Tornillos, tuercas y herramientas oxidadas
Circular economy

Stone paper, tire roads, bamboo bikes: Meet the real circular economy

11 of June of 2024

Nature doesn’t generate waste. Humans do (at least until now). When we talk about waste, we’re generally talking about materials that are no longer worth keeping or turning into other materials. But times are changing. Technology is empowering us to give waste a new life to the extent that these materials are no longer seen as waste, trash or scrap. They have a renewed value, becoming part of the economic cycle.

Following a brief moment in geological time when humanity decoupled itself from the biosphere, humanity is coming back to the fold of nature. We are recycling more, questioning our consumption more, and adopting legislation that points towards a more sustainable civilization. How about giving waste a second life, using it to build the objects and materials we need? How about designing products with built-in material recircularity?

Stone paper made from calcite, polymers and water

‘Don’t print this email’; some of the most frequently used words in our digital conversations nowadays, to the point that almost all business emails use them. As our consumption of paper soared, protecting trees became one of society’s first environmental plights. This is precisely how waste (paper and cardboard) became a new raw material for its own industry.

But humanity may well have discovered another type of paper: stone paper. Composed of calcium carbonate and polyethylene—two highly abundant materials deriving from mining and chemical industry waste—this material is highly recyclable, boasts lower CO2 emissions, and requires much less energy and water in manufacturing.

The main advantage of stone paper (putting its excellent durability and reusable nature to one side—you can even erase liquid ink!) is that the raw materials come from various by-products from different industries. And this means cutting down fewer trees and using up materials we would think of as waste, using them to manufacture durable objects instead.

Asphalt manufactured with waste materials

Many decades ago, new roads would be built from newly extracted materials; a linear extraction process that harnesses none of the potential of waste products.

And then we reached a historic crossroads. Every industrial process now has to be reviewed, audited and improved, and roads themselves are changing. The asphalt used to build roads is now a fascinating medley of hard-to-recycle components like tires and construction materials.

For years now, the percentage of recycled or reused materials (depending on your definition) used in asphalt has been on the rise, meaning we no longer need to extract as many raw materials from nature to create the same stretch of highway or runway, etc.

Turning electronic waste into treasure

Over the last decade, growth in the amount of electronic waste (or e-waste) we generate has been considerably higher than the corresponding growth in recycling, and this particular type of waste could double to 100 million tons by 2030.

We clearly need to take a more rational approach to our use of technology. The kinds of devices that used to become obsolete due to planned obsolescence are now chucked away due to desired obsolescence (always wanting to get our hands on the latest tech). But even if we slow down the speed of manufacturing components, these products will always become waste at the end of their shelf life.

Initiatives to promote e-waste recycling include turning it into jewelry, given that devices often contain precious metals like gold, silver, platinum, copper and more… Recovering metal from junk like this to use in new technology may not be financially viable (yet), but it’s a much more affordable option for jewelry brands than opening up mines.

Reducing waste with bamboo bikes

Bamboo has been used as a construction material for millennia thanks to its mechanical properties, and bamboo bike frames are increasingly becoming more popular choice than aluminum or carbon fiber models. Aside from its excellent material performance, why is that? Bamboo plants sequester carbon as they grow, last decades in the right conditions, require minimal maintenance, and can be integrated back into nature when no longer needed. It’s not waste.

Patented for the first time in 1894 (with its first sale following a year later), the bamboo bike market has been growing ever since. In fact, it’s likely that in decades to come these sustainable bikes will serve as a gateway for materials deriving from plants, reducing waste in the long term. If we can already manufacture light vehicles with a material that never becomes waste, why not use it for signage, barriers, banks and other roadside elements?


The circular economy is our only sustainable possibility for the future. It is simply not possible to simultaneously generate waste and preserve our natural world (our very origins and lifeblood, let’s face it). Which is why all industries are looking for ways to recirculate materials, baking environmental costs into every step of production.


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