[Column] Eliminate disposable products

Monique van der Veen sees plenty of opportunities for anyone wanting to set up a company in smart, well thought through reusable consumer items.

Monique van der Veen: “If you are concerned about polarisation at all, then assuming that ‘I am the problem’ is a very good option.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

My research looks at recovering chemical building blocks from waste streams and reusing these as raw materials. Our Chemical Engineering students are also keen on the idea that they can use their skills to help find solutions to the energy issue and the move from a linear to a circular chemical industry. They experience the same cognitive dissonance as me: “How circular am I myself?” They too want to make their own activities more sustainable. But as they say, it makes little sense to separate the plastic at our events if TU Delft then mixes the waste. Our study association, Technologisch Gezelschap, has in the meantime distributed really cool reusable coffee cups to the students.

They have thus come up with the same idea as me – stop using any disposable products. My first step was to start using washable breastfeeding pads. A revelation! Some of the pads are even partly made of silk so they are a lot more comfortable than the disposable ones. And because you only buy them once you save money while they hardly bring any extra work – perhaps 0.1% more washing.

Which other disposable item I can now get rid of?

The menstruation cup is another example. It too is a very popular subject of discussion among our students due to its enthusiastic users: it is very comfortable, saves money and takes little extra effort. I have also replaced disposable dish washing cloths with washable cotton ones. This is something I am ashamed of ­– I don’t know how I ever used the disposable ones. I also now carry a silicon straw in my handbag for my daughter – the paper straws really don’t work – and have a slick collapsible foldable silicon lunchbox for buying hot meals on campus. It’s become a bit of an addiction. Once you start, you keep asking yourself which other disposable item you can now get rid of.

Unfortunately not nappies. Washable nappies do not meet the criterion of limited extra effort. Compostable nappies may do so, but so far the compostable nappies can only be composted at high temperatures. This then needs an additional collection service and there isn’t one. I am also looking for a portable coffee cup. Ideally I want one that I can fold and that feels as pleasant to drink from as ceramic or glass. So there are opportunities enough for students and researchers who want to start a start-up for clever reusable consumer items!

And for people looking for ideas for Christmas presents, what about bees wax cloths (in Dutch) to replace cling film or reusable cotton buds (in Dutch)?

Monique van der Veen is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Applied Sciences, department of Chemical Engineering. You can read about the work of her research team at www.tudelft.nl/cheme/vanderveengroup and follow her on Twitter at @MAvanderVeen.

Monique van der Veen / Columnist

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