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Can humanity survive without producing waste?

Today’s society evolved through countless cycles of mass production, mass consumption, and mass disposal.
Are we powerless to change this one-way economic system?

A circular economy is based on recirculation of resources, eliminating the concept of waste altogether—and it might be what saves the societies of the future.

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Teijin’s Evolve+ project is part of the company’s effort to promote a circular economy. One of the central activities of the project—which seeks to steer us toward a more sustainable future—is Clean 2 Antarctica, led by Dutch adventurer Edwin ter Velde. Here we are pleased to introduce this completely new type of expedition grounded in the concept of “zero waste.”

The small realization that we are still throwing away garbage

Edwin ter Velde is an adventurer based in the Netherlands. Before beginning Clean 2 Antarctica, he managed several companies as a businessman and inventor. He was inspired to begin this new project, one completely outside his area of expertise, by an everyday household scene. “That day,” he recalls, “I was absentmindedly watching my wife cooking in the kitchen and noticed her throwing away a plastic container that had held mushrooms—the sort of perfectly ordinary thing one sees in any home. Suddenly, though, I felt a powerful sense that something wasn’t right. We were making an effort in our family to be sustainable for the sake of the future, and yet there we were, still throwing away garbage.”

If we stopped throwing things away, what would happen to our garbage? Is there any smart solution other than disposal? After discussing it with his family, Edwin decided to try achieving a zero waste lifestyle—one that did not produce garbage. As the family tried various ways to reduce the garbage they produced, Edwin saw huge potential in the notion of zero waste.

“From an inventor’s standpoint,” he says, “I took another look at plastic disposal. Wasn’t there some useful path other than throwing it away? I came to the conclusion that plastic’s potential lies in how easy it is to melt down and reshape into something else.” He melted down plastic to create wires and filaments, and then used these to create various objects using a 3D printer. As an experiment, he created hexagonal building blocks called “hexacores,” from which it might be possible to construct even houses, cars, or ships.

Around that time, inspired by someone who had traveled in Antarctica in a solar-powered vehicle, Edwin launched the Clean 2 Antarctica project.

“I thought to myself,” Edwin recalls, “how wonderful it would be if I could use hexacores made from waste plastic to create a solar-driven exploration vehicle and drive it in Antarctica. This would be a great way to spread my ideas about zero waste and sustainability and get the world thinking about the issue of waste plastic. It’s a big step.” Humans dominate six of the seven continents but Antarctica is the one continent ruled by nature. Antarctica also puts the notion of zero waste into practice. Edwin was positive it was the right place to send his solar exploration vehicle.


A single action can become a great wave that changes people’s lives

Teijin is taking steps to help support Edwin’s adventure. Specifically, we have provided synthetic fibers that we developed, including carbon fibers as well as polycarbonate and para-aramid fibers, and combined them with materials created from waste plastic in a design built to withstand the harsh Antarctic environment.
Why is it that we fail to take action despite being faced by a mountain of environmental problems? Why do we wait for somebody else to find solutions? Teijin believes that Clean 2 Antarctica offers hints that could lead to solving such problems. Small actions taken by individuals can become a great wave with the power to change society. A flash of inspiration in the kitchen set one adventurer on a course of action that could one day become a movement with the power to change people’s lives—this kind of chain reaction is the essence of Evolve+.

“If we want to promote a circular society, and build a better society,” Edwin says, “we can’t think and act the same way that we always have.”

Creating something useful from waste plastic may seem an impossible mission, but Edwin succeeded in making an exploration vehicle. We have to continue taking on new challenges, learning from our mistakes, and from them discovering new ways of doing business—new ideas and concepts that are sustainable and unique. This is where the future begins.

Sidebar

Clean 2 Antarctica Leaves Port: A New Step Toward a Circular Society

The Evolve+ environment team at the Think Human Project, as part of our support for Clean 2 Antarctica’s attempt to reach the South Pole in an environmentally-conscious solar vehicle, has launched a student project called Quest for Change. The aim is to inspire students to come up with new ideas and concepts for achieving a circular society by having them accompanying the expedition on the portion of its route from Amsterdam to the Canary Islands. Twenty-one students were selected after successfully completing rigorous assignments. That it drew students from Brazil as well as Europe suggests the level of global interest in the project. Speaking about the voyage, one of the students, Marloes van der Veen, a doctoral student from the Netherlands studying at the University of Groningen, said she hopes to show the world that sustainability is something people can accomplish right now. “It may not be perfect right away, of course,” she added, “but we can demonstrate—especially to big corporations—that it is already possible now. I think it is really important that a big company like Teijin is getting so involved.” Carrying the passionate enthusiasm of such students, Clean 2 Antarctica set off safely from Amsterdam harbor on 27 August 2018. Teijin President and CEO Jun Suzuki arrived in the Netherlands to encourage the students, joining many members of the media and other people in seeing them off at the departure ceremony.

After arriving at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, the members of Clean 2 Antarctica will continue their journey, heading toward Patagonia in southern Argentina and then, in December, setting off from Union Glacier Camp in western Antarctica on their expedition to reach the South Pole in a solar vehicle. The journey will cover a distance of 2,300 km round-trip.

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