Circular Economy

5 unusual waste products that have been recycled into something new

'Recycling and giving back' sign on a wall. Transitioning to a circular economy with the 'repair, recycle and redesign' model is widely considered to be the way forward.

Repair, recycle and redesign: Transitioning to a circular economy is widely considered to be the way forward. Image: Unsplash/Jack Church

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Circular Economy?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Circular Economy is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Circular Economy

Listen to the article

  • Global waste generation is expected to increase by over 70% by 2050, according to the World Bank.
  • Experts say transitioning to a more circular economy can reduce waste and save oceans and ecosystems from plastics contamination.
  • Here are 5 companies that have come up with innovative ways to re-use and recycle waste.

The global waste problem is getting worse. The World Bank estimates that without urgent action, the amount of items discarded by humans will increase by 73% by 2050.

According to research carried out by the organization, high-income countries are responsible for more than a third of the world’s waste, despite only accounting for 16% of the global population.

Plastics are seen to pose the most serious threat to the environment. If they are not managed properly they could contaminate waterways and ecosytems for hundreds and even thousands of years.

Is a circular economy the solution?

The way we live now is believed to be using 60% more resources than the Earth can provide - and creating too much waste. Transitioning to a circular economy is widely considered to be the way forward.

In a circular economy, things are made and consumed in a way that minimizes our use of the world’s resources, cuts waste and reduces carbon emissions. Products are kept in use for as long as possible, through repairing, recycling and redesign – so they can be used again and again.

An infographic of the circular economy.
How the circular economy works. Image: European Parliament

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

The drive to recycle more has led to some unusual innovations. Here are five examples of things that would usually go to waste, being put to good use.

1. Coffee grounds

Belgian company PermaFungi says it harvests around 900 kilos of mushrooms a month from used coffee grounds. The grounds are collected from local coffee shops and packed into bags with straw at a growing facility to create nutritious soil for the mushroom spores. Once they’re harvested, the team delivers the mushrooms to organic shops and restaurants. “Belgians drink 5 kilograms of coffee a year, which adds up to thousands of tonnes a year which are mainly being thrown away so it’s got huge potential,” the company’s Chief Operating Officer Stijn Roovers told Reuters.

2. Tennis balls

US company Recycleballs collects millions of tennis balls which are recycled into new products. According to the company, 125 million tennis balls end up in American landfill sites each year, representing 20,000 metric tons of near non-decomposable rubber waste. Some of the balls are ground up and the felt is separated from the rubber. The rubber crumb generated can then be used in the construction of tennis courts as well as horse arenas. Other balls are recycled as dog balls.

Infographic showing need to recycle tennis balls.
125 million tennis balls end up in US landfill sites each year. Image: RecycleBalls

3. Inner tubes

Cycle of Good is a Malawi-based enterprise that collects and ships bicycle innertubes from cyclists in the UK before they end up in landfills. A team of Malawian tailors then repurposes them into useful products like belts, wallets and cases for tech items. All of the spare cuts from the inner tubes are made into soft furniture for use by local schools.

4. Chewing gum

Two French students have devised a scheme that transforms discarded chewing gum into skateboard wheels. Backed by major brands Vans and Mentos, Hugo Maupetit and Vivian Fischer used special gum collection boards in Nantes, France to collect discarded chewing gum. The gum is mixed with a binder and natural dyes before being turned into a skateboard wheel using injection moulding. “Our system may have started in Nantes, but it is designed to be used all over Europe! Through this collaboration we can clean the cities and make them better, greener, and more colourful for young people,” Maupetit and Fischer told

5 steps to reproduce chewing gum.
How discarded chewing gum is made into skateboard wheels. Image:

5. Face masks

British company Waterhaul has launched a scheme to make litter pickers out of recycled single-use face masks. The masks are melted into plastic blocks which are then made into the litter pickers. The project has inspired beach clean-up projects in the UK as well as abroad. Waterhaul estimates that 129 billion facemasks are used globally a month, many of which end up in the world’s oceans.

Have you read?
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Circular EconomyNature and BiodiversitySocial Innovation
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

5 critical actions to establish inclusive, collaborative and sustainable circular value chains

Tommy Tjiptadjaja and Maxime François-Ferrière

May 29, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum