Better Future Factory, Jonas Martens: “Doing things about sustainability, circular economy, that’s what we try to incorporate in everything we do”
Their main focus is to find sustainable solutions for 3D printing and plastic waste but, for them, this doesn’t mean simply designing products.
Better Future Factory develops the entire process from the identification of a problem, through the selection and design of solutions, to the support for people to set up their own business on those solutions.
Their Perpetual Plastic Project has a two-pronged approach: on the one hand, it aims to close the life-cycle of plastic in the Western countries; on the other hand, it provides people in developing countries with the means to reuse plastic waste for new products and with little investment.
We spoke with Jonas Martens, “captain” at Better Future Factory and co-initiator of the Perpetual Plastic Project, to learn more about their ambitious vision and the motivations that push them to strive for it.
Could you tell us about Better Future Factory and its team?
“I studied industrial design engineering at Technical University of Delft, together with my co-founders.
Our goal is to make things that actually change the world for the better. We try not to talk that much about it, but we do much. That’s the most important thing.
If we think of something, we make it, and then we change it to make a new better version. That’s how we evolve the company.”
Let’s be practical!
“It’s really practical! We only started doing business plans recently. We started from the passion first, and then the whole business part came.
We don’t want to just make a product, but a whole process: we actually create a business around an idea.
We want to change the world, basically! I think that, as engineers, we have responsibilities, but also a lot of opportunities, knowledge and ways to make something.
We don’t want to use these resources for the next coffee machine. We want to use them for actual problems, for open-source learning, energy problems, water supply, and food.
At Better Future Factory, we all get the same wages. It doesn’t matter that you are the CEO, or the one that picks up the van. We all work for passion, and not for the money itself.”
Your research is mainly focused on plastic and 3D printing. What does Better Future Factory try to realize?
“The goal of our projects is to turn something that is good for the world into an actual business.
There’s really a lot of plastic waste that ends up in incineration, in landfill, but also in the ocean; it ends up in animals, which we eat, it goes into muscle tissues, and it’s getting worse and worse.
We just want to do something about this problem, and that’s basically the reason why we exist. Doing things about recycling, sustainability, circular economy, is what we try to incorporate in everything we do.
We mostly start out by working together with companies, under the CSR budget. CSR stands for Corporate Social Responsibility, and we use that budget to make a real project, and the business comes after that.
We start off basically with a secret ‘let’s do something fun’, but then we use it to have a big impact.
We have different kinds of projects, focused on the Western world, but also on the developing countries. As for the Western society, we looked at 3D printing and said, ‘Let’s make 3D printing a sustainable process.”
That’s, therefore, the spirit of projects like Perpetual Plastic Project and ReFil filament…
“ReFil is, in a small scale, what we try to do with the Perpetual Plastic Project: to gather recycled plastic and transform it into a standard-quality material. ReFilament is obtained from old car dashboards; it’s the basic resource for a 3D printer, and you can make anything out of it.
We work together with big partners to produce it, we don’t really do it ourselves, but we hold the concept and sell it all over the world.
3D printing is a really complex technology, especially for those who don’t have that much education. In Africa, for instance, they don’t really teach engineering; you’re lucky if you go to high school there.
We try to adapt recycling technology to make it fit for the local educational levels and also for entrepreneurship because, in Africa or anywhere else, it’s not about recycling, it’s about the money and the people who need to make a living.
We use the principle of making a machine that can use recycled input material, or waste, and turn it into a valuable product.
One of the things that we could make is, for instance, rope out of PET bottles. But you can also melt PET and turn it into tiles. It can be also cast: you can make cups, cutlery, and a lot of other products out of plastic waste.
People don’t really know it because now they mostly just gather all the waste to burn it, and then it goes up in the air. But it’s actually a really valuable resource material, and that’s what we are trying to teach.”
You just grind waste plastic to melt and maybe extrude it… And people don’t need huge industrial plants to treat PET this way!
“No, they don’t! We try to make machinery that is really adaptable, easy to use and low-maintenance. We take the high principles out of the industrial machinery we build here in the West, but we simplify those technologies.
We arrange a kind of ‘business in a box’, and we sell it to Africans who can make money out of it. In the end, setting up a business is more important than recycling.”
Do these ropes simply consist of braided spiral threads cut out from PET bottles?
“Yes, we just made a really simple, small machine, which cuts the bottles in such a way that it makes this thread. We can make high-quality rope out of that one. You can make about 20-30 meters of rope out of one PET bottle! And a tile is obtained from 10-20 bottles.
People don’t really know that you can do so much through waste and that it still has that much quality. In the West, we always look to getting the best.
In many places in the world, this is not necessary, and getting resource material in those countries is definitely hard! But there’s a lot of waste, so why not use it as a base material for a product?”
Above all, most of that waste comes from the Western countries!
“Much of it is our waste, that’s right! We are trying to close the circle here in the West, so that no waste goes out and, at the same time, we try to create ways to use waste as a resource material in developing countries.
The basic principle is always that people can make a business out of the things that we sell because it’s all about them, not about us.
We just love designing innovative solutions, and we want to do this for the rest of our lives. We really try to incorporate entrepreneurship, local values, and local culture. We work closely with the people themselves. It’s all about the people!”