In sustainability circles, we talk a lot about creating a ‘circular economy’, but what does this actually mean? And how can we implement it in our societies? To delve deeper, eXXpedition Ambassadors who work in this area came together in the SHiFT Community Hub for a discussion on how we can work towards a more circular model.

Natasha Pergl from global technology leaders SAP sailed with eXXpedition on Round the World Leg 7 and is well versed in how crucial it is to use technology and innovation to solve the biggest environmental challenges we have. Natasha kicked off the panel with a definition of a circular economy:

“The concept is based on three principles; keeping products in use for as long as possible, ensuring that you can design out waste from the overall value chain and ultimately, regenerating natural systems – so everything we do is having that positive impact on climate and nature.”

Sustainability has always been an important part of purpose at SAP, and the technology leader is working to build regenerative business in a circular economy. SAP’s 2030 Ocean Vision is all about providing businesses, NGOs and governments with all the insights and tools to make a difference and keep plastic out of oceans. 

Natasha said, “Now we’re turning [purpose] into action, and making sure that we can better use all those insights to enable business to do better. We’ve seen a huge shift in the last 6 months.

“It’s moving away from using virgin plastic and shifting to secondary materials. The solutions that we are developing will ultimately put the insights in the hands of packaging managers, designers, people working further down the waste stream recycling plants, to understand what’s actually happening today, and therefore, what are the interventions that we can make to keep it out of the landfill and out of the oceans.”

TOMRA Circular Economy Advisor, Kristine Berg, who sailed on eXXpedition North Pacific & Round the World Leg 8, also joined the panel discussion from Oslo, Norway, to talk about the role of big business and large scale waste management infrastructure and how there is a great opportunity for new tech.

“A lot of what we work on echoes the work that SAP does in producer responsibility, in working with consumers and legislators, and using technology to collect typically on-the-go-products such as bottles or cans for beverages and we also work further down the chain in big industrial sorting technology.”

Kristine went on to talk about how important it is to close the loop. TOMRA’s reverse vending machines allow drinks containers to be turned back into another container, avoiding ‘downcycling’ and minimising waste and resources.

To truly enable a circular economy to be implemented, TOMRA has engineered sensors and robotics for closed loop recycling and SAP has created data solutions to give businesses transparency on their value chain – both resulting in eliminating waste from the system. But what about the small business perspective?

Our final panellist, Lindsey McCoy from Plaine Products who sailed with eXXpedition Round the World Leg 5, talked from a small business perspective – she sells aluminium refillable toiletries – and the need for local infrastructure to make that kind of circular economy efficient.

“We came at this from a different perspective. I was doing work on environmental education in the Bahamas and saw a lot of plastic and tried to start using less of it myself. One place I couldn’t find a solution was all of those little plastic bottles in the shower. So having that non-profit mindset, I thought I should just try and solve this – and come up with a solution for myself and see if it will work for other people!”

Lindsey’s company provides refillable toiletries bottles, with the used aluminium bottles being returned to the company for reuse – ensuring that the loop is closed and that there is no waste.

There were some brilliant audience contributions too. 

Round the World Leg 6’s Claire McCluskey asked if the panellists thought we would ever get to a point where we can quantify the economic cost of plastic packaging waste and whether this number – “the money language” would incentivise those to actually take action. Kristine responded by speaking about the single use plastics directive in the EU – which means that plastic polluters can actually be made to pay for the cost of cleanup – a tool used to ensure that companies are taking responsibility for what they put on the market.

It was also interesting to hear about some of our panellists’ experiences living aboard S.V. TravelEdge – how at sea you have to manage your resources and your waste to live as ‘closed loop’ as possible. This idea has translated into real life applications back on land – we must carefully manage our resources and ensure that we create no waste.

Thank you to our panellists Natasha, Lindsey and Kristine for joining the event!

Panellist Bios:

Kristine Berg

Kristine has a masters in Industrial Ecology, and works with upstream infrastructure on land to prevent litter and ocean plastic. She is Circular Economy Advisor at TOMRA, which is the leading provider of technology-led solutions that optimize resource recovery in the food, recycling and mining industries. Kristine manages the sponsorship collaboration between TOMRA and eXXpedition, and has joined two voyages – North Pacific 2018 and Leg 8 from Easter Island to Tahiti in 2020.

You can follow Kristine’s work on her Instagram page. You can find out more about TOMRA’s work on the TOMRA Collection website.

Natasha Pergl

Natasha is Global Sustainable Business Innovation Lead at SAP, helping customers solve some of their biggest environmental challenges through technology and innovation. This is in support of SAP’s 2030 Clean Ocean vision focused on accelerating the transition to sustainable business and a restorative and regenerative economy. 

Leading Customer Innovation for SAP’s Circular Economy program to help shape the next generation of industry standard sustainability solutions that will provide customers, NGOs and governments with the tools, insights and solutions needed to eliminate waste, maximise resource productivity and transition to circular business models. Natasha is also a member of SAP’s Sustainability Council.

In support of SAP’s Clean Ocean vision, Natasha is an ambassador for eXXpedition. In Feb 2020 she sailed 2000 miles as part of an all female crew to research the accumulation of microplastics in the South Pacific Gyre, sailing from Galapagos to Easter Island.

Lindsey McCoy

Lindsey has a master’s degree in nonprofit management and spent 10 years working on environmental education in the Bahamas, islands full of single-use plastic. In 2017 she and her sister co-founded a company, Plaine Products, that offers shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion and other personal care products in aluminium bottles that can be returned, refilled and reused.

More about SHiFT Hub Events

eXXpedition runs regular events for our community and beyond. Keep an eye on our social channels for updates on upcoming public events, and browse our blog to find out the highlights of our community events and keep up with eXXpedition news.

Thank you to 11th Hour Racing who are supporting this work.