Making the Spiral Economy a Reality
Living in a Mattereum World
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To avert the climate emergency we keep being told we need to move to a circular economy. In this, ideally, things get made, used until they wear out or cease to be useful, and then go off and get recycled by breaking them down and salvaging usable component parts or reducing them to their basic chemicals. Either way, these then go on to make something new that goes round the circle again. This then happens repeatedly with stuff only going to landfill if it really cannot be recycled, thereby minimising waste. It’s how milk bottles used to work in the days of doorstep delivery. Originally, they went back to the dairy, got washed, then used again for the next day’s milk, until someone worked out it was cheaper to just melt them down and use the glass to make new ones for the next day; either way, the same glass went round and round between the dairy and the doorstep and never needed to go near a landfill. Now, we have plastic milk containers and the whole process is more complex and wasteful, while you only get glass milk bottles in vintage shops and use them to put flowers in.
Mostly, when it comes to achieving a circular economy, things have been getting worse, not better. With Mattereum’s Universal Bridge, though, there’s the opportunity to bring literally any physical object to the blockchain, which can reverse all this, and not only that, leapfrog over the circular economy and create a new, efficient “Spiral Economy”.
The whole idea of recycling is built on a fundamental falsehood
To put it plainly, even the circular economy has fundamentally got everything completely backwards. The concept of taking something that’s been used, stripping it down to its components, reusing what you can and melting down the rest for chemicals as a means of efficiently preventing waste is bad engineering, at best. The whole idea of recycling is built on a fundamental falsehood, it was something that oil and gas companies conjured up in the 70s to greenwash their new plastics by saying to the public that they could and would be recycled, while knowing that in reality this was not actually practical. Selling recycling sold plastic. “If the public thinks that recycling is working, then they are not going to be as concerned about the environment,” said Larry Thomas, former president of the Society of the Plastics Industry. Most of the plastic that we think we recycle still ends up as landfill, it now just gets shipped to China or somewhere before that happens.
Plastics make up a large proportion of pretty much everything we use today and still we have no really viable way of recycling them so that they can be used to make the same kind of thing they came from. It’s not much better for metals and other non-plastic materials, separating them out and turning them into new, useful, things is really not working. For a circular economy to work we are going to need to break down pretty much everything we make into component parts or chemicals and make new versions of the same thing out of these, like the old milk bottles. But we can’t, we’re not even close, and we are not going to get close any time soon enough to have any impact on the climate emergency. So what can we do?
Your junk suddenly becomes tools for somebody else.
There is almost nothing that has been produced by western civilisation that is not usable by somebody somewhere and if we can make it possible to market all the “junk’’ in your house to the people who will find it useful, your junk suddenly becomes tools for somebody else. No need to pull it to bits, melt it down or anything, just get it to the people who find it useful. You have an aluminium pan that’s been kicking around in the back of a cupboard since you were a student that you don’t use because someone bought you a set of Le Creuset for a wedding present; for you, it’s just cluttering up the kitchen cupboard and getting in the way, but out there, there’s someone who would happily buy your perfectly decent but unused aluminium pan for 11 cents. Or maybe you have a ball of yarn you bought to fix holes in your clothes made by moths (because moths are bastards) and you only needed 25 metres of it. Half a ball of yarn is kind of useless, but to someone who has a project that has been using that colour yarn, needs more, and can match their batch number with yours so the colour match is perfect, it’s suddenly extremely useful. In an ideal world, you take a tray of junk, run it past an AI, the AI identifies it, gives each item a Mattereum asset passport (MAP) and sells it to someone.
Things never hit landfill until every single human being has all of the stuff that they want
So the spiral economy is this, we continue to run mass manufacturing and it continues to put material into the middle of the spiral. New things get inserted and these new things gradually work their way down the spiral going out to people with tighter and tighter budgets in incrementally wider rings, and with a little bit of luck they never hit landfill until every single human being has all of the stuff that they want. So while at the top end, rich people are still buying new stuff, further down the spiral, everyone is still getting good quality older stuff. It will still need a change to the way things are manufactured, they have to go back to being durable and repairable — nobody wants a plastic bottle with a hole in it.
