Fashion 4.0, No. 4: Visioneering the Future of Waste in a Circular Economy


There are 1,614,202,699  (and counting) tons of waste being dumped globally this year. What can we do to lessen it? 

At last weekend's XPrize's Visioneering Conference at Paramount Studios, our founder and CEO Garrett Gerson and Jeff Holden, cofounder and CEO of San Francis-based startup Atomic Machines, and unveiled the challenge to address The Future of Waste in a Circular Economy 

What is an open loop waste system? We extract raw materials from the earth,  make products with them, sell them, throw them into the garbage, and repeat. The waste that accumulates in landfills emits major greenhouse gasses (70% of all the methane in the U.S. comes from landfills). Places in the world without landfills are dumping garbage directly onto the land or into oceans. 

How do we close the loop? With one breakthrough technology that will decompose the contents of a heterogeneous landfill down into useable feed stock materials that can go directly into a production process. Imagine making plastics without have to do factional distillation, which consumes 25% of the world's energy. Imagine being able to take things out of our landfills and inject them back into manufacturing processes. It sounds like a moonshot, but people figured out how to make space travel happen, so.... 

Above: Atomic Machines CEO and cofounder Jeff Holden (left) and Variant founder and CEO Garrett Gerson present the Landfill Harvesting challenge at XPrize's Visioneering Conference. 


Landfill Harvesting

Challenge: Reverting the world's garbage back into the raw materials it came from to be reused to make new products. 

Purse: $50 million

Milestone 1: $25 million to be awarded to several team

In 2 years, will process post-consumer garbage with the highest yield of usable feed stock with all renewable energy. Want to encourage large companies and entrepreneurs 

Milestone 2: $25 million to be awarded to the winning team 

The first team to achieve at least 75% yield, elimination of all toxic outputs, and greenhouse emissions. The goal is to bring the winning concept to full commercialization. 

What made this past weekend such a major moment for us at Variant was the opportunity to lead the conversation about the future of waste in fashion, among a small but mighty group of XPrize board members, innovators and entrepreneurs. It's a fashion moonshot, so to speak, to propose a zero-waste, circular alternative to current apparel and accessories manufacturing processes. But it's what we're doing at Variant: using 3D knitting and digital printing to create customizable fashion, with recycled or recyclable materials, manufactured locally. 

The bags we created for Visioneering were made with fibers derived from recycled nylon carpets. Each one was 3D knit and customized with each board member's name, at our headquarters and partner factories less than 30 miles from Paramount Studios. The material waste from the production of 150 of these bags barely filled a small Ziploc bag. Ditto for the custom pillows adorning the couches at the event.

Our story, told on a giant LED cube, has elements that everyone can apply to their own businesses and lives: Let's make things with lasting appeal and beauty, and let's be more thoughtful and conscious about how we make them. Instead of ending up in landfills, we hope our products will be enjoyed forever, but if they aren't, let's break down the materials and make them into new things. Let's stop mining new materials from our environment and rethink how to use existing waste. The old saying goes, "One person's trash is another person's treasure." The world's trash might just be the most valuable asset we're overlooking. 

With Gratitude,

The Variant Team

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