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Base Zero

A sustainable materials database and networking platform working towards creating a new era in industry with a Zero waste & emission mission

Photo of Mairead Ahern
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'Base Zero', which has been dubbed 'The Body Shop' and 'Linkedin' of sustainable waste materials, is a solution to help reduce urban waste, up-cycle various standard and atypical materials which largely currently go into landfill, as well as acting as an effective tool for industry making it easier for designers, engineers, and manufacturing organisations to source and purchase the most Eco version of the material they need, closest to home.

This is a two-part integrated circular system which comprises of:

1. An innovative, interactive, modular pod-based waste collection system.

2. An interactive, easy-to-navigate, online sustainable materials/waste materials database and listing site.

1: Our modular, interactive, pod-based system aims to take a fresh approach to existing, static, un-informative bins/banks. Base Zero waste ‘Banks’ will be comprised of various bespoke modular pods that can vary in size and number depending on the demand in a given specific area. For instance certain inner city urban areas may require more pods with more frequent collection times for waste packaging (disposable coffee cups, waste food containers, plastic bags, beverage containers, 3-d printing prototype waste materials, printing paper & card, etc.), also allowing for the fact that a lot of inner-city office buildings and apartments do not have recycling facilities.

Another geographical area may require more pods for clothes & fabric, bulbs & paint tins, or rubble from renovations & construction. Pod demand may change for various reasons, such as: the time of year, shifting demographics, whether schools/colleges are in session, what construction/demolition is going on in the area. The pods are fitted with electronic sensors that can tell when a pod is almost full – to alert the user, and the waste management partners to empty it, and whether certain areas use certain pods more than others – to adapt to the waste needs of a given community/city block.

These pods are also attached to a point-based system whereby users can use our on-line site to locate pods, learn where they can dispose of more atypical recyclable products close to them, and in doing so receive bonus discounts and offers from specific participating retailers as they continue to recycle; which doubles up as an avenue to educate and inform users on various current recycling/sustainability issues and news as they browse through the site.

2: Base Zero's materials database and listing site introduces and compares alternative materials on an industry-by-industry basis, material by material. Each traditionally used standard material is compared with a more sustainable alternative in terms of standard material properties, strengths, stresses, capabilities, limitations, and embedded energy. For example it may be possible for a manufacturer to use a plant-based or recycled/waste-sourced plastic or metal for an application instead of a straight-from-petroleum PVC or PET, or raw aluminium. 

The materials purchaser will be able to source these material alternatives from
- Our partnering raw materials suppliers (local first and then international)
- Up-cycling from either our Base Zero Pods (if needed on a micro-scale), or
adverts/listings on the site showing larger concentrations of various waste options
from industry such as demolition waste, industrial bi-products, etc.

Once a material selection has been made, the database will provide a full list of
suppliers, starting with those geographically closer to where the user is based (to
cut down on travel emissions). This will also include production costs, rates,
delivery times, and supplier contact details.

Who will benefit from using this Circular System?

There are several advantages to this system, both for suppliers and buyers. On the supplier end - for the small-scale producer/supplier of sustainable materials who may be finding business difficult, this is quite literally putting them on the map; providing easier access to potential global clients and creating more of a demand for their product.

Larger suppliers/producers of these materials will also benefit from this increase in demand. Increased mass production and availability of these materials will in turn bring down their cost, making their use even more attractive for manufacturers. From the buyers perspective it is a quick and easy method of seeing exactly what is on offer, where it can be sourced, how much it will cost, and exactly how much of a reduction they are gaining in their CO2/GHG footprint by making the change.

This integrated system also makes the whole process informative and attractive to
anyone who interacts with it from a larger industrial level to the individual person who pod-drops their waste electrical items, fabric, coffee cups, food containers, plastic packaging etc.

- Urban people who want to dispose of various waste items in an accessible & transparent manner, with the knowledge that those items will go on to be used by an individual or organisation who needs them.

- Small and large scale raw material manufacturers who need discarded or 'wasted' materials either from industrial waste/bi-product - or agricultural waste to make their new material e.g. banana skins, mushrooms, and pineapple leaves being used to make sustainable alternatives for leather.

- Small and large scale product manufacturers/building professionals across a wide range of industries making it easier for designers and manufacturers to simultaneously source a number of eco/waste materials from a variety of different industries when needed, making new product development as sustainable and circular as possible.

- Promoting collaborative and competitive community-driven recycling, particularly items that might not be included in standard waste collections, including: bulbs, batteries, clothes/misc fabric, rubble/demolition waste (ceramic, slate, tile, wood, block/brick, concrete).

- Companies and organisations who wish to reduce their carbon footprint and have a more sustainable supply chain.

The process allows people to visibly see how their individual actions make a real
difference, creates incentives by linking in with retailers and major brands who
can contribute in providing rewards to individuals/organisations/schools who are
continually recycling their items and using the system/creating a little friendly
competition in doing so.

It is a very collaborative, holistic, human-centered solution as to how such as
circular waste/raw material system can work.

How exactly does it work?

The primary initial focus of Base Zero is to introduce, compare, list, and enable distribution of a wide range of materials from various sources on an industry-by-industry basis, material by material.