Today, there is just a lot of stuff that is not worth fixing — although the definition of ‘not worth fixing’ is still a value judgement depending on how much money you have, how much time you’ve got, what tools you have and how much you need the thing. A bicycle wheel with half the spokes gone is junk to someone, but to someone who needs one, hasn’t got the money for a new one but is willing to put in the time to fix it, it is worth fixing. At the moment ‘not worth fixing’ even applies to a lot of things that are undamaged, for example, the old mugs I have in my cupboard, they’re nothing special, they aren’t from a collectable pottery, they don’t commemorate anything or connect to a geek franchise, just patterned mugs from a supermarket, made in their millions. It’s just too much like hard work to sell them on eBay, charity shops don’t want them, it’s just easier to chuck them into landfill, but in developing countries, they are useful drinking vessels, someone there will want them, no need for them to go to landfill if only the connection can be made. At the moment we can’t do that because those people have very little money and no effective marketplace exists.
The Mattereum Asset Passport mean that the stuff you are buying is what it claims to be
That’s the problem, plus some ideas about a potential solution. How does what Mattereum does get us to a practical solution that is feasible in the real world? The Universal Bridge connects any physical object to the blockchain so the transfer of legal ownership by means of NFTs is simple. That provides a mechanism by which a marketplace can work without friction while still operating with trust. Important. It means you know you own the stuff you are buying when you buy it and that the person you are buying from has the right to sell it, The legal warranties in the Mattereum Asset Passport (MAP) also mean that the stuff you are buying is what it claims to be and in the condition it is claimed to be in, or you get financial recompense from the seller. This is what creates the value in your ‘junk’; because the buyer can be certain that you really own the thing and it is exactly what you say it is, it removes the ‘doubt discount’ that undermines sales in the secondary market.
As a result, you get something like 80–90% of what you paid for the thing when you resell it instead of 50% (at best), and so does your buyer when they sell it on. This means it is always worth selling something on, down the spiral, to the next level of people who want that thing, but have increasingly modest budgets. But it’s no good being able to sell your printer down the spiral if it has been arbitrarily bricked by the manufacturer as they judge you’ve had it for too long and their economic model requires you to bin it and buy a new one.
There’s an incentive to make things able to survive
The printer, kettle, milk bottle, or whatever has to be built for longevity, and the MAP helps drive this. It allows for manufacturers to have a warranty that earns them a small amount on every sale down the spiral, so there’s an incentive to make it able to survive to do that, or to set things up so that they can take things back, refurb them and re-inject them into the spiral. Making things with longevity suddenly makes sense for companies, if they do that with a warranty on the MAP that gives them, say, 1% of the purchase price every time the thing is sold on, they are making money for years without having to do any more work. 1% of the cost of a cheap 10th hand pot isn’t much, but 1% of the cost of a million 10th hand pots, well, that amounts to something worth paying attention to.
You can see that starting to happen, Mattereum are on the verge of announcing a partnership with a cutting-edge manufacturer of high quality, hard wearing, ethically produced jackets. We’ll be starting by doing MAPs for these Every one of these jackets will have its MAP encoded in as a cryptographically protected mobile phone verifiable NFC tag that it carries, so that the garments are tied to the blockchain, which enables them to function viably in a spiral economy. You just beep the tag against your phone to access the blockchain records that verify the jacket’s identity.
