April 5, 2023

Recycling sucks

When we want to deal with waste in a sustainable way, we recycle it…right? Well, not quite.

But I’ve always been told recycling is good?

When we think of what to do with ‘waste’, we probably think of three things - reduce, reuse, and recycle. This slogan has been drilled into us since we were toddlers, and it’s accompanied by the triangle symbol that is now synonymous with recycling.

In theory, this sounds perfect - we make something, we use it (or maybe we don’t), and when it becomes ‘waste’ we turn it into something else. We create a plastic bottle, use it, and turn it into another plastic bottle. What could the problem be? Unfortunately, this is not how it works.

Because this conception of recycling still follows a ‘linear’ model (make product, use it, turn it into something else), it wasn’t designed in the first place to be recycled. This means that every time the product is ‘recycled’, instead of increasing or even maintaining its value, it actually decreases in value - it is ‘downcycled’. 

Let’s look at plastic bottles as an example. Every time a plastic bottle (made from PET) is recycled, it’s essentially impossible to create a new plastic bottle that is the same quality as its predecessor without adding new plastic into the mix. In this way, a lot of the time when plastic bottles are recycled they’re turned into other lower-value products, such as wood replacements.

Because the production process is still a line with an “end-point”, recycling will never, on its own, truly remove the concept of ‘waste’ from our society. While its life is extended, the recycled product still ends up in landfill.

Recycling is an imperfect solution, because it still clings onto the idea of something being ‘waste’.

Why we should focus on transforming rather than recycling

This isn’t a matter of semantics.

When we think about the circular economy and “transforming”, it involves a reformation of the concept of ‘waste’. In a true circular economy, goods are produced with the understanding that there is no ‘end-point’ to which the item becomes waste, but rather enters another life.

In this way, what we now think of ‘waste’ is instead considered a resource for other purposes. Waste is no longer something at the end of the line that we need to ‘do something to’ in order to make it valuable - like an inconvenient end point. Instead, it’s a valuable resource for the production of other goods or for the advancement of other purposes.

This reshaping doesn’t start at the end of the line, but from the beginning of the process itself. When goods are created, they are created with the idea that eventually they will be transformed into something else. 

Reshaping the global food system, one insect at a time

This is what we’re doing at Bardee. By taking food that hasn’t been used and feeding it to black soldier fly larvae, who then produce organic fertiliser and high-quality insect protein, we’re actually increasing its value.

Our process speaks to the heart of the circular economy. Unused food is used to create organic fertiliser, which is then applied to soil to grow more plants and crops. Food is used to create more food. 

Unused food is also used to create insect protein, which is used to feed livestock and pets. Our process results in the end-products actually being more valuable than the inputs.

What is traditionally considered ‘waste’ is used in our model as a resource to produce high-quality products. This is what the circular economy is about. Not viewing something as waste that we need to recycle, but rather conceptualising everything in the food system as a resource that can be used to create something of high value.

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