An explosion in household waste, combined with a mistrust of current recycling systems, means processing your refuse yourself could (some would argue should) be commonplace.

By certain metrics, last year was the first good(ish) year for the environment in many. Less travelling for work, and less working in general across the most environmentally disruptive industries, gave ecosystems a welcome break. That’s been counterbalanced, however, by monumental shifts in at-home consumption patterns. In some US cities, residential waste reportedly increased by as much 40 per cent. The inputs will be familiar to most. You can’t eat out, so you order in: environmental group Greeners Action assessed that Hong Kong residents consumed more than 101 million disposable plastic items for takeaway every week, over double the previous year’s rate. You can’t shop in store, so you order online: 2020 has seen the e-commerce packaging market grow 40 per cent year on year

At the same time, the restrictions that have kept us all locked away in our homes have also significantly reduced the operational capacity of waste management networks. Last year it was reported that 46 per cent of UK recycling facilities had had to reduce or stop treatment, while 31 per cent of US facilities had been adversely impacted. Pictures of mountains of unprocessed rubbish piling up outside recycling centres have become commonplace. Even before this shutdown, consumers had little trust that recycling systems were effective. Research carried out by Edelman Intelligence found that 42 per cent of UK residents believe that their council just throws most of their recycling in with the general refuse. In response, there’s a growing desire amongst consumers to play a larger role in managing their waste, with 87 per cent arguing individuals should take responsibility for their recycling. This is also true of the national perspective, with nine in ten (87 per cent) saying the UK shouldn’t have to export its garbage overseas.

It’s in this context that the attention achieved by one of the more innocuous products at CES 2021 starts to make a bit more sense. Lasso is a brand that bills itself as ‘the future of recycling’, a company able to ‘put the power back’ in eco-conscious consumers’s hands. It does this via its proprietary in-home waste recycling unit which scans and identifies materials, washes them, grinds them and then compacts them for storage. At present it can process plastics, metals and glass. When the storage hopper is full, users arrange for Lasso to come collect, something it suggests will occur 3-8 times a year based on usage. The system produces closed-loop recycling products, meaning the output can go straight into remanufacture. That has value, with the company claiming owners will eventually start to make a return on their investment (though that could take about 5 years).

Though point-of-use recycling is an emergent market at best (Lasso is still in beta), there’s a clear ecological need and apparent consumer desire for systems that let households do their own environmental duty. ‘We use our washing machines to clean our clothes, so we can re-use them over and over again,’ Lasso CEO Aldous Hicks said in a recent TEDx Talk. ‘Clearly, we already harness technology to process our household items. So why not a domestic recycling appliance?’

Why it matters: Intensifying consumer concern about their own environmental impact is leading to calls for greater transparency around how waste is processed. As households and communities look to bring elements of the recycling supply chain closer to home, the spaces we live in will have to adapt to new forms of infrastructure and behaviour. This might mean affording more kitchen or pantry space to appliances like Lasso, or creating new neighbourhood networks to absorb the impact of increased e-commerce activity, as in the recent Klarna concept we covered.