Individual jackets will each have their own unique identification immutably entered on the blockchain
The jacket’s MAP will document the material’s supply chain certifications, backed by legally enforceable warranties that these certifications are genuine. Individual jackets will each have their own unique identification immutably entered on the blockchain, so that anything that happens in the life of the jacket can be documented. Who owns it, if it has been repaired or upgraded, even what adventures it has been through, all these can be written into the jacket’s Asset Passport for posterity and because the jacket’s warranties and the history are connected to the blockchain by the Mattereum tag and Asset Passport, it proves it is genuine to future buyers so it can realise a better price when it is sold on. This will hold true for every buyer so it helps create a spiral economy; instead of being recycled after every user, the jacket remains valuable as it is and passes from buyer to buyer over the years, spiralling down through the economy. They can be returned to the manufacturer for repair and refurb if needed, and all the original promises made to purchasers remain valid whoever buys them next, ensuring that they retain their value for the second, third and tenth wearers. This means that when this year’s throw away gear has become microplastic pollution, clothes born from the partnership between Mattereum and this manufacturer will still be proudly worn by owners who cherish their style and accumulated history.
Now imagine every item of clothing working like that, and a whole load of other stuff besides, game changer. We’re even seeing big traditional brands starting to do it — IKEA is buying back furniture and refurbing it, so is John Lewis, and Screwfix will now buy back your old sander, drill, sonic screwdriver etc, refurb it and sell it on at a reduced price. If they connected this stuff to a MAP, we’d be well on the way. Spiral Economy.
An AI-powered framework for hyper-efficient web3 commerce
The ecosystem to make the spiral economy happen is starting to condense out of the ether; another of Mattereum’s new partnerships is with NeoSwap. While Mattereum has the trust and identity side of things nailed, NeoSwap have the marketplace side sorted. NeoSwap are an AI-powered framework for hyper-efficient web3 commerce that allows you to find optimal multiway trades that redistribute assets and currency in a win-win-win manner.
This means that if you want to sell that student saucepan but need a new bucket, you can feed it into the Neoswap system, backed by the information and guarantees in the MAP, and the system will work out an outcome for you where the pan goes to someone who needs it, while you get a bucket from a third party who has one available, and maybe a bit of money changes hands as part of it. The warranties in the MAP are then triggered and the percentages due on resale go to the right people and everyone has what they need. Well, almost. We’ve got everything identified and guaranteed via the MAP, we’ve got a mechanism to sell it efficiently to someone who wants it, and while that’s fine if the product is purely digital, and NFT or something, but these are physical things; how do they get from my cupboard to your stove?
So, the postage issue. You do not really want to parcel the pan up, queue in the post office and pay to have the thing sent from Delhi to Croydon, and the buyer doesn’t want to have to read the small print like you do on eBay to find that, yes, they’ve paid 11 cents for a pan, but there’s also £25 postage. We’ve got everything slick and effective up to this point and now there’s a big “clunk” as the system falls over.
The Spiral Economy can piggyback on existing logistics
But there’s a solution here too, the Spiral Economy can piggyback on existing logistics that warehouses are using. Reverse Logistics. Huge volumes of stuff are going out to people’s homes in delivery vans, which then come back empty. There’s huge underused capacity there, and the plan is to use that reverse logistics capacity to move this stuff back and around again to get it to the people who have bought it.
Reverse logistics means that even the guy on the bike delivering your takeaway could take stuff back. You could use UberEats, DoorDash and all the rest of the systems that are currently there for food. That again, is an infrastructure that hasn’t been used, it’s very, very fast. It’s very cheap. It’s already got reverse logistics capacity because all those vans and bicycles and mopeds and so on are going back as well as forward. So the idea is that you order a curry, and this person comes and takes three things away with them at the same time as they’re delivering your curry. The stuff piles up in some corner of the restaurant and then the van comes around once every couple days and picks all of it up.
If you’re willing to piggyback on all the systems which do delivery or empty going back, it becomes possible to move a whole bunch of goods around the system, because you’ve got digital tracking so it’s possible to know where everything is at all times. And so you just never move an empty van. Because right now what happens is the van comes to deliver working goods, then you use the stuff, then it goes out and trash and then another system takes it away and everything is resolved — linear economy. With the spiral economy there’s only a single logistical network that carries value, rather than being one network that carries value and then a reverse network which carries garbage. The garbage network comes down to practically nothing. Cool, awesome. God intended.
