Renewable Matter # 10 / May-June

Cunning and Lateral

by Federico Pedrocchi

In my opinion, there is a vast scenario that opens up when dealing with the circular economy, bearing in mind a basic rule: when faced with a huge problem wreaking havoc, a certain competence is needed to be able to get to the bottom of things, but one also needs to be cunning and lateral. Cunning is self-explanatory. Lateral can be ambiguous, so an explanation is in order. When we observe a phenomenon, we should bear in mind that alongside a so called “central” vision, which is important to have, there can be a lateral one able to produce interesting results. The reason is quite simple: in the central vision we tend to use the know-how at our disposal, the experience and the basic concept that can be applied in many similar situations. But this is an attitude that can lead to conservative practices.


When I occasionally meet the general public I happen to use the following problem, which is totally fictitious, there is no scientific activity of this kind. I say: a recent research shows that in China the number of heart attacks on a lift is almost double that of those recorded in Europe and the United States. How come? The answers are many and varied, some linked to power and vertical movement of fast lifts. Then I carry on adding: the reason is simple, in China, the average-sized lift carries at least 30 people.

Giuseppe Galatà – a Veneto-born engineer currently living in Sicily – in collaboration with the University of Messina is taking off with a start-up operating with a lateral vision on the issue of food waste. A much-debated issue, describing the various shapes waste takes up starting from when it leaves supermarkets. But what happens before? Galatà started a supply chain able to work on fruit and vegetable markets, local markets, companies, even inventing machines able to unpack expired packaged food. Not only that: he derives feeds for farmed animals from greens. And then? Greens contain a lot of water, don’t they? He even recovers that, thus showing how lateral and ingenious he is. 

Swedish Fredrika Gulfot, instead, pushes laterality in a direction of perverse intelligence. We all know that we are extracting an enormous amount of fish from the sea. According to some data, from 1970 to date, marine life has dropped by half. We are approaching a time where we will have to put wind-up toy fish, like those we use in the bath, into the sea (not just for children, but for adults as well). It will be inevitable to avoid the anger of many professional fishermen, those using those huge nets to catch not only fish but also rocks, WW2 submarines and, periodically, Neptune, which they promptly throw back into the sea, though. Fredrika reasoned this out: 600 sardines are needed to obtain half a kilo of omega 3. It has now been ascertained that eating omega 3 is as good for your health as watching for three minutes a fire hydrant. So it is a totally useless production. But in order to stop all this it may take a long time. So she grows algae producing omega 3. The message is clear: planning the recovery of the useless. This is how we can be cunning. So, a suggestion: since coat hangers are horn-shaped, could we not spread the message that they can replace rhino horns?