Circulate on Fridays: are you baffled by ‘bio’ packaging?

Get stuck in to this week’s Circulate on Fridays, where you’ll find a piece on packaging that aims to cut through the confusion, a sprinkling of new circular economy innovations, plus a stunner on complexity, natural systems and the future from the Director of MIT Media Lab.

“Just because packaging has a ‘bio’ label, it doesn’t mean it’s fit for a circular economy”, says Rob Opsomer of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, speaking to The Guardian this week. In fact, the array of terms, from compostable to biodegradable to bio-based, can actually increase confusion and even be misleading for the end user. For example, packaging that’s labelled as ‘compostable’ can’t just be chucked out in the garden, but needs to be sent to an industrial facility to be properly processed. And bottles made from ‘bio-based’ sources might sound natural, but can be chemically identical to synthetic alternatives. So, it’s all about the system – whether made of biological or technical materials, packaging needs to be designed to fit within a circular economy, with the right infrastructure to support re-use, recycling or biodegrading. 

Don’t miss MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito’s long read on computers, complexity, and the future. In ‘Resisting Reduction, Ito brings in the often overlooked cultural dimension alongside systems thinking to explore how we can shift humanity from a fragile and self-destructive path to one of resilience and flourishing prosperity.

Over on Forbes, Kevin O’Marah thinks that ‘Circular Economy Is The Answer. Referencing thought leaders and innovative case studies, O’Marah tracks how big business is now driving the adoption of more circular practices for the simple reason that it makes financial sense. We like Joel Makower’s line about ‘keeping molecules in play’, which hints at the missed opportunity when companies operate in a take-make-dispose manner, and products and materials are lost from the value chain.

Did you know the Disruptive Innovation Festival kicks off next week? It’s an online festival of ideas, with hundreds of free events streamed straight to you. Head to to find out more, and don’t forget to tune in from Monday.

A quick roundup of some of the new technologies, business models or startups we’ve spotted this week. In Eindhoven, an event space has been built using materials that have been ‘borrowed from local suppliers and residents, to be disassembled and returned after use. A Kickstarter campaign from Italy called YouTattoo is turning used bike tyres into belts, providing a second onward use for the durable rubber material. The NEWgenerator system is a modular, versatile wastewater treatment plant in a box. It’ll soon be deployed in South Africa where each unit will create clean water, fertiliser and energy from biological waste.

If you ever needed a reminder of the energy impact of increasing digitisation, read about how one Bitcoin transaction can use as much energy as it takes to power your house for a week. With more products and services happening virtually, there’s a big energy and materials cost that often goes unseen – talk about unintended consequences…

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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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