6 circular economy projects by Green Offices
Working on circular economy projects is a great way for a Green Office to interact with its community while tackling the waste issue. It also offers an opportunity to push for more sustainable campus operations. Here are 6 circular economy projects to get inspired.
What is a circular economy? Looking beyond the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds economic, natural, and social capital. Source: What is a Circular Economy? | Ellen MacArthur Foundation
A circular economy can be realised by strategically rethinking and reducing, redesigning, reusing, repairing and remanufacturing, recycling and recovering resources before disposing them. Not only does it minimise the ecological impact, it also has a positive or regenerative impact on the environment, society and the economy. We illustrate each phase with a circular economy project done by a Green Office below.
1. Rethink & reduce
The Green Office at Liège Université started in 2020 with their project “Zero Déchet dans mon Kot”, or “zero waste in my Kot” in English. A “kot” is a typical student room with shared facilities in Belgium. The Green Office aims at raising awareness among students about their daily waste productions, and wants to help them reduce it.
They share tips and tricks about zero waste meals, DIY sustainable cosmetics and cleaning products, where to find local and unwrapped products… The team also gave away 20 “zero waste packs” in social media contests that contained home-made, waste-free, eco-friendly products and a recipe booklet to recreate those.
In 2021, the Green Office will collect plastic caps for local recycling by a charity organisation. They continue raising awareness on the plastic issue on social media and organise DIY tutorials online. They will also create an interactive map featuring interviews with sustainable shopkeepers. For the next academic year, the Green Office is collaborating with the student union to provide every new student a sustainable welcome pack.
Learn more about the “Zero Déchet dans mon Kot” project in this GO Movement Webinar.
It’s almost impossible to imagine a campus without vending machines. But these machines are as bad for the environment as they are for your health. They consume a lot of energy (about 3000 kWh/year), mostly carry items wrapped in single-use plastics or cans and usually sell sugary drinks and snacks.
At the university of Ghent, a team of student entrepreneurs developed Dripl, a healthy and package-free alternative for flavored water and soda in the work and study space. The vending machine concept is redesigned to use compact flavor dispensers, tap water and your own bottle. This minimises waste and offers drinks with 75% less sugar. See how it works in this video, and read more here.
Besides supporting initiatives like Dripl, the Green Office at Ghent University pushed for the removal of water bottles from existing vending machines and the promotion of tap water fountains. The university has also committed to phasing out current vending machines.
Another circular economy project on redesign by the Green Office at University of Ghent is the development of a digital sharing platform. To realize such a platform, the Green Office is supported by the department of ICT and Communication Technology, and Building and Facilities Management. All staff and students can offer or borrow items on the platform, such as study books, lab coats, furniture… Currently, there is a physical secondhand shop at the university. By digitizing and redesigning the concept, a sharing economy becomes more accessible, efficient and interactive.
Many Green Offices seek to reduce the enormous amount of disposable cups for water, hot beverages and alcohol that are thrown away on campus. Successful ideas include a discount for students who bring their own cup, reusables at parties with a deposit, a cup rental system for student associations…
Wageningen university recently switched to Billie Cup, a reusable cup which you order together with your drink, soup, smoothie or ice cream for a deposit of €1. This way, the university’s cafeterias got rid of single-use cups altogether. Multiple catering businesses in Wageningen followed suit. The initiative was taken by researcher Emmy Van Daele, Green Office volunteer and Green Impact superstar!
4. Repair & remanufacture
Students are true minimalists: their living space is too small to hoard stuff, they tend to borrow from friends rather than buying things, and if they do, they prefer second-hand to save some money. But when furniture breaks down or clothes wear out, students often lack the tools and expertise to fix these.
The Green Office for KU Leuven (also case study available) offers a solution with their Student Repair Hub project, established in December 2018. The Hub is a physical location where students can fix their stuff in a cozy upcycled setting, and join for workshops and repair cafes. They can also borrow high-quality tools for free from the library of things, such as screwdrivers, drills, hammers, sewing kits…The same building houses the bicycle atelier, a service where students can fix their bikes with professional guidance.
Learn more about the “Student Repair Hub” project in this GO Movement Webinar.
Recycling is a well-known practice, with 54% of household waste being recycled in the European Union. Yet surprisingly, it ranks only 2nd last on the circular economy roadmap. Plastics, for example, are not recyclable since new plastics need to be added to the recycled mix in order to retain the same quality.
The process of creating new and better materials out of recycled resources is called upcycling. One such exciting project is Precious Plastic. The Green Offices at Utrecht University and Hogeschool Utrecht are collaborating with Precious Plastic to make their campus litter-free by 2030. The goal is to collect PE plastics on campus and transform these into new objects, such as plant pots.
The project is also a great example of a fruitful collaboration between 2 Green Offices in the same city. Utrecht University is focusing on the research part, while Hogeschool Utrecht will build the machine (the “Extruder Pro”) that recycles the plastics. Read more about the project here.
Before disposal, you can still recover energy from resources. The global challenge of food waste – worldwide, one third of food is wasted – provides a real opportunity here. The energy that goes into food production can be recovered by smart use of technology and networks. For the more adventurous students, dumpster diving is a popular way to eat for free while reducing the waste mountain.
Multiple Green Offices have been setting up, promoting or taking part in platforms that connect providers of food with hungry students. Some examples are:
- Ask the canteen to join Too good to go, an app that allows you to purchase left-overs from restaurants
- Support Facebook groups for students to share or exchange meals
- Collaborate with catering services on a protocol for food waste
As you can read, Green Offices are in an excellent position to implement circular economy projects while educating their institution’s community on the topic of waste. By means of rethinking, redesigning, reusing, repairing, recycling and recovering, such projects steer us away from a linear economy and thoughtless use of valuable resources. Is your Green Office working on other circular economy projects? Feel free to share it with us!