Image for From trash to treasure: six circular startups waging war on waste

From trash to treasure: six circular startups waging war on waste

Europe’s first competition for circular startups, the Green Alley Award, is open for entries. We look at six former finalists and winners

Europe’s first competition for circular startups, the Green Alley Award, is open for entries. We look at six former finalists and winners

Green Alley Awards: Gelatex Technologies turns waste from the livestock industry into textiles
Gelatex Technologies

Based in Estonia, Gelatex Technologies uses gelatine nanofibres to create a leatherlike textile (pictured) that can be made into clothing and shoes, or used in sectors such as interiors and automotive. The gelatine is sourced from waste accumulated in the livestock industry that would normally be discarded, such as bones or skins. As much as 5m tonnes of this sort of refuse is incinerated in the EU every year.

Unlike conventional leather, which uses chemicals such as chromium in the dyeing process, Gelatex uses natural pigments such as ochre, sienna and umber to colour the material, according to marketing manager Daniel Filipe Fonseca.

In 2019, the company won the Green Alley Award, paired up with high-end designers such as handbag brand NO/AN, and received funding through the Worth Partnership Project.

Green Alley Awards: Sulapac makes biodegradable straws

Although many other plastic items are just as ubiquitous, the straw has become a symbol of single-use items and the havoc they wreak on our natural world. Finnish company Sulapac set out in 2016 to find an alternative.

In December 2019, it launched a microplastic-free, biodegradable straw (pictured), as part of a range of products including pots for cosmetics, jewellery boxes made from the small particles left over from logs felled in sustainably managed Nordic forests, and plant-based binders.

Headed up by two biochemists, the company says the straw is totally compostable. Crucially, it also doesn’t get soggy in a drink. Cheers to that.

Green Alley Awards: MIWA provides the infrastructure for package-free shops

Zero-waste shops are popping up everywhere from rural Wales to central London, allowing customers to avoid throwaway packaging and instead bring along refillable containers to store their food. Enter MIWA (short for Minimum Waste), a Czech company that provides the infrastructure for shops to adopt this type of retail model.

Dried goods are dispensed from refillable capsules, which are fitted with smart technology (radiofrequency ID tags, sensors and GPS tracking) to help retailers with automatic reordering and monitoring of stock through the supply chain.

It currently operates in four food stores in the Czech Republic and Switzerland, and has plans to expand into supermarkets in Germany and France.

Green Alley Awards: Aeropowder sources feathers from poultry farms to make packaging

Aeropowder has its sights set on the seemingly insurmountable challenge of tackling packaging waste. Its weapon of choice? Feathers. Co-founders Elena Dieckmann and Ryan Robinson have created pluumo, an insulating packaging material made with feathers (pictured), which is being used to ship chilled goods in.

The startup sources feathers from poultry farms, which would otherwise, typically, be incinerated, sent to landfill or added to animal feed. The packs are designed to be compostable, but the company is keen to encourage reuse.

It also offers a scheme whereby liners can be returned free of charge for repurposing. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.

LivingPackets and RePack

Picture the scene: a delivery arrives at the door. It’s a huge box, but the item ordered? Tiny. A whole lot of unnecessary packaging that will probably end up in landfill. Thankfully, startups like LivingPackets and RePack could signal the end for wasteful packaging.

Both have developed boxes and envelopes designed to be reused again and again. LivingPackets’ ‘The Box’ can be configured in two different sizes and features smart technology such as sensors that measure temperature and humidity.

Meanwhile, RePack’s envelope (pictured), made from recycled material, can be folded into letter size and popped into any post box in the world, ready for reuse. Customers who receive an item in a RePack envelope are also entitled to a voucher (after they return the envelope), which can be redeemed at participating stores.

The Green Alley Award – applications open Submit your entry for the most innovative European startup tackling waste within the circular economy – apply by 20 November 2023 Enter now

What is the circular economy?

Our current industrial model goes something like this: resources are extracted from the earth, manufactured into products and then disposed of – take, make, waste.

In an ideal world, instead of making things from virgin materials, we’d use waste byproducts or recycled matter. Then, once those products reach the end of their lives, they can be reworked into something new. Elsewhere, waste byproducts might have been completely designed out of the system, such as buying goods free of packaging. That’s the circular economy.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has distilled the concept into three key principles: “Design out waste and pollution; keep products and materials in use; regenerate natural systems.”

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