Not all revolutions are noisy and in your face. Some are small, silent ones that contain the economic germs of the future. They are often the fruit of ideas nurtured by the courage of young people who never cease to change the world. BackBo is one of them. It is an experimental project that Pietro and Marta are carrying out in the heart of the University of Bologna. The idea is to collect plastic refuse in the Piazza Verdi area and convert it into new and functional objects. In this way the two engineers want to pay attention to the practice of consumption: plastic disposables to be converted into new products, thanks to the community that revolves around the University and some simple machines like the inevitable 3D printers, can become an opportunity for socialization and learning, in addition to freeing the imagination. Think the Circular Economy on a much smaller but no less effective scale.
Towards the back of La Scuderia are various cages – a zoo-like structure – containing a few start-ups or as they like to refer to it as a “pensatoio 3.0” (Think Tank). BackBo works out of one of them. The first concrete example on which Pietro and Marta are working are bottle caps, which through a transformation process can become bread baskets. The two young eco-preneurs want to co-design and subsequently create useful objects with those who discard them and those visiting La Scuderia. Every once in a while they launch specific call-to-action actions across the social networks. It is this cycle of consumption: design, production and re-use, where they want to spread a new awareness that products don’t have to die but can relive again.
It all started when Pietro and Marta gave birth to their idea while on Erasmus in Germany. Once back in Bologna they presented BackBo at the GreenHouse of EIT Climate-KIC, accessing the incubation path that guaranteed the necessary funding to purchase 3D printers. Thanks to the assistance of experts and tutors, they were able to create a winning business plan that caught the eye of its panel of judges. “Germany is way ahead of most EU countries so it’s kind of no surprise we got our inspiration from there,” Pietro claims. Marta too, confirms this hypothesis, “Their approach to recycling is so much different than Italy’s. Germans see it as a great opportunity rather than an economic weakness.”
That Germany is ahead of us in waste management is not a discovery but what illuminated Pietro is the extreme ease with which the “old” vacuuming system is meticulously adopted and manages to significantly lower social costs of disposal. And how all the supermarkets are equipped to help consumers differentiate and encourage the supply of many types of waste. So, naturally, they thought, “Why not replicate this model in a closed system like the University of Bologna by involving a specific target like students?” Marta chimes in adding, “Furthermore, students are often the first ones to immediately adapt to changes if it seems worthwhile. In our case, we are also highlighting the positive environmental impact of our idea.”
In this spirit, BackBo wants to become a “social engagement” laboratory and work towards a circular and zero-waste economy, which starts at a very specific point, a nerve centre (Piazza Verdi), which is often in the spotlight for being dirty, neglected and for its nocturnal robustness. Perhaps, from this point they can the reach out to the far corners of the city. Pietro and Marta realise to bring about change is not easy but then again, the very reason they are at university is to learn so at the very least they are getting a real lesson in economic warfare at street level as well as trying to help the environment.