Innovation: The key to ongoing progress

Ecoembes recently presented a pioneering project that will be the first of its kind in Europe: the first Circular Economy Laboratory in the area of packaging, from eco-design to final recycling. The Circular Economy Laboratory is a space for innovation that seeks to study, design, test and implement best practices in a real environment. Headquartered in La Rioja, it will transform this region of Spain into a great centre of experimentation that will enable the innovation arising from its work to be tested on a real scale. Highlights of the main lines of study of the project, due to get underway in Spring 2017, include: the development of the recyclable, sustainable packaging of the future; the promotion of smart waste through the application of the best technologies to waste collection and treatment; and the development of citizen science to provide technological solutions, thereby facilitating society in its commitment to the planet

Nature as the source of inspiration

A deafening noise announced that the Japanese bullet train was entering or leaving a tunnel. An unbearable thunderous din for residents of the affected areas. It was urgently necessary to put an end to this nuisance, without reducing speed and maintaining the route of the line. But where could the solution be found? Quite simple…in nature. One of the project engineers observed that the kingfisher’s beak entered and left the water at great speed without making the slightest sound. This was the inspiration for the design of a new prototype of train, the front of which imitated the beak of the kingfisher. The result was not only a much quieter train, but also one that was 10% faster and consumed 15% less power.

Beyond its value as an anecdote, this example manifests a growing trend towards biomimetics, the science which takes its inspiration from nature in order to develop innovative technologies to solve the problems of society. Of course, this is by no means a new science. Leonardo Da Vinci took his inspiration from birds when attempting to design flying machines. The idea is to imitate processes found in nature in order to continue evolving.

This growing trend confirms a reality observable in many different areas: the need to review our development model in order to achieve the transformation into a new society, in which we replace the “use and disposal” concept with a real concept of reducing, recycling and reusing in a manner similar to that in which nature behaves. A system based on the circular economy, based on the values of collaborative ecology and responsible consumption in order to consolidate a new alternative in which environmental protection becomes the leading actor.

Innovation plays a crucial role here. It is amongst the areas on which the growth strategy of a country should be based, because it enables the development of new solutions to old problems. At Ecoembes, we are well aware of this and innovation has been a pivotal element of our activity from the outset. Because without innovation, there is no evolution.

We know that in order to get different results, you have to do something differently. This philosophy
has helped us to coordinate our innovation efforts within the Ecoembes Innova programme. Through this programme, we carry out R&D&i projects in a cooperative manner. We are currently working on 30 research lines and we have a network of more than 50 universities, technology centres and entrepreneurs.

This firm commitment to innovation has recently been taken a step further with the announcement of Europe’s first Circular Economy Laboratory, due to be launched in 2017. The laboratory will be headquartered in Logroño. With investment of almost €10 million, the project will create 40 jobs onsite and over 200 more in a network of incubators.

Presentación Laboratorio Economía Circular

The activity of the Circular Economy Laboratory will enable the city of Logroño and the entire region to become a testing ground for research into concepts such as: the packaging of the future, which will be more sustainable and will have a smaller environmental footprint; intelligent waste management in smart cities, responsible consumption, and the development of new techniques and processes to make recycling easier for the citizen. All this will be carried out in a framework of close cooperation involving citizens, public authorities and companies and the objective will be to initiate social transformation through green entrepreneurship.

How will we achieve this? Through analysis of all the stages of the lifecycle of the packaging, from its conception through eco-design and its reintroduction into the consumption cycle through the use of recycled materials in the manufacture of new products. For this purpose, we have identified six action areas to help us in our mission of achieving a recycling society based on the principles of the circular economy.

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Óscar Martín

CEO at Ecoembes

Article published in: FuturENVIRO #36 December 2016 – January 2017