20.10.2020 – invited experts spoke about circularity possibilities and hurdles

During a one-day digital conference we discussed the complex aspects of circulating materials, especially bioplastics, with invited experts from different fields:

Manuel Bickel, Wuppertal Institute
Manuel Bickel from the sustainable consumption and production division highlighted the complexity of the sustainability assessment of plastics. For example CO2 neutral plastics made from renewable resources can show high environmental impacts due to the necessary agricultural production. Compostable plastics are usually not recognized as such in the sorting of organic waste and get thermally utilized instead. It is therefore essential to consider overall systems, to plan in incremental steps, and to consider the overall balance of environmental impacts.

Dr. Stephan Kabasci, Fraunhofer UMSICHT
Dr. Stephan Kabasci, head of the ”circular and biobased plastics“ department, discussed the potentials and barriers of bioplastics for circular use. Summarizing, he clarified statistically that the recycling of plastic products in Germany needs to be significantly improved in the future. He also differentiated between bio-based bioplastics and biodegradable bioplastics. In fact, the development of products from biodegradable plastics in particular is not always reasonable in terms of circularity and recycling. Many bioplastics can technically be recycled just as well as conventional plastics, however, this is often not economical enough and therefore the recycling structure is missing. In addition, he also shared his own project’s findings on PLA recycling in Germany, which include examining various recycling strategies in terms of their climate gas emissions and boundary conditions.

Mario Pellin, Gewerbemuseum Winterthur
Mario Pellin is an art historian with a background in design. Together with Franziska Müller-Reissmann, he has developed the exhibition “Bio, Kunststoff – oder beides?” (“Bio, plastic – or both?”), which takes a critical look at bio-based and/or biodegradable – both supposedly more ecological plastics. The reason for the increasing demand for bioplastics as a kind of “green alternative” is because consumption is rising on the one hand and so is the urge to prevent more ecological damage. Especially in this narrow area of tension, design services can be of great use, since useful applications, chances and benefits of bioplastics are often not defined. 

Florian Hofmann, TU Berlin / Fraunhofer IZM
Florian Hofmann is a research associate at the Fraunhofer IZM and the TU Berlin with a focus on organization development, circular economy and transition management of organizations. In his lecture “Circular Business Model Design – Versprechen oder Verblendung einer zukunftsfähigen Ökonomie” (“Promise or delusion of a future-oriented economy”) he discussed how companies need to change fundamentally in order to make their mark in the circular economy and how they can transform their business models accordingly. As the most important step, he sees that companies need to make fundamental changes to their corporate structures and question old business models. He does not consider a superficial adjustment in the materiality of the products to be very helpful. Of course, material also matters, but much more important is how to put economic thinking or management into question right from the start.

Felix Kraemer and Nicolas Lee, MIT
Felix Kraemer and Nicolas Lee both research at the Mediated Matter Group MIT. Felix Kraemer, who graduated at the BURG with a BA in 2014, explained the work “Silk Pavillion 2” which combines digital and biological methods. The idea arose by observing the silkworm and the way in which it adapts its cocoon architecture to its surroundings. The habit of the worm to direct itself towards the sky was used to spin a 3D structure. In order to build this, the platform was rotated during the process. In the project “Aquahoja” a 5 meter high leaf-like culture was created using the substances most commonly found in nature. The robotic deposition of cellulose, pectin, chitosan and water allows for the creation of a surface pattern that alters the stiffness and colour in response to environmental parameters such as heat and humidity. 

great thanks to:
Manuel Bickel
Wuppertal Institute
Dr. Stephan Kabasci
Fraunhofer UMSICHT
Mario Pellin
Gewerbemuseum Winterthur
Florian Hofmann
TU Berlin
Felix Kraemer & Nicolas Lee
MIT Mediated Matter