Image for The waste-busters: six European companies on a mission to design out waste

The waste-busters: six European companies on a mission to design out waste

Whether they’re deploying organic waste as an alternative to ceramics or dreaming up a biodegradable replacement to polystyrene packaging, there are some ingenious ideas vying for the Green Alley Award this year

Whether they’re deploying organic waste as an alternative to ceramics or dreaming up a biodegradable replacement to polystyrene packaging, there are some ingenious ideas vying for the Green Alley Award this year

Imagine a future when you could use orange peel to recycle unwanted batteries, package fragile goods with eco-friendly charcoal and drink your coffee from a cup made from organic waste.

What if this wasn’t the future but a reality that is being created right now? Because these are the kinds of businesses shortlisted for this year’s Green Alley Award, Europe’s first and longest-running award for startups and entrepreneurs that pioneer circular principles. Six startups have been selected from more than 300 applications and will pitch at the Green Alley Award finals on 25 April in Berlin. The winning startup will be awarded a prize of €25,000 (£21,460).

Below, we take a closer look at the startups in the running for the top prize.

Stay tuned to discover the competition's winner The startup finalists are ready to present their projects in Berlin, with the winner standing to receive €25,000 Green Alley Award

Peel power

According to the United Nations Global E-Waste Monitor 2020, the amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment thrown away is now growing three times faster than the world’s population. It’s a growing problem that Raffaele Nacchiero, poet, management engineer and CEO of AraBat, spotted at the end of 2020. It inspired him to invent the most cost-effective and sustainable lithium battery recycling process in the world – using orange peels and other unwanted organic waste from his home region in Italy.

AraBat makes use of a chemical reaction that is created by bringing spent batteries into contact with fruit or vegetable waste, allowing them to extract metal compounds (lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel and others) and reintroduce these resources back into the market at competitive prices. “We dream of a circular world that we are building day by day with great courage,” says Nacchiero.

Orange peel is an unlikely ingredient in an innovative battery recycling process. Image: Awar Kurdish

Beyond toxic packaging

“We are sick of seeing toxic trash everywhere and we are on a mission to make polystyrene waste a thing of the past,” says Elizabeth Lee (main image), a designer from London’s Royal College of Art, who is interested in objects and experiences that “help us live more joyfully and frugally on this planet”. She is also now CEO of UK firm Carbon Cell, where she heads up a team of surfers and sailors, designers and engineers working hard on a solution to polystyrene waste.

With each EU citizen creating 188.7kg of packaging waste in 2021, with only 120.7kg recycled, Carbon Cell has come up with a compostable solution. It makes use of biochar – a kind of charcoal made by heating agricultural waste in the absence of oxygen, a process known as pyrolysis. This biochar is then expanded using patent-pending technology into packaging that is compostable and carbon-negative. Carbon Cell has a renewable supply chain, and is compostable within home composting conditions, the organisation states.

Carbon Cell uses biochar to make packaging that is compostable and carbon-negative. Image: Carbon Cell

A replacement for plastic and rubber

Some 400m tonnes of plastic waste and 1bn tyres are dumped into landfill every year. That disturbing figure is what inspired Katarzyna Pokwicka-Croucher, founder and CEO of Polish startup Ecopolplast, in 2018 to develop Ecoplastomer – an innovative technology that mixes recycled tyre rubber with recycled post-consumer plastic. “We set out to transform the way recycled plastic and old tyre rubber are used in manufacturing,” Pokwicka-Croucher explains.

The company’s patented, carefully devised process bonds the raw materials together without additives or stabilisers. This has the knock-on effect of making Ecoplastomers easily recyclable and circular, ensuring complete independence from virgin raw materials such as crude oil and significantly reducing environmental, and CO2 impact. “We wanted to create a solution that enables the reuse of these discarded materials. And we did it,” she says.

‘We want to transform the way recycled plastic is used in manufacturing,’ says Katarzyna Pokwicka-Croucher. Image: Ecopolplast

A cup that sustains you

Do you ever ponder where the peel ends up once you’ve eaten the orange? This was the question that prompted Novapedra, a Spanish startup, to find a solution to some of the organic waste that ends up in our landfill sites. After a series of investigations and testing of the dehydration of orange peel, their team has developed a low-energy manufacturing process that reuses this organic waste to create an alternative material for making ceramics. “It’s our way of bringing to light resources where others see waste,” says Emiliano Altamirano, the company’s Barcelona-based CEO and creative director.

Orange peel also features in Novapedra's alternative to ceramic. Image: Novapedra

Check out this out

Have you ever wondered how your clothes ‘magically scan’ on to the cash register at an auto-checkout shop? Radio frequency identification (RFID) tagsare electronic circuits that enable product tracking. 18bn of these tags, made from metals and microchips, are made annually and many of these end up as e-waste in landfill. A group of Royal College of Art and Imperial College design graduates have developed a paper-based RFID tag without metal or silicon components in a bid to reduce the waste of single-use electronics.

Their startup, PulpaTronics, has developed chipless, carbon-based paper RFID tags that are metal-free, cheaper and compatible with existing recycling. Their design aims to streamline the manufacturing process, eliminate the need for metal and silicon components, and reduce the environmental footprint, as well as reduce CO2 emissions. “Being part of the six finalists of the Green Alley Award is such an honour for us,” says Chloe So, co-founder and CEO.

PulpaTronics' paper tags are an eco alternative to regular electronic clothes labels. Image: PulpaTronics

Fashion fades, the planet shouldn’t

Only 1% of used textiles are recycled. This not only adds to landfill, where it can produce pollutants and greenhouse gasses, but it also makes no economic sense to waste good quality textiles. Turning old textiles into new ones is feasible, but is it realistic?

Those at Belgian-based startup Noosa, which was founded in 2019, says it is, and are leading the way by creating a fibre from sugar, which they state is 100% recyclable thanks to their trademarked ‘Noocycle’ technology.

Noosa makes a fibre from sugar, which they say is 100% recyclable. Image:

The way the fibre is made makes it competitive with both synthetic and cellulosic materials, according to the company. “We are proud to be part of Green Alley Award’s finalists to shed light on textile waste and the solution we bring forward to make the most efficient use of our resources and bring the industry to circularity. Supporting innovations at European level is key to accelerate the ecological transition and make them available at industrial scale,” says Luna Aslan, CEO of Noosa.

The final judging and award ceremony takes place on 25 April in Berlin. Click here to register to be there

Main image: Getty 

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