Closing the Loop: ReCircle meets Hamish Pringle

“We’re using scarce resources once only. After all the processing and manufacturing effort that goes into making something like plastic, it seems crazy not to reuse it if we can. I think we’ve just got to do this.”

Having graduated in PPE from Trinity College Oxford, Hamish Pringle went on to work in many leading advertising UK agencies, including Saatchi & Saatchi. It was there in 1999 that he co-authored ‘Brand Spirit’ with Marjorie Thompson, the first book on cause related marketing.

In 2001 Hamish became Director General of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising until 2011. He was a Council member of the Advertising Standards Authority 2011-2017. Hamish has now embarked on a second career as an artist and started the MFA at Wimbledon College of Arts in October 2018.

We asked Hamish for his thoughts about the existing recycling system, the future of the Circular Economy and the potential of ReCircle Recycling. 

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Interview transcript: 

“I think the whole recycling system does need a bottom up reorganisation and redesign. All these sounds like cliches, but the earth does have finite resources. We are suffering from the impact of adverse pollutants, climate change issues and so forth. All these things are tied together which is we’re using scarce resources once only, and after all the effort – the processing and manufacturing effort – that goes into making something like plastic it seems crazy not to reuse it if we can, and I think we’ve just got to do this.

The population explosion in India, in China, all of which is generating another middle class umpty ump times bigger than the British or the Western European middle class. They’re all going to be doing exactly what we're doing – and so it's a global it's a global problem of some urgency obviously.

I have heard of closed-loop recycling. I saw an inspiring talk by Ellen MacArthur a few years ago when she was just in the process of launching her foundation and I was really taken with that idea. The idea being that you design recycling into the product in the first place and I think that's an incredibly attractive idea. So if you're making cars for example, design them to be taken apart as well as put together.

If there was an appliance that could go in a kitchen or a house like this that could sort and process our waste so that it could be recycled, that would be a fantastic thing to do for a number of reasons. 

I think the first reason would be simply space saving. One unit, probably somewhere between a dishwasher and a fridge, could replace all these cupboard spaces that I referred to earlier. I think that would be a major bonus. 

Secondly it would solve me the problem of having to have the weekly bin thing where, on a Tuesday night, I sort out all this stuff from in here, take it outside, put it outside the front of the house – then later I take it all back inside again for the next week. So it's a minor hassle, but nevertheless it's a hassle. When we go away somewhere and we miss the fatal Wednesday, we've got a problem. Where do we put all the stuff? What happens the week after? Getting rid of the hassle factor would be a very attractive thing to do. 

Another reason why I feel good about having an appliance such as you're describing in our house would be just a feel-good factor. We drive a diesel car – maybe not such a good idea nowadays, but with the best of intentions we've driven five or six diesel cars in a row because we thought it would be environmentally more responsible. So having an appliance in here which would be doing that job I think that would make me feel good about life. 

I think there's another factor – it’s probably a tricky thing to discuss – which is that kitchens are places that frankly people show off a bit in. People are proud of their kitchens, it's the centre of the house. If you're doing up a new kitchen as we have done recently you put a great deal of consideration into what sort of appliances and how the whole thing looks. So we've chosen to have a standalone black fridge to match our black kitchen. That’s a kind of style and design statement. I remember when the Sub Zero fridge came in – these eye-wateringly expensive fridges from America with the great big drawers at the bottom. You went to a few fancy houses and you saw those and you thought “Wow. That's something.” I can imagine exactly the same thing happening with this recycle ReCircle machine which is “Oh wow. You have one of those.” Because it sends all kinds of signals about the owner.

I think another benefit of a household appliance by ReCircle of the sort you're describing is that there might just be some money coming back. I guess this is in the distant future, but if this little household is producing a clean, tidy, reusable substance which can be made new things out of, presumably there's going to be a market value to that. It's a bit like when I was a kid there used to be a deposit on Coca-Cola bottles and we were pretty good about collecting our Coca-Cola bottles and taking them back to the drugstore. So I think it would be the same kind of thing. It wouldn’t be the driver, but I think it would be a nice to have.

I think it's a very interesting idea that ReCircle may have an Uber-style collection system because frankly something's got to give here. I think we do need a market disruptor. These council systems are so fragmented but also so embedded, they're deeply ingrained with a political process. It may be very hard to unpick all that and I really like the idea that if a number of households in a given area bought the ReCircle machine, had it installed and also signed up to the collection process – which could be a subcontractor of an Uber-style or a Just Eats-style or whatever, it’s very commonplace this nowadays – I think that you could cut through a lot of the bureaucracy quite quickly if you had like-minded people wanting to do that.

In terms of investing in something like ReCircle I think it's it's a tantalising possibility. I think one of the things that intrigues me most is that I understand that the key components of this device already exist. The technical challenge here isn't inventing a whole new technology, it's a question of stringing together existing technologies. So from the point of view of making an investment I find that a reassuring situation to be in, because if it was a completely blue sky, great idea, let's go and develop a miracle solution, I would be much more wary of it. But in this case if it is existing technologies and there's a clever way of putting them together to create a machine such as that is being described, I think that's very attractive.”