Mattereum’s system was created with AI in mind
I keep mentioning AI; AI is kind of a big thing in all this. Mattereum’s system was created with AI in mind, whatever Mattereum can do, it does it massively more effectively with AI. I have mentioned our first AI partner, NeoSwap, and AI certifiers, and I’ve written much more about those and other AI opportunities elsewhere but AI has a crucial role in the spiral economy too. First of all, there’s the transport business that I’ve just been talking about; imagine a NeoSwap style AI for working out the optimum way of getting your saucepan from you to the next user, factoring in the delivery guy bringing a pizza to next door, the van delivering the tank of olives to the restaurant, and so on, finding ways for it to leapfrog from one reverse logistics opportunity to another until it rocks up on the desired doorstep.
MAPs give AIs ‘eyes’ to see things in the physical world.
That’s without even thinking about how Mattereum makes it possible to use AI as an agent for finding things. You tell it what you want, and it goes out and finds it, whether it’s on eBay, IKEA, in the corner shop or on offer from someone on the other side of the world. To be able to find a thing and reliably buy it for you, an AI must be able to ‘see’ that the physical asset it is considering is truly a physical object that exists and will turn up on your doorstep tomorrow, and not a seductive digital chimaera designed to empty your wallet and vanish. Mattereum Asset Passports are exactly what AIs need for this, they link a digital twin to a real object with legal guarantees that what is described is actually the thing being advertised. AI’s instructed to just look for objects with MAPs will be guaranteed to be buying actual things that are exactly as described, which will provide an incentive for sellers to have MAPs for their assets, and once they do that, the objects are fully equipped to be sold and sold again through the spiral economy. MAPs give AIs ‘eyes’ to see things in the physical world.
You get access to the entire logistical capacity of the city
So one of the benefits of living inside of a big city in this future is that you get access to the entire logistical capacity of the city, both things moving backwards and forwards, but also the things which are simply being warehoused in your neighbour’s houses because you’re in a high density environment. And at that point, if the stuff is there, and it’s just waiting for you to come around and pick it up, you don’t even need the reverse logistics, you just go up the street and get it from the seller.
It can even work as a way to basically share stuff. You might be buying the stuff three or four times from the same person because you buy something off them and use it and then you get bored with it. You sell something to Bob and then Bob sells it back to you when you decide you want it again. Like think of video game consoles, where there are different games on each one of the major game systems. If you could very easily have access to all of the major game systems just by talking to your mates and you swap it with one person and another person. There you go. How much better is that result than the existing system?
You can use it to find things in the house
We don’t even have to stop there. If everything has a tag on it telling you what it is, you can use that to find it in the house, Suppose you want something you know you have but can’t find, you can scan the house for it’s NCF tag and go “oh, yeah — third box down in the box on top of the wardrobe” and go and get it. Never lose anything again. And even that can feed into the spiral economy. Imagine, when you get something you can add something to its MAP that defines how often you expect to use it, and if you don’t use it that frequently it comes up with a reminder asking if you really want to keep this thing. That way, instead of turning into kipple in the back of a cupboard, unused items prompt you to put them back into the spiral economy. You can have a constant churn of stuff in your life, without creating more environmental damage as a result of that churn. You make money, stuff gets used, you get a tidy house. Win all round.
Eradicate waste and contribute to making our planet habitable again
Mattereum has the potential to transform our relationship with the objects in our lives, to eradicate waste and contribute to making our planet habitable again by making it possible to track objects through the spiral economy and to use AI to the advantage of everyone from the manufacturer to the 100th user.
A future that works for all of us.
You might also want to take a look at what Mattereum’s Head of Design Kate Pincott said about the spiral economy at the designFAO conference in Lisbon recently
If you are working on a Spiral Economy or AI project that you think could enhance or be enhanced by the Mattereum system get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org