 20% of plastic packaging, so there’s substance behind Mallory Barrett’s beautiful design and innovative business model.

You’ve heard of snakeskin boots, but what about alligator gloves? This week’s dose of biomimicry inspiration comes from scientists at Montreal’s McGill University, who have designed a set of work gloves inspired by the scales of the alligator gar. The researchers studied the scales of the gar – which is actually a fish – and found that they “the toughest collagen-based material known”, thanks to their structure. By mimicking that structure, they’ve found “the optimal size, shape, arrangement and overlap of ceramic tiles” need to make a seriously tough glove. Get the full story here, and check a nice video from the team behind the work below:

The European Commission released an insightful paper this week that seeks to steer practices on energy from waste in the right direction. While it’s probably the case that incineration could be the right approach for some of the materials currently flowing through the economy, such as those without a safe future use or toxins that should be phased out, investing in energy from waste can create perverse incentives or distract from a more systemic re-think. Mainstream coverage often misses this point, and incineration is sometimes heralded as a ‘revolutionary’ recycling practice. The new paper from the EC reminds member states that while energy from waste might have a short-term role in the transition to a circular economy, taxation and balanced incentives need to be in place to encourage practices that are restorative and regenerative by design.

There’s been no shortage of Internet of Things coverage here on Circulate, but if the term is still unfamiliar to you, Wired had a nice explainer on the topic this week. Get yourself up to speed, then find out what the experts think it could mean for the circular economy with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s 2016 Intelligent Assets study.

© adidas Group (photographer: Hannah Hlavacek)

Adidas’ shoe made from recovered ocean plastic might have grabbed more headlines last year, but in November the company also released a prototype trainer that could (mostly) be washed down your drain when you’re done with it. While the sole doesn’t dissolve yet, the upper is made from Biosteel, a product by German materials innovators AMSilk, a company on a mission to make a synthetic spider silk. They won’t dissolve in the rain, but leave the shoes submerged in the sink for 36 hours and they’ll disappear. It sounds magic, but this recent write up makes the important point that the substances in the dissolved textiles must go somewhere, so the sportswear giant will need to zoom out to spot potential unintended consequences, such as water pollution.

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The Author

Joe Iles

Joe Iles

I'm Editor in Chief of Circulate and Digital Architect at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

When I'm not discussing the circular economy, I also love talking about digital media and online trends, memes, music, bad films and good beer.

You can find me on twitter @joeiles or email joe[at]

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