Pushing the bounds of materials and information: tracking and tracing in a circular economy

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As experimentation for a circular economy gathers pace, it is becoming more and more evident that we need an effective way to track and trace materials, components and products through a system –from manufacture to end of life. One of the key lessons that came out of the initial investigations at The RSA Great Recovery was that ‘the ability to track and trace materials is key to reverse engineering our manufacturing processes and closing the loop’

This new trend for source mapping and tracing materials through a system, as exemplified by companies such as Historic Futures or Dutch aWEARness, is now converging with an upsurge of interest and activity in the so-called ‘Internet of Things’, with companies such as Cisco predicting an explosion in the number of ‘intelligent’ products that are able to anticipate our every move and connect us as never before.

The RSA Great Recovery organised a workshop to explore the concept of material tracking and tracing and what it could mean for the nascent circular economy.

The first half of the session, participants heard from practitioners in the field: Thomas Diez of Fab Lab Barcelona who has developed the open source Smart Citizen project, and Alan Dukinfield of S2S Lifecycle Solutions, who has overseen the installation of a RFID material tracking system in a commercial context. Dr Kate Goldsworthy and Miriam Ribul at TED, who have been involved in developing new research around closed-loop textile design and methods of tracing clothing through a system. And Rien Otto from Dutch aWEARness joined via videolink to discuss the Dutch clothing company’s experience of introducing their Circular Content Management System.

During the afternoon, participants were able to get ‘hands on’ and make use of the facilities and expertise at Fab Lab London to develop a practical project of their own using RFID or bar coding, Arduino or other types of sensor technology. All participants set up their own Smart Citizen kit in Thomas Diez’s workshop on how to track open source data for citizens’ political participation in better cities.