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Iceland fashion and beauty sustainability spotlight

Carbfix, an Elon Musk X Prize finalist, is currently running pilots in Italy, Portugal, Turkey and the US, with a new site pitched to mineralise half of Iceland’s emissions by 2030. The company is testing whether sea water could be used instead of fresh water, meaning plants could go offshore, using the abundant basalt rock in the world’s ocean floors. The process is significantly cheaper than other carbon offsetting tools such as carbon credits for businesses, costing $25 per ton instead of the $11-$215 per ton expected by 2030, according to Bloomberg NEF.

While Carbfix works on mineralising CO2, its partners are finding new ways to capture it. On the same site, Swiss company Climeworks has a direct air capture (DAC) facility, taking CO2 from the ambient atmosphere and either mineralising it with Carbfix or turning it into consumer products with clients (examples to date include lab-grown diamonds and backpacks). Iceland is ripe for this technology because of the geothermal power, abundance of basalt rock, and the political willpower to scale solutions, says Climeworks CMO Julie Gosalvez, formerly of Kenzo and Gucci Beauty. So far, Climeworks has enabled Stripe, Shopify and Microsoft to access Carbfix’s process. It raised $650 million in its equity round in April, co-led by Partners Group and GIC.

“This is not a way to justify business as usual,” says Guðnason. “But, it would be impossible to reach our climate goals just by stopping new emissions. We need to remove emissions that have already been produced.”

Pure North

It’s not just Carbfix looking to partner with the environment’s biggest offenders. Founded in 2016, Pure North’s sorting, deposit and recycling system aims to save Iceland’s plastic waste from being exported, landfilled or burnt. Its new app allows consumers to scan plastic packaging – anything from Skyr yoghurt pots to Coca Cola bottles – and see how to recycle it, in exchange for financial incentives. It estimates that the average family could gain €2-3000 annually.

Pure North managing director Sigurdur Halldorsson in the company’s plastic recycling facility.

Photo: Pure North

Pure North uses Iceland’s renewable, geothermal energy to power mechanical plastic recycling, claiming to use 40 per cent less energy, 40 per cent less water, and producing 82 per cent less CO2 emissions than regular plastic recycling, which relies on cold water. To scale, Pure North plans to find other sources of waste heat to power its recycling systems, starting with Veitur Utilities, Iceland’s largest utilities company, and progressing to the 23,000 waste heat sources it has identified across Europe, including an aluminium plant and cooling water from data centres.

To succeed, Pure North needs packaging producers to change too, simplifying packaging to one type of plastic which is infinitely recyclable, says managing director Sigurdur Halldorsson. “We need to solve the whole chain from producer to consumer to recycler.”

Bella Webb, the author, travelled to Iceland courtesy of 66°North.

Comments, questions or feedback? Email us at [email protected].

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