Waste is only waste if you waste it

Ekocycle event with will.i.amWhen I first heard about Ekocycle I was sceptical. At Do Nation, we’re on a mission to make sustainability mainstream; Ekocycle seemed to be making it elite. Through selling £1,400 bags made out of recycled Coca Cola bottles, were they not just going to solidify the misconception that eco equals expensive, that sustainability is a reserve of the middle class? But then I met the man behind it all: Will.i.am. (Yes, I met Will.i.am).

He talked with such passion, eloquence, and electric energy about Ekocycle that I was won over.

“People never look at themselves as the problem”, Will.i.am said, instead they think that the big companies that produce the plastic are the bad guys, that they’re the ones who need to sort out the problem. But if you’re the one drinking the Coca Cola, throwing the bottle onto the street, then it’s as much your responsibility as theirs. Each of us has a role to play. That strikes home strong.

But the trouble is that people don’t value waste, they don’t care about it. As the master of word play himself put it, “waste is only waste if you waste it”. But people do waste it. Why?

Firstly, because they don’t perceive it as having any value, they can’t imagine a Coke bottle ever being turned into anything other than a crushed, dirty version of the plastic bottle they see today.

In reality, ‘plastic’ means to change, to mould, to reform: plastic surgery isn’t about inserting plastic into your body; it’s about changing it. But we think of plastic as a solid thing, a noun, and as a result we don’t know what to do with it any more.

Through Ekocycle, the aim is to show people just how plastic plastic is, how it can be reformed into high-end products. Together, Will.i.am and Coca Cola are on a mission to raise the awareness and profile of recycled products, making them desirable, slick, and cool, not just worthy and a little bit hippie. Will.i.am’s big dream? To make waste the new diamond. To make it so in demand that mining companies mine the oceans clear of plastic waste; that commodity traders start fighting for it; that kids in

The Bronx are rapping about bags made out of it.

And it all comes back to the Bronx. Whilst the action might have been kicking off in Harrods, his heart was back in the Bronx.

Aside from not valuing waste, another reason people don’t recycle is that it’s just too hard. No place is this better illustrated than in the Project in South Bronx, where just 2% of waste is recycled. Collection facilities are so few and far between that the risk of being shot whilst sorting your cartons from your cans is a very real deterrent. And that’s why the profit made from Ekocyle will go towards funding recycling programs and infrastructure back in the Sustainable South Bronx project.

And through doing all this, Will.i.am’s ultimate aim is to give bin men “as much respect and pride as firemen or coal miners”. They may not save lives or risk their own, but without us noticing it and without a morsel of gratitude, they change the face of our city every single day.

So through Ekocycle, we have more respectable jobs, we have cleaner oceans, we have less landfill. And we have sustainability becoming cool. See why I was won over?

Is this man really a complete genius, or am I just a bit star struck? Has my judgement been marred by awe?

Whilst Ekocycle products are only sold in Harrods, my initial concern holds true – they risk alienating the bulk of the population, people who are more likely to wear Primarni than Gucci.  But if Ekocycle can become an aspirational brand – and let’s face it, with one of the world’s most loved brands, biggest celebrities, and most famous store behind it, it’s got off to a good start – then it can scale into more affordable, mainstream markets.

Will.i.am’s idea is for Ekocycle to become more than just a handful of products in Harrods. He sees it as an umbrella term for products made out of recycled materials, under the strictest of conditions and standards – much like Kosha is to meat, Ekocycle will be to plastic.  And in giving it a new name, we can get over the hurdle of undesirability: “Fertilizer is a good thing, right? People like it. But it’s just shit. We wouldn’t all want to buy it if we called it shit”. Nice parallel, Will.i.am.

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