Waste, particularly as a by-product of an industrial manufacturing process has often been the catalyst of discovery and inspiration. A new product or discovery has been revealed, and sometimes made the inventors very wealthy in the process, when built to a commercial scale.

For example, in the 1800’s in Industrial Britain, Coal Tar was produced in the process of gas production. Britain was producing vast quantities of gas to fuel the industrial revolution, so coal tar waste was created in large quantities. Many were looking at how to use this abundant source of waste, and as early as 1820, Charles Mackintosh created a coating made from Coal Tar for fabric that made it waterproof. This became known as The Mackintosh.

In 1852, an 18-year-old Chemist, William Perkin, failed in his search to create artificial quinine from Coal Tar, (which was expensive and much in demand for Malaria treatment), but he made the discovery by accident of how to create the colour purple, as a synthetic dye. Prior to this, natural purple dye was created by killing vast amounts of molluscs. By the age of 21, William Perkin had made his fortune, and a patent in 1856 for this colour lead to other colours as synthetic dyes. In addition, this chance discovery went on and aided in the discovery of DNA, chemotherapy, drugs, and as well as huge advances in photography, perfume and explosives. (Simon Garfield’s book ‘Mauve ‘is a wonderful history of this discovery and synthetic dyes, and some of the problems with pollution this then created in their production in rivers in Victorian Britain – worth a read!).

The search for using up waste from industrial production has created opportunities for many new businesses ever since, and as sustainability becomes essential for brands, retailers, producers and consumers to embrace and investigate, todays businesses are looking for ways to doing things differently. As the resources of our planet are finite, scarce and therefore their true value is also becoming recognized, innovation in new products, and production of waste by-products, innovative ways of recycling, becomes an imperative for companies to consider for those who look towards the future of their businesses.

Using waste from industry is not niche and continues to allow new innovations and spark new ideas, but need not be at the expense of virgin resources.

Here are some of the innovative ways of building new business models that we have seen recently.

Everlane – more sustainable denim and bricks

Denim is a uniform worn by almost everyone, but manufacturing it is a challenging business. Our love for dark or even washed out denim does mean that the production uses huge amounts of water to make it softer and lighter in colour. All denim starts out as dark denim, a dark Indigo colour, and dyed with Indigo dyes. The water used becomes polluted with indigo waste, chemicals, even heavy metals and often left untreated, this waste water in thousands of factories around the world is then allowed to run off back into the rivers and into the seas.

Everlane has launched a line of sustainable denim jeans in September this year. As a small denim manufacturer, they needed to find a factory that could share their vision and was willing to work with them on changing the way their denim is produced and with new technology. Everlane is working in partnership with Saitex, Vietnam producing the range of Jeans that is produced as sustainably as possible, and recycling 98% of water that is used in production. By using reverse osmosis that filter the chemicals and dyes in the water through a membrane that leaves clean water behind. This is where innovation with waste comes in! Once the clean water is extracted, this leaves behind a thick Indigo waste by product, that is then combined with cement to make bricks that are then used to create homes for people in need.

Saitex are now also working with other factories in the area to create more waste as these bricks could be a new and additional revenue stream for factories and reduce harmful chemical waste being discharged back into the river.


Orange fiber

In our recent blog ‘Unlocking new business potential and the circular economy’ (Sept 2017) we highlighted the creation of Frumat, a synthetic leather made from Apple waste created from the Apple Juice industry, and also Orange Fiber, and how hundreds of thousands of tonnes of oranges from waste created by the Citrus juice industry in Catania, Sicily are now used to create a new silk- like fibre for the fashion and apparel industry. This waste is seasonal, so is turned into cellulose then stored for later use for creating into yarn. It is also free! We have also seen other uses being developed for using the citrus waste.

Bags & Accessories
Elvis and Kresse – rescue and re-use – bags and accessories created from waste destined for landfill.

Elvis & Kresse began 10 years ago, designing and creating a range of luxury bags and accessories from decommissioned firehoses from the London Fire Brigade, which would be destined for landfill once they reached their end of life in the fire service. The designers saw the potential of creating designs from these hoses, as the material used to make them was very high quality and they could have a second life in fashion accessories, rather than being discarded as waste. To buy this material new would be very expensive due to the high quality of the material, so rescuing the hoses that are no longer suitable for use in fighting fires, also makes economic sense for their product ranges, the company now also uses other waste products such as shoe boxes, coffee and tea sacks, parachute silk, and leather scraps to create other new products, often combined with the original fire hose material.


Pentatonic – recycled and reincarnation

Pentatonic is a new online furniture retailer that fully embraces the circular economy at the core of its business model. They ‘turn trash into modern treasures’. The company is founded on finding solutions for transforming waste with functional great design and products, which do not need to come at the cost of sustainability.

Driven by a desire for good design, they are transforming and reincarnating old mobile phones, DVD’s computers into covetable furniture and home products. Old smartphone screens are transformed into glassware and crockery, their Airtool chair is created 100% from waste, 61% plastic bottles, the balance from food packaging, aluminium cans, and discarded shoe soles. They pledge to only use waste a starting point, and create all new materials for their products which are then also able to be fully recycled at the end of this new life. All materials used are also given a unique product ID number, so this can be track throughout its lifecycle.

Having raised £4.3mln investment funds as a start-up, this is a business that their investors believe in for the long term and anticipate that this is the future of buying cool furniture.


Food & Drinks
Huskee Cup – a viable solution to the coffee cup problem

The Founders of Huskee cup, have created an attractive, durable, reusable ceramic cup that is made from coffee husk waste, a by-product of farming the coffee beans. The cup is durable enough to be used in cafes and in a dishwasher, and it doesn’t chip or crack. Using the husks from coffee farming eliminates the cost of disposal of the waste, and creates a closed loop system in the Huskee cup, as recyclable at the end of life too. For those who read our blog ‘Your daily coffee, sustainable and stylish’ (August 2017), this is one solution to the issue raised on using disposable coffee cups.


Orange flour

The University of Catania, is currently testing orange waste that could also be used to make fat-free flour, which could then substitute the use of fat, (butter or margarine) in bakery products, making baked goods healthier, and stay fresher. By replacing half of the fat normally used, by an orange flour made from rinds, seeds and part of the pulp not used for orange juice production, the orange flour is created. Like Orange fiber, the raw materials are provided free from the juice makers, so costs almost nothing to produce.

Citrus fuel

In Mussomeli, in the middle of Sicily, Citrus waste products are used to make biogas which is turned into electricity. The quantities of orange waste in this region are enormous. The local fruit companies produce thousands of tonnes of this waste annually. This waste from oranges is called ‘pastazzo’, and producers have an incentive to encourage re-use of the waste, as disposal is expensive. It is estimated that Sicily producers about 200,000 tonnes of waste from oranges, and the total cost of disposal can reach 16 mln Euros every year. As expensive waste, it is a problem, but as a plentiful resource for new products, it is an opportunity.


Part of the work we do at global Bright Futures is to explore together with our clients, ideas and some options that could be right for their business. We are always interested in hearing from you so please drop us a note on other innovations that are being explored. We love to learn more about the appetite and capacity for inventing and creating change in all the sectors we work in.


Sign up too for our newsletter ‘Bright Ideas’, so you can join the conversation on innovation and sustainable business for the future.