Examples of Circular Economy: Construction, Law and Policy, and Advertising

Roads constructed from plastic waste, 3D printed mud houses, European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan, and a three story billboard with living bees, are some examples of innovation and circular economy. In this post, we look at these examples in construction, law and policy, and advertising.

(Previous posts: Introduction to Circular Economy — With Examples, Examples of circular economy in fashion, business model, and social movement).

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this post. I just like them as examples; they make for an easier understanding of the applications of circular economy.

1. Construction: 3D printed mud houses, Roads constructed from plastic waste

(Background: The building industry consumes about 40% of raw materials in the global economy every year. The raw materials include non-renewable resources as well as water and energy-intensive materials. Extraction, transportation, and processing of construction materials leads to resource depletion and also affects natural habitats, adding to pollution and waste. The Construction industry generates the highest amount of waste in the United States. 600 million tons of waste was generated by construction and demolition in 2018. Further it contributes roughly 40% towards water pollution and 23% to air pollution).

A growing world population means an increase in infrastructure needs, consequently increasing the consumption of resources and creation of waste. Consumption of new resources and disposal of waste are as much an economical burden as an ecological one. For a less burdened future, it is beneficial to reduce material consumption, or find new materials and construction techniques that are safer, faster, efficient, profitable, and sustainable.

A) 3D printed hybrid mud house:

Mud houses have been built by humans for centuries, but imagine, a 3D printer printing layer after layer of mud to build a house! Actually, now we don’t need to imagine this because you can see images of a 3D printed mud house right here. Using a homogenous mixture of mud, rice straw, and lime, WASP, an Italian 3D printer manufacturer has built or rather, printed, a house named GAIA. GAIA is a hybrid mud house with with three main parts: a plinth, or foundation, made of cement and reinforced concrete that prevents damage to the building due to water logging the 3D printed mud wall casing that gives excellent thermal and acoustic insulation, and a roof made of laminated wood. The company completed the 3D printed wall casing in just 10 days with two people working on it.

Still in its infancy, the technology shows good engineering promise as a FAST and EFFICIENT building technique. By using traditional materials like mud and rice straw, the company has successfully REPURPOSED agricultural WASTE and excavation by-products, and REDUCED transportation needs.

My Notes: With increasing global temperatures the demand on energy is increasing to keep houses and buildings cooler/warmer. To mitigate this extra energy consumption, we need more energy efficient buildings. Mud houses, known for their good thermal insulation, can be an excellent solution for energy efficient buildings. This might not be a solution for multi-story buildings but hybrid mud houses could be a more popular choice for single-story homes, resort cottages, small schools, mom and pop stores, visitor centers in natural settings, or places with suitable climatic conditions.

B) Plastic roads:

How can plastic waste be repurposed? With this question Dr. Rajagopalan Vasudevan, a professor from India, began his research in plastic waste management. His experiments demonstrated that plastic has excellent binding properties and if mixed with Bitumen, a chemical used in road construction, it can improve longevity of the roads. Using this technique, the first road in India constructed using plastic waste was built in 2002. For each kilometer of road, this technology prevents approximately a million plastic bags going to landfills or to the ocean, saves USD 670, and improves road longevity.

Road built by adding waste plastic in India. Photo: greenoptimist.com

By December 2019, India had 33,000km (21k miles) of roads with recycled plastic. Now, other countries like the Netherlands, Ghana, UK, and recently the US, have also started constructing roads with recycled plastic.

This technique of REPURPOSING plastic waste is improving profits along with LONGEVITY of the roads.

2. Law and policy: European Green Deal and Circular Economy Action Plan:

(Background: When it comes to climate change, overconsumption of resources, or ever growing plastic waste, people often casually say that it is the law makers’ responsibility to solve this problem).

In December 2019, the European Commision set out its new agenda for sustainable growth called European Green Deal. With this new agenda Europe aims to be carbon neutral by 2050 and halt biodiversity loss. To achieve this goal, the EU adopted the Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) as one of its main building blocks.

European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan. Photo: ec.europa.eu

The CEAP aims to reduce pressure on natural resources, waste prevention, and create sustainable growth and jobs by introducing:

A) Legislative measures like mandatory requirements on RECYCLED content in areas such as packaging, construction materials and vehicles, a ban on the destruction of unsold durable goods, restricting single-use and countering premature product obsolescence, new regulatory measures for mobile phones, tablets and laptops under the Ecodesign Directive and Right to Repair that aims to improve product LONGEVITY, REUSABILITY, REPAIRABILITY, and UPGRADABILITY.

B) Non legislative measures like supporting sustainable innovations by providing funding, launching a European Circular Dataspace to mobilize the potential of digitalization of product information, increasing the uptake of green public procurement, global alliance to work towards circular economy, promote and provide incentives to green businesses etc.

My notes: Any company that wants to gain competitive advantage and improve its sustainability can use the design directives from the CEAP, or use this framework as a guide for formulating their own circular economy strategies.

As a thought experiment we can all use this framework in our household to achieve circularity and reduce our carbon footprints. (maybe I should write another post on this ;)).

3. Advertising: A three story bee hive as a billboard.

(Background: Billboards have been used for advertisements for over a century. Advertisers are constantly looking for ways to grab eyeballs whether through painted/ printed billboards or digital or mobile ones. On an average a printed billboard is changed every 4 weeks. While regular printed billboards after their use create a lot of waste, the digital ones are energy intensive).

Cheerios, a popular cereal brand in the US, was celebrating Honey Nut Cheerios, one of its most loved flavors. The company wanted to emphasize that the Honey Nut Cheerios taste great because of the real honey used as an ingredient. So instead of broadcasting the message- ‘made with real honey’ the advertising agency thought of showing the message — the bees, the beekeeper, and how real honey is made!

Billboard with living bees making real honey. Photo: blog.generalmills.com

So in November 2015, a three-story high living billboard, housing more than 100,000 bees, was constructed on a ranch in Florida. The honeybees used in the creation of the billboard were supplied in partnership with local beekeepers. The honey produced from the bees in the billboard was used to spell out “Made With Real Honey” by filling clear letters on the structure’s exterior. 10 hives were used to produce around 25 gallons of honey for the project — three hives were located on the third floor of the billboard, and seven others were nearby on the property. Honey from the billboard was also used to create a special edition box of Honey Nut Cheerios, which was shared with bloggers and members of the media. Utmost care was taken to keep people safe from the bees and vice versa.

After the campaign, honey and bee materials from the billboard were REPURPOSED to make organic soaps, balms, and moisturizers and were sold at the neighboring farmers market by the local beekeepers.

My Notes: From solar panels to generate electricity for billboard lighting to billboards supporting vegetation, billboards can be functional places and not just a static advertisement creating waste without any buzzzzz.

END NOTE: Adopting circular economy in a business has potential benefits for economic, social, and ecological wellbeing. It may not solve our resource and climate problems completely but it can be a great first step towards a longer journey to sustainability.

Designing delightful products and systems that are profitable, circular, and sustainable.