Every year in March and April respectively, two important days are observed: Global Recycling Day, now in its third edition, and the UN’s Earth Day, which was created way back in 1970. This year the two events paid a lot of attention to the idea of the circular economy in relation to organic waste. Following the three Rs of “reduce, reuse, recycle” saves tons of food ending up in landfill. Recycling Day is a pretty young event, created in 2018 by the Global Recycling Foundation to spread the habit, save natural resources, bring down CO2 emissions and protect our planet’s future. Recycling is one of the pillars of a circular economy. The aim is to stop throwing things away after using them once, and instead bring them back into every-day use in a new form.
It’s a tricky process but not impossible. Take Feel the Peel, for example, the Circular Juice Bar dreamt up by the architect’s studio Carlo Ratti Associati (CRA) in collaboration with Eni, where you can drink fresh orange juice in a cup made of the fruit’s peel. The giant juicer is 10 feet high. It looks almost magical, with its splendid dome of about 1,550 oranges, a few of which slide down a set of rails when you order a juice. The fruits end up in the juicer itself, which cuts them in two and squeezes out their liquid. The peel ends up in the lower part of the machine, building up over time. It’s then dried out, pulverised and mixed with polylactic acid (PLA), a polymer of vegetable origin. The mixture is fed into a 3D printer that turns it into cups, thereby giving a new lease of life to the rind, which would otherwise be nothing more than rubbish.
This contraption’s fame has spread in part because it’s in line with the expert recommendations that guide these two days dedicated to protecting the world, not to mention Eni’s sustainable development goals. “The principle of circularity is a ‘must’ when making today’s products,” says Carlo Ratti, a founding partner of CRA in Turin and director of the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “With Eni, we’ve worked to demonstrate circularity in a particularly concrete way. This machine shows us how oranges can be used not only for their juice but in their entirety. Later versions of Feel the Peel could have new functions, like printing fabrics for clothing, also from orange peel fibres,” the architect goes on. Feel the Peel is also a patent, presented for the first time at the 40th Rimini Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples late last August.
But CRA had already collaborated with Eni. For Milan Design Week in 2019 they developed an architectural structure based on mycelium, the fibrous fungus root. The installation was later christened The Circular Garden, and it set a precedent for using mycelium in design, as an example of the circular economy process of transformation and reuse. It’s born of the earth and returns to the soil after it’s stopped being useful. In the last few years mycelium has been used in sustainable packaging and small brick-like objects.