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Turning a disposable nightmare into a circular economy dream

Posted: 8th June 2018

A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.

For example every year, Britons have to bin 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups because the plastic coating that stops their precious brew leaking out also makes the cups impossible to recycle.

So, having enjoyed our lattes and cappuccinos, the cups are either incinerated or landfilled – generating huge quantities of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and contributing to our global warming problem.

Now, thanks to research at the University of Edinburgh and a new start, spin-off business called Carbogenics, we could soon see a complete reversal.


The company has discovered a process that uses pyrolysis – decomposition through high temperatures – to turn mineral-rich organic waste, like disposable coffee cups and paper waste sludge – into high-value carbon composite materials.

And their work will help create slow-release, carbon rich materials for fertilising as well as helping bio-gas companies boost their yields.

It’s a perfect example of the circular economy in action, turning one man’s waste into another man’s opportunity – and all the while helping create a greener, more sustainable future. Or in old-fashioned terms, where there’s muck there’s brass.

Dr Jan Mumme, co-founder and Chief Executive of Carbogenics, explained:

“Carbogenics was born from our desire to transfer and use our knowledge that had grown over many years of research in this area.

“Now we are at the point where we will soon be able to start production, creating products and providing services that will be of real help to biogas producers (producing gas from organic waste materials). Our research has shown that our product, which we are calling CreChar, will help increase gas yields by around 15%.The company is working on many other uses for CreChar, but one which is also likely to find significant commercial use is as a plant fertiliser.

Dr Mumme added “Instead of adding to our greenhouse gas problem, through landfill and incineration, we could be improving the yield from biogas, and putting carbon back into the soil for hundreds of years to come.”

There are currently significant funding opportunities and support for SMEs that are interested in investigating circular economy opportunities. Circular Edinburgh works in partnership with Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) who are funded by the Scottish Government and receive funding from the European Structural Funds Programme to help accelerate our circular economy and resource efficiency work with SMEs in Scotland to create a society where resources are valued and nothing is wasted.

ZWS’s mission is to influence and enable change – from gathering evidence and informing policy, to motivating practical behaviour change in individuals and organisations through our programmes and brands. We also make direct interventions to affect change, commonly in the form of finance, business support, technical advice, training and competence development or communications support.

For further information please visit or contact Mayan Grace or Aileen Boyle on 0131 221 2999 (option 5) or email

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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