Circulate on Fridays: next-level Ikea hacks, bio-buildings and sewers of gold

Circulate on Fridays is a rundown of our favourite circular economy news from the past seven days. While you’re here, did you read this week’s feature on 4.5 Misconceptions About the Circular Economy? You’ve got a lot to get through – we’ll leave you to it!

It’s likely that news of Switzerland’s gold-filled sewers appeared in your timeline this week. Gratifyingly, most reports resisted the temptation of a humorous toilet-related headline, instead focusing on the economic opportunity that’s being lost every year. Scientists have estimated that 43kg of gold – worth about $1.8 million – ends up in Switzerland’s wastewater annually, the result of gold refineries operating especially in the Ticino region. The authors of the report have said that the discovery could make recovery of the gold “potentially worthwhile”, but as we found out earlier this year, there are plenty more reasons for businesses and governments to get their hands dirty with the biocycle, from energy generation to fertiliser production.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Urban Biocycles scoping paper was released earlier this year – click for the Circulate lowdown.

For many of the businesses that make our stuff, the idea of a customer or other third party hacking their products, piggy-backing on the hard work of the original manufacturer, will send a shiver down the spine. But take a look at the story of Reform, a Danish company that creates stylish, high-end interiors like kitchens and living rooms by skinning basic IKEA products with aesthetic additions from smaller renown designers. Rather than clamping down on this sort of thing, the New York Times reports that the company sees such co-creation as a way to provide a richer experience for customers. It’s not necessarily ‘circular’ yet, but the example points to a working business case for standardisation and modular design.

If you’re a regular reader of iFixit’s exquisite gadget teardowns, then Bloomberg’s big feature on the iPhone this week might not be news to you. But the interactive graphic, entitled ‘What’s Inside All the iPhones is beautifully produced and offers a nostalgic retrospective with added product data, so is still worth a look.

Your next house or office could be made of peanuts, rice, banana skins and potato, according to a new report from Arup. Urban Bio-Loop: Growing, Making and Regenerating looks at how bio-materials that would otherwise end up as waste can be put to valuable use in the construction industry. It’s not just about ‘making do’, and the materials under the spotlight could outperform conventional alternatives while offering an economic advantage for players in the value chain. After finding a home in the built environment, these materials should be designed to return to a natural system and remain in the biological loop. With some of these technologies already in the market, this report is a further sign that a circular vision for our towns and cities could be closer than you think.

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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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