• Flora Blathwayt founded a business based on upcycling rubbish she retrieves from the banks of the River Thames.
  • Blathwayt decorates greeting cards with bits of plastic and other items she collects, and then sells them on.
  • She started her business while being furloughed from her old job during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
  • She now works on the cards alongside a part-time job for a company selling packaging made from seaweed.

Furloughed from her job and confined to London by coronavirus lockdowns, Flora Blathwayt founded a business based on rubbish she retrieves from the muddy banks of the River Thames.

Just over a year after she was struck by the colourful pieces of plastic she collected as part of a river clean-up, the 34-year-old has made and sold thousands of greetings cards decorated with them.

When she moved to Peckham in south-east London, she sent a batch of plastic-decorated cards to nearby residents offering help if they were shielding from COVID-19.

"They were all the first washed-up cards," she said. "Some of my neighbours were like 'these are amazing, you should start selling these'," she told Reuters.

She now works on the cards alongside a part-time job for a company selling packaging made from seaweed which she joined after being furloughed by, and then made redundant from, a business that makes sauces from unwanted fruit and vegetables.

a picture of Flora Blathwayt, founder of Washed Up Cards, decorating her birthday card with bits of rubbish
Happy birthday!
Image: REUTERS/Tom Nicholson

A geography graduate, she had no formal art training but enjoys being outside and finding new potential in old buttons or plastic straws while cleaning the river bank for a local environmental charity.

"I can't get out to the countryside ... because we've been stuck in London, so the Thames has become a sort of lovely sanctuary for me, and going out and doing something positive while you're there ... yeah, it makes you feel doubly good."

She normally makes hundreds of cards a month, although last month she made several thousand to meet a surge in orders after her story appeared in British media. Blathwayt sees her success as part of a wider movement.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about the circular economy?

The World Economic Forum has created a series of initiatives to promote circularity.

1. Scale360° Playbook was designed to build lasting ecosystems for the circular economy and help solutions scale.

Scale360° Playbook Journey
Image: Scale360° Playbook

Its unique hub-based approach - launched this September - is designed to prioritize circular innovation while fostering communities that allow innovators from around the world to share ideas and solutions. Emerging innovators from around the world can connect and work together ideas and solutions through the UpLink, the Forum's open innovation platform.

Discover how the Scale360° Playbook can drive circular innovation in your community.

2. A new Circular Cars Initiative (CCI) embodies an ambition for a more circular automotive industry. It represents a coalition of more than 60 automakers, suppliers, research institutions, NGOs and international organizations committed to realizing this near-term ambition.

CCI has recently released a new series of circularity “roadmaps”, developed in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), McKinsey & Co. and Accenture Strategy. These reports explain the specifics of this new circular transition.

Connect to Learn More

3. The World Economic Forum’s Accelerating Digital Traceability for Sustainable Production initiative brings together manufacturers, suppliers, consumers and regulators to jointly establish solutions and provide a supporting ecosystem to increase supply chain visibility and accelerate sustainability and circularity across manufacturing and production sectors.

Connect to Learn More →

"I think the way forward will be people making things and starting businesses which don't have so much impact on the environment, whether it's reusing something, whether it's upcycling something, whether it's making something from waste. I think that's the way forward," she said.

"So I hope people are going to do more and more - and they are. I'm by no means the first."