Circular Future Fund Winners Have Smart Ideas for Fighting Disposable Culture

From expandable shoes to tool libraries, these groups are on a mission to reduce waste.

community leader picking up trash

Alistair Berg / Getty Images

Last November, a department store chain in the United Kingdom called John Lewis announced a £1-million (US$1.2m) fund to back innovative projects that could fight "throwaway" culture. Together with environmental organization Hubbub, it gave businesses, charities, social enterprises, and academic bodies two months to submit their ideas to this new Circular Future Fund and be selected by an expert grant panel.

Four winners were announced in April, out of 245 applicants, and they're as impressive as you'd imagine. They will get one year of financial support (until May 2023) to develop and implement their ideas—and hopefully play a significant role in reducing the amount of waste that's created in our current disposable shopping culture. Here's a brief overview of each winner.


Dame is a period product company that strives to make menstrual cups mainstream. These are such a simple and effective solution to reducing plastic waste and improving the overall menstrual experience that it's unfortunate only 5% of the British population uses them. Meanwhile, 4.5 million period products are thrown away daily in the U.K., and the average disposable pad contains 90% plastic.

Dame proposed a "starter kit of various shapes and sizes and easy take-back service to encourage people to give it a go"—a logical step to reduce barriers for entry. It plans to develop a digital assistant to help people assess which products are the right fit for their bodies, and to launch a campaign to familiarize more people with reusable menstrual products. 

Pip & Henry

This shoe company wants to tackle the problem of footwear waste by designing and building expandable and deconstructable shoes for children. Kids' shoes get replaced every four months, on average, with 85% of these outgrown shoes going to landfill, even before they're worn out.

Pip & Henry's founder Jeroo Doodhmal has proposed a design that grows with the child, thanks to a modular sole that can have expansions added to it, and an elasticated or foldable upper. Allowing a shoe to grow by three half-sizes could double its lifespan and save parents a lot of money.

Furthermore, Doodhmal wants to design a shoe that can be broken down into its various components for more effective recycling at end of life. 

Scottish Library & Information Council (SLIC)

Everyone is familiar with the idea of a library for books, but an innovative group from Scotland wants to extend this concept to household goods and clothing. It has proposed adding ten "circular economy community spaces" to existing libraries to encourage people to repair and borrow, instead of throwing away and buying new. 

Using its grant, SLIC will provide free community access to sewing machines, soldering irons, and 3D printers. It will expand lending collections to include tools, tools, and kitchen equipment. It will also strive to "create an evidence body of the role of libraries in the circular economy and share widely among networks."

University of Leeds

Polyester is the most widely used textile in clothes, but only 15% contains recycled material. This is due to the fact that previously-dyed polyester is difficult to recycle. Researchers at the University of Leeds have created a prototype that manages to separate polyester from its dye using CO2. If scalable, this could revolutionize the fashion industry. It would allow dye to be reused, save water, use less energy, and remove harmful auxiliary chemicals.

Each of these winners sounds exciting in its own way. The projects are all so diverse, and yet relevant to daily life in a way that makes the average reader feel excited. These are not abstract concepts; these are real developments that will have an impact on how we shop and dispose of everyday products. It will be interesting to see how they scale up, which ones are most successful, and what long-term impact they have—hopefully in influencing other brands to develop similar circular strategies.

View Article Sources
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  3. Wenger, Dennis R., et al. "Foot Growth Rate in Children Age One to Six Years." Foot &Amp; Ankle, vol. 3, no. 4, 1983, pp. 207-210., doi:10.1177/107110078300300405

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