Maayke runs a dating site for materials

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She's one of those circularity heroes who really put a smile on your face. Maayke-Aimée Damen is the energetic, ambitious and clever founder of EME. Full of witty zingers, apt analogies and pleasant positivity, she represents EME during the Circular Economy Week.

EME is short for Excess Materials Exchange: a marketplace to swap your spare materials. She prefers to call it a dating site for materials because she likes how it speaks to the imagination. It's also quite accurate as EME is all about matching supply and demand.

Materials passport

Launched in 2017, the company has been built on the concept of the materials passport, another one of Maayke's brainchildren. The passport includes information about the exact composition and extractability of a product's materials. So, if you've listed the precise weight of the gold components in a smartphone – or the value of the window frames in a building – and you also know exactly how to reclaim those resources, then your business case becomes that much easier to understand.

“We know that currently, 95 per cent of the value of material goes to waste when used products get discarded,” Maayke explains. “My co-founder Christian van Maaren and I saw this as an opportunity. We ran a pilot at ten large companies, and it turns out they could be claiming 64 million euros' worth of revenue from their waste flows . Also, they could save 5.5 million euros on waste flow costs.”

Statistics

Maayke always has her statistics at the tip of her tongue, tailored to her audience and today's reality. For example, at Circl during the Circular Economy Week, she states that 45 per cent of carbon emissions are released during the production of daily use products. “Do you know how much of those rank as waste after six months? Eighty, ninety per cent? It's actually 99 per cent!”

Hearing those shocking numbers really drives home the point that converting waste into new materials is a good idea. Logical, even. But how do we make the most of the materials? “Everyone knows that you can grow mushrooms in used coffee grounds. But we've looked into it and the research shows that we can also use them to create pigments, bio-plastics and fibres – or even a new coffee cup. After turning your coffee grounds into a new cup, you can still use them for your mushrooms, and then burn them to generate energy. Now that's mileage.”

Long way to go

Ultimately, EME wants to ‘change the story’, highlighting that materials have value. Of course, that requires first assigning value in a way that we can recognise. Waste gets disposed because people don't fully understand or register the value of the recyclables inside. In other words, we still have a long way to go. Maayke: “Organisations need a helping hand here. Many financial models are still very linear and we haven't figured out who should get the credit for decreasing carbon emissions. Furthermore, add the psychological effects of a perceived lack of urgency. A lot of people and companies scratch their head and say: Why should we start doing something NOW? It's waste, it’s already been written off.”

“So what do I do? I drive home the exponential speed of current developments with this example: Let’s say you’re standing on the pitch of a football stadium like the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam. One drop of water falls. A minute later, two, and another minute later four. We keep doubling the number of drops every minute.  Assuming a drop is 1 millilitre and the water can’t escape, how long will it take to fill the Arena (400 million cubic metres)? One year? Six months? It’s just 46 minutes! In 30 minutes, the water will be up to your ankles and just 16 minutes later the arena will be full. So let's turn things around now, before it's too late.”

Reassurance

To make things easier for people and companies, EME wants to start digitising materials as soon as possible. By moving the supply chain into a blockchain and connecting users to one another with artificial intelligence (AI), we will get there, Maayke firmly believes. “On the one hand, everyone wants data transparency, but on the other hand, we also have to protect privacy and business secrets. Blockchain will solve this puzzle. Also, users are struggling with questions such as: is the quality high enough, when can I use this, where do I acquire what I need, and what if I need 30 and there are only 25? These people will find the answers and reassurance they need as we get better at matching through AI. Nowadays, that level of trust is generally limited to established ties; you only want to trade with someone you've met personally. But these technologies will enable us to go beyond chance and towards structure. What we're building here is the infrastructure for a large-scale marketplace for materials.”

This is part of in a series of stories about speakers during the Week of the Circular Economy. Previously published on this website:

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