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Circular economy class of 2022: meet the 20 startups making waste history

Public voting has opened for the 2022 Green Alley Award, which recognises pioneering circular startups in Europe. From projects that grow biodegradable packaging and reuse car batteries, to one that replaces styrofoam with grain husks, here’s the longlist

Public voting has opened for the 2022 Green Alley Award, which recognises pioneering circular startups in Europe. From projects that grow biodegradable packaging and reuse car batteries, to one that replaces styrofoam with grain husks, here’s the longlist

The EU aims to become climate neutral by 2050, and while great strides have been made in recent years to create a more circular economy, there is still much to do. In Europe, a number of startups are thinking outside the box and using the power of technology to close the recycling loop, clean up the oceans and minimise the waste that goes to landfill.

The annual Green Alley Award aims to showcase the work of some of these startups, and the public has until 15 February to vote for their favourite from the longlist below. The venture with the most votes will earn a place in the finals, alongside five others that will be chosen by an expert committee.

Circular economy

Plastic packaging for some fruits and vegetable has been banned in countries such as France and – from next year – the same will happen in Spain. It means the race is on to go naked, or to find alternatives. Italian startup Agree produces a plant-based, edible coating made from agricultural byproducts, which can be applied to help preserve the shelf life of some fruit and veg.

Image: NRD

Circular economy

Austrian designer Viktoria Berger has been developing sustainable packaging since she won a City of Linz innovation award in 2019. But when Covid-19 hit, she focused her attention on creating reusable takeaway containers and, after a successful pilot phase in Vienna, Linz and Graz, the scheme is now being rolled out to more restaurants. Customers register via an app, scan the QR code on top of the lid, and return the containers to the original restaurant within 14 days, with reward vouchers as an incentive.

Image: and-less

Atelier Riforma

Sara Secondo and Elena Ferrero (pictured), co-founders of Atelier Riforma in Italy, want to make sure that no garment ever becomes waste. They collect secondhand clothes, which are catalogued and tracked via AI technology, then redirected for reuse, recycling or upcycling.

Image: Atelier Riforma


A whopping 87 per cent of used clothing ends up in landfills or incinerators. Dutch startup BioFashionTech has developed a cost-effective, low energy, circular recycling process that turns textile waste into new materials. It also extracts plastic fibres and dyes that can then be sold to create a closed loop solution.

Image: Maude Frederique Lavoie

Circular economy

Electric vehicle battery demand is predicted to increase 10-fold by 2030, but the environmental impact will be huge if they’re not repurposed. In Germany, the Circunomics team has developed the world’s first data analytics platform and marketplace to manage the full lifecycle of lithium-ion batteries, from prolonging their usage to managing second life trading and recycling tendering.

Image: Myenergi


Organisations are increasingly having to prioritise environmental compliance, but many don’t know where to start. Edac is a ready-to-use, cloud-based platform in Ireland that helps businesses monitor, log and manage their eco-credentials from a customisable dashboard.

Image: John Schnobrich

Circular economy

Most new plastic is still made from fossil fuels, with recycling barely making a dent in demand for virgin-grade material. But the team behind Enzymity in Latvia has discovered a way to use biotechnology to turn PET waste into high-grade ‘like new’ plastic without involving fossil fuels.

Image: Ishan Seefromthesky

Circular economy
Flexi-Hex Ltd

The unique honeycomb design of Flexi-Hex’s paper packaging is strong and adaptable enough to protect everything from bottles and homeware to electronics and surfboards (HQ is in Cornwall, home to some of the UK’s most popular surf spots). The sleeves are also made from 85 per cent recycled material, compost in six weeks and can be recycled at home.

Image: Flexi-Hex


Based in Gothenburg, Sweden, Glenntex was founded at Chalmers University of Technology. The team has developed nano-sized materials using graphene that improve the performance of recycled plastic and minimise the amount of virgin material used in packaging and other products.

Image: Glenntex

Circular economy
Gravity Wave

Spanish social enterprise Gravity Wave partners with Mediterranean fishermen to collect plastic from the seabed. That waste is then turned into sustainable products, such as mobile phone cases and filament for 3D printers. The social enterprise also helps companies become ‘plastic neutral’ by collecting the equivalent amount of plastic that their employees generate.

Image: Gravity Wave

Vote for your favourite circular startup Public voting is now open for the Green Alley Award, Europe’s first startup prize for the circular economy. Cast your vote by 15 February 2022 Vote now

Recycled packaging is all very well, but what if it could be grown? In Poland, MakeGrowLab has invented a material that can be grown from food waste in just a couple of days. It’s approved for food contact, is resistant to oxygen and water, and is 100 per cent compostable.

Image: MakeGrowLab 

Circular economy

UK supermarkets use 114bn pieces of single-use plastic a year – the equivalent of 4,000 items per household. Moree is on a mission to tackle this mountain of rubbish by launching a zero-waste grocery delivery service, and is currently running pilot projects in London.

Image: Moree


The team behind the Italian startup Nazena has developed a patented process to recover 100 per cent of textile fibres from industrial waste and used clothes. These are then turned into sustainable packaging and sