fbpx

Our view of seven sustainability trends on the rise in 2021

Avatar Clim8 Team

08 April 2021 Climate ChangeSustainability

sustainability trends

Sustainability trends suggest a shift towards a more circular system is beginning.

In the last 70 years, mass consumerism and a maturing linear system (make, use, throw away) have changed how we view resources.

The term ‘waste’ can infer little or no worth. All resources, effort, energy and time that goes into making products are dismissed in a single word and often after very short lifespans.

Sustainability trends in waste management

Times are changing. Although landfills and incinerators continue to fill and mindsets still need shifting, rays of hope are on the horizon.

2021 looks to be a year of accelerated change in the waste management world.

Here, in our view, are seven sustainability trends to watch closely over the course of the year.

1. Capturing methane

Landfills emit 15% of the world’s methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas 28 to 36 times more powerful than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Waste Management, one of the largest waste management companies worldwide, focusses on capturing this methane and using it to run its natural gas-powered fleet of vehicles.

Hopefully this system will also encourage other companies to capitalise on their own methane emissions.

2. Ending the single-use wave

Every additional six-month delay on the ban of single-use plastics results in hundreds of millions more items filling our landfills and oceans. China also recently decided that it would no longer (unsurprisingly) accept non-recyclable waste, heightening the landfill situation further.

Thankfully, we believe legislation is within reach and will force change.

For example, Canada is banning the majority of single-use plastics by the end of this year with Montreal aiming to have a zero waste policy by 2030.

Other countries including France, Taiwan and Kenya are in hot pursuit, many having already banned plastic cups, plates, cutlery and bags.

3. A puzzling affair

The UK has a decentralised waste system with an array of recycling criteria and a confusing labelling system. No wonder 73% of British consumers would welcome greater transparency about their waste.

Combined with a widening variety of plastics and mixed-polymer plastics on the market, sorting waste is, in our view, a complex issue.

Good news though. Advancements in sorting technology continue to make headway in alleviating the pressure for waste-to-product companies such as Renewi.

However the system is still heavily reliant on humans separating out the different plastics at a maximum rate of 30 to 40 recyclables per minute. 2021 will be the year AI becomes prevalent. Increased sorting accuracy and efficiency enables AI-powered machines to sort 160 plastic items per minute.

4. Upping the recycling ante

Increased customer pressure and new legislation are pushing brands to think carefully about their design choices.

Whilst fiscal policy changes (for example a tax on all products that do not hit a 30% recycled-content threshold will be introduced in the UK in 2022) will drive some decision-making, others will be good-will, or value-led (the value of recycled materials especially rare earth could be significant which creates an incentive to recycle), such as the surge in battery technology recycling research by companies like Umicore.

5. Collaboration is king

Waste is, in our view, a systemic issue. Brands trying to solve the situation alone generally stall early on.

We believe worldwide collaborations and partnerships are and will be the answer. Co-founded by Tetrapak, Nestle, Danone and Veolia, 3R Initiative, in our opinion, is a prime example.

A global collaboration, it researches different methodologies to help reduce, recover and recycle the ever-increasing plastic production by companies. Findings are open source so all companies can benefit.

6. Thinking outside the box

Designing out waste completely is the ideal scenario. Unfortunately, society has become less and less circular over the decades. Only 8.6% of waste worldwide is recycled and the figure is getting worse.

Rethinking the way products are designed with end of life in mind will change this. DS Smith, a global packaging solutions company, now trains all of their designers in Circular Design Principles to help them hit their 2023 target of producing 100% recyclable or reusable packaging.

7. Is alternative better?

Sustainable paper-based packaging’s popularity has increased tenfold and Smurfit Kappa is leading the charge.

However, many other brands are turning to plastic alternatives such as plant-derived materials that claim to be biodegradable. Despite sounding green on the tin, in reality they typically only degrade in highly-controlled environments.

Although new varieties of such materials encourage consumers to lower their plastic consumption, they can wreak havoc on a waste management system not capable of processing these materials.

Though it’s not obvious, solutions, partnerships and innovations are being worked on behind the scenes. Working collaboratively is the only way to productively move forwards. Invest your money in companies pioneering the way and accelerate the rate of change.

With investing your capital is at risk. Information is for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute investment advice.

0 Comments

Overcoming water scarcity: water crisis solutions you should know

Avatar Clim8 Team

31 March 2021 Climate ChangeSustainability

Tackling water scarcity

Water scarcity is one of four major challenges preventing 2.1 billion people, almost a third of our global population, from having regular access to clean drinking water.

The other three are pollution, quality and affordability. For this first part in the series, we will be focussing on water scarcity.

Water scarcity? And yet water is everywhere I look

The vast majority – 97% of water on earth is stored in its oceans. A further 2.5% is frozen in polar caps, is locked up in soil or polluted beyond repair. The remaining 0.5% of our global water resources is used by 99% of the Earth’s 1 trillion species, of which humans use a disproportionate amount.

To exacerbate the situation even further, populations are booming, existing infrastructure is poor, farming methods are damaging and climate change is already upon us. Every year, water is becoming scarcer.

Two sides of the water scarcity coin

Water scarcity happens in two ways. Physical water scarcity occurs when water supply does not physically meet demand. This affects 20% of the global population.

Economic water scarcity, however, arises when an adequate water supply cannot be tapped due to insufficient funds; often caused by lack of good governance. Economic water scarcity affects 23% of the global population, predominantly in Africa

A range of innovation and technology businesses look to solve water scarcity via different channels.

Focus on reducing non-revenue water

We lose a third of all drinkable water worldwide. Old infrastructure such as leaky pipes cause inefficiencies, alongside human factors such as meter reading errors, theft and corruption.

‘Non-revenue water’ costs countries millions of pounds and usually passes onto the ratepayer, making affordability an ever-growing concern.

Thankfully, many companies have developed and are implementing solutions, for example:

  • Xylem SmartBallTM is a multi-sensor tool that detects and locates leaks without the need for costly excavation exercises. Africa’s largest water utility company, Rand Water, used this technology to examine 2,200 kilometres of pipelines and locate every single leak down to the closest metre.
  • Utility companies rarely have funds to replace infrastructure. In fact, USA companies need $1 trillion in the next 25 years to replace all existing leaky infrastructure. Aegion Corporation have invented future-thinking technologies that aim to enable effective pipeline rehabilitation rather than replacement.
  • Smart water meter technologies, such as Badger Meters, are being used to replace existing antiquated systems. Smart technology enables companies to check water usage, identify water leakages and detect tampering in real time.

Moving to access the 97%

Rapid adoption of desalination technologies in arid regions such as the Middle East, has helped countries deal with physical water scarcity. In Saudi Arabia, desalination now accounts for nearly 70% of their drinking water. 
However, desalination plants are power-hungry using 4 kilowatt hours of energy for every cubic metre of water produced. This costs customers as much as $5 per 1000 gallons versus $1.50 per 1000 gallons from a typical municipal water supplier even if the costs have fallen significantly over the last 2 decades.

Increasing solar power generation will bring this cost down, though some experts believe that desalination must be coupled with other solutions to reduce costs substantially.

water scarcity
Source: Mission 2017

To make desalination truly affordable, Energy Recovery, an innovative desalination company, produces highly efficient and scalable solutions that minimise existing plants’ energy usage and carbon emissions. To date, $2 billion in energy expenses have been saved and 11.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions have been eliminated.

A team in Singapore are also exploring biomimicry techniques to see how mangrove plants are able to extract fresh water from the sea with minimal energy.

Slowly changing perceptions

Reusing and recycling water should alleviate municipality and industry-wide water scarcity. Depending on whether it is drinkable, water can irrigate orchards, recharge groundwater or wash vehicles. Wastewater treatment technology has improved exponentially in the last decade. Kurita Water is a prime example that has created Zero-Liquid Discharge (ZLD) systems, a closed-loop process which treats and reuses water without any discharge. 

The public appears to remain sceptical as to whether recycled, treated wastewater is drinkable. Highly visible champions such as Bill Gates are vouching for its safety, which should help grow the practice. Australia turning to greywater would save 1 trillion litres of water.

Intelligent irrigation

The global agricultural industry uses 70% of our freshwater supply. Inefficient watering methods loses much of it to field run-off. 

In developing countries, the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) launched an initiative, Global Framework for Action on Water Scarcity in Agriculture helping farmers adapt to climate change impacts and water scarcity. In the meantime,  precision irrigation systems and computer algorithms are becoming commonplace in developed countries, reducing water usage ten-fold and preventing run-off. 

For many of us living in rain-abundant countries, it can be hard to envisage water scarcity. With increasing global temperatures though, it may become more frequent. 

In order to resolve this worsening situation, investment into innovative companies applying solutions to water scarcity is essential.

With investing your capital is at risk. Information is for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute investment advice.

0 Comments

Clean Energy Superpower: The Energy Storage Solution

Avatar Clim8 Team

13 April 2021 Climate ChangeSustainability

Wind farms and solar panels are a common sight these days. Originally criticised for blemishing unspoilt landscapes, they are now welcomed as signs of greener times.

And as fossil-fuel energy gradually gives way to clean energy, wind and solar will likely take over as the dominant energy source. Especially in the UK and other less mountainous countries that do not benefit from an abundance of hydropower, currently the world’s most utilised renewable energy source.

Actually, over the course of the last two years, the UK managed several months without coal-based power generation at all.

The clean energy conundrum

Water might always flow, but what happens when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow? How do you maintain a consistently sufficient supply of power when the weather isn’t playing ball?

 Adding to the challenge, electricity consumption patterns are changing. Transport systems are gradually electrifying and our dependence on numerous electronic devices increases.

Clean energy: the missing solution

The answer, we believe, is energy storage. Combining solar, wind and battery storage technology (known as SWB) cannot only, in our view, help bring the cost of green energy contracts down but also balance intermittent energy supply for grid operators.

Think tank, RethinkX, believes that when SWB technology is finally fully integrated in power systems and running at optimal conditions, it will generate 3x-5x as much energy as today’s grid whilst energy can be stored on the less windy days.

If anything, clean energy sources are capable of excessive amounts of surplus electricity generation, produced at near-zero marginal cost, coined ‘Clean Energy Superpower’.

An idyllic thought but a few hoops we feel need to be jumped-through first.

Automotive industry – a source of inspiration

Battery storage size (the number of kWh that a battery can hold as opposed to the physical size) and output remains a challenge for the adoption of electric vehicles.

Thankfully the race to find solutions to these challenges is drawing closer; the magic figure of $100/kWh is widely seen as the threshold beyond which batteries will become mainstream. This is mostly driven by the Electric Vehicle (EV) industry’s need for batteries that last longer, hold more energy, and weigh less.

As of this month StoreDot, a startup battery manufacturer working in the automotive marketplace, released a battery that it says can fully charge in just five minutes; a notable step change brought about by highly-targeted industrial innovation.

We all want an electric car but where can we get power when we want it? The concept of ‘range anxiety’ is key; when people  try to keep their battery charged 100pc even when they do not need it.

Some clean energy companies such as Vestas, a wind turbine manufacturer, are latching onto the innovative sprint and deep pockets of the automotive industries and forming partnerships with leading EV companies like Tesla to help accelerate the process further.

Capturing the clean energy superpower

Many energy suppliers are taking storage issues into their own hands.

Ørsted, originally a Scandinavian oil and gas company and now the world’s largest offshore wind power developer, has recently installed one of the first stand-alone, large-scale battery energy storage units near their wind turbine site off Liverpool, UK.

Ørsted can now, we understand, capture 90MW of energy directly from their turbines, helping existing local grid services to meet peak demands when required.

Flattening out peak demand

Factories have, in our opinion, had this nailed for decades; running their machinery overnight when energy is abundant and prices are low.

However, despite the availability of smart home technology on the market, adoption levels are still low; the cost savings are often not understood, or not enough to outweigh the timing convenience on a per-household basis.

Studies also reveal that perceived usefulness, ease of use, trust and compatibility are inherently affecting uptake levels. More research needs to be done, in our opinion, to enable companies to break down entry level barriers.

Elephant in the room or The inconvenient truth

Transitioning to a green economy, we believe, is going to need substantial resources; starting with all the raw materials needed to meet the growing battery and wind turbine demands. Wind turbines alone need 5.5Mt of copper to meet 2028 targets, regardless of all other metals required in their construction.

Sadly, the long-term ill-effects of most current mining operations are considerable. Mining these materials also has a detrimental effect on the environment. Most notably from air and water pollution, to land damage and loss of biodiversity.

Climate change deniers, in our experience, repeatedly raise this as part of their argument against the green transition. We must carefully explore this point while we look for alternative solutions.

Mark Carney, ex- Governor of the Bank of Canada and Bank of England, as well as Financial Advisor to Boris Johnson for COP26, has stated that the net-zero transition is the ‘greatest commercial opportunity of our time’. Many companies worldwide also share this opinion and are jumping on board to find solutions. The race is on to turn abundant amounts of clean energy into an abundance of money.

Companies are already jumping on the bandwagon. They are focusing on technologies that aim to minimise mining for virgin materials. Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund recently put a sizable portion of its $2 billion pot into Redwood Materials, a company founded by Tesla’s former Chief Technology Officer. It focuses on solving the battery recycling challenge.

Whilst Vestas has teamed up with Aarhus University and the Danish Technology Institute to build a circular economic model. This retains and reuses everything, including the wind turbine blades, which to this day has been a sore sticking point for the industry.

Final word

The topic is hugely complex but in our view, if solved, comes with an equally huge reward. And we may not have solved the challenge yet.

But with so many countries and companies worldwide striving for a solution, one can’t help but feel optimistic that positive change is on the horizon.

The big question is – will it be too late? We think not, but it will require huge investment in the right companies to find answers fast.

With investing your capital is at risk. This information is for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute investment advice.

0 Comments

What is upcycling and how can it stop food waste?

Avatar Clim8 Team

19 March 2021 Climate ChangeSustainability

From fashion to food, upcycling is in Vogue this year. No pun intended, here is the article. Everyone wants a slice of the cake. A welcome trend that is helping tackle our inherent waste problem. 

Simply put, upcycling takes what would traditionally be seen as waste and turns it into new products of similar or higher quality. Making better use of the energy expended in sourcing, transporting and processing material, it prevents valuable resources going to landfill.

A term originally coined by Michael Braungart and William McDonough, upcycling also plays a major role in the circular economy transition.

Food waste: today’s problem

Waste is a recent phenomenon. Until the 19th century, people made all they needed at home, squeezing out every last drop of value from each item. Broken ceramics, shells and animal bones were all discarded. 

During Queen Victoria’s reign (1837 – 1901), an enormous societal shift took place. Incomes were on the rise and people subsequently started buying what they previously made at home from stores. Packaged goods became the norm average household waste skyrocketed and the perceived value of each item was lost. 

Only when waste started visibly piling up were people forced to start finding solutions to fix this new systemic issue. Upcycling was born. 

Changing perceptions about food waste

The term ‘waste’ can imply something of little value. Although upcycling in other industries is becoming ‘trendy’, people still perceive food waste as ‘rotten’, ‘useless’ or even ‘inedible’.

Today’s biggest challenge is not figuring out how to upcycle food waste but convincing people that food waste is in fact perfectly fine to consume. Marketing has a major role to play if upcycled goods are to become mainstream. And not just for eco conscious customers.

Messaging, in our view, needs to steer away from waste’s negative connotations. Companies that have latched onto this have changed the narrative, successfully luring customers in with terms such as ‘by-product’ or ‘derivative’.

Killing two birds with one stone

Despite the marketing conundrum, upcycling food waste brings substantial economic benefits. Companies have discovered a win-win opportunity; an additional revenue stream and a means of saving money on waste disposal.

Their creativity, in our view, is inspiring. Here are some imaginative examples:

  • Sensient Technologies use leftover grape skins from the wine industry to make a hotly sought-after purple extract for dyeing.
  • International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) recently safeguarded 400 metric tonnes of surplus spinach from farmers’ bins after their production levels exceeded supermarket demand. IFF subsequently turned the leaves into nutrient-rich powders, adding them to health products such as nutritional beverage powders or snack bars. Originally a pilot program, it generated an additional USD $1.3 million leading to discussions on how the initiative could be permanently rolled out.
  • Symrise uses discarded cranberry by-products that do not meet current food standards in cosmetics.
  • Givaudan converts spent coffee grounds into premium ‘coffee oil’ adding it to premium skincare products.
  • Rubies in the Rubble rescues leftover wonky and slightly bruised fruit and vegetables from local markets and transforms them into condiments. 

We still throw a third of all food produced worldwide every year. We have a long way to go to tackle  this but upcycling is definitely one lever we can and should be pulling to ease the load.

With investing your capital is at risk. This information is for illustration purposes only and does not constitute investment advice.

0 Comments