Once a material selection has been made, the system will provide a full list of suppliers, starting with those geographically closer to where the user is based (cutting travel emissions). This will also include production costs, rates, delivery times, and supplier contact details. For effective global communication and knowledge transfer, all e mails and queries sent through the site will have an in-built language translator; therefore making a query, or placing an order, should be relatively easy. All other published information on the system, including material/industry specs will also be available in a wide range of languages.

Aside from a growing list of materials, the site will also include separate sections for each major industry providing useful, up-to-date, and relevant information on how different industries can reduce their emission levels. For example the product manufacturing industry section will have a list of the most used materials, the most common alternative choices (as picked by other industry professionals), including information on alternative manufacturing processes, recent technological advancements which may be of interest, as well as an on-line forum where industry professionals can offer helpful tips and advice on emission reduction and environmental impact; while doing so in the most cost effective manner.

All stakeholders will have the ability to comment on their experience with a certain buyer, supplier, or material. For instance if a material turned out not to be as described or fell short of certain advertised characteristics, this can be noted and shared. On the other hand if a user is very content with their experience, and intended to run with a specific material again, this can also be published. This will enable a good level of transparency, promote trust in users of the system, and assist in encouraging industries to engage with and learn from each other.

How is this idea unique?

There are stand-alone materials databases/lists (which are not very interactive or easy to navigate), and of course existing standardized waste bin banks; but nothing currently on the market that encompasses and expands on all of these while also linking in with local and international waste network systems in a way that can simultaneously appeal to and work for such a wide group of users/stakeholders.

- Provides an avenue for participating companies to adhere to and comply with the newly announced Brittish Standard on the Circular Economy (BS 8001). The team are also currently working on a formula to establish a CE (Circular Economy) rating system for all materials, similar to current embedded energy standards.  

- Provides a potential avenue for companies who want to have their name/brand associated with sustainable initiatives, such as the U.N. Global compact for sustainable supply chains, resources and practices.

- Provides access to big green data: data collected on location, demand for specific waste needs, real-time availability of space in pods.

- Helps to ensure resources, materials, products, and waste is either up-cycled or recycled.

- Educates and assists people of all ages and from all walks of life not just specific academic or industrial knowledge sectors - helping to raise awareness, interest, and empathy for a more actively-involved participatory circular society.

The team behind Base Zero:

Mairead Ahern - I am an award-winning industrial designer with a passion for multi-functional, human-centred, sustainable design thinking. The manufacturing industry currently accounts for over 30% of all CO2 emissions. In an attempt to counteract this I try to design with sustainability, functionality, and necessity as my primary objectives. What I have found quite shocking in recent years though, given our current circumstance, is the lack of any significant shift in industry towards more sustainable/alternative materials and manufacturing processes.

That said, sourcing suitable eco/sustainable material alternatives, or indeed reusable
waste materials for a lot of designers/engineers is not always that easy or straight forward. This is why I came up with the original idea for Base Zero - an international interactive integrated system with a wide-reaching approach to an effective circular waste/circular manufacturing economy.

Base Zero was a semi-finalist in the Industrial category of M.I.T.'s Climate Co-lab contest, and Nike's Materials Matter contest:

It was also shortlisted in Accenture's Leaders of Tomorrow Award this year.

Based in Ireland, the venture now has a close-knit team of passionate like-minded individuals with broad ranging backgrounds from product development, architecture, I.T., software development, business, and waste management:

Mairead Ahern - Industrial Designer, Founder & M.D.

Jude O Mara - Software developer & I.T. specialist - with over 20 years experience in the Waste Management sector.

Michael O Sullivan - Industrial Designer - Phd New Product Development.

Claire Regan - Industrial designer/U.X. designer with over 10 years experience in the public and private sector.

Khizer Iqbal - Chemical & Environmental Process Engineer -  International Centre for Chemical & Biological Sciences Fellow.

Brian Ahern - Architectural & Construction consultant with over 30 years experience in the architecture and construction industry across Ireland and in the U.K.

McDonnell - Business development consultant - over 30 years experience in operational excellence, senior management, and board level experience in multinational companies both in Ireland and internationally. 

Thank you for your time and consideration, all feedback and assistance is much appreciated - the team at Base Zero.

How does this research relate to our Use Cases?

In terms of how this system can work to help those depicted in the user cases - Base Zero works towards collecting and effectively disposing of a multitude of different a-typical or hard to dispose of waste material items. While there may not be much of a market for the traditional recycling of certain wrapper and small packet packaging on food & other daily consumables - Base Zero makes it possible for such items to go else-where & into the production of other material manufacturing processes.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

The Circular economy challenge is indeed a challenge, but possible! Effective solutions will largely centre on circular empathy -empathy for the energy & resources going into the items we use on a daily basis, empathy for how manufacturing systems operate & why they need to become more circular, and also how we can instill & grow empathy in each other, & work to make common sense much more common.

Tell us about yourself

Mairead Ahern -M.D. Jude O Mara -Software developer & I.T. specialist - over 20 years experience in the Waste Management sector Khizer Iqbal - Chemical & Environmental Process Engineer, International Centre for Chemical & Biological Sciences Fellow Michael O Sullivan - Phd New Product Development


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Photo of Fernanda Garza

Great!!! I just found this week a company that finds waste using google maps and somehow detects which kind of waste does the company wants to get fid of. I personally found this approach very useful, specially for Entrepreneurs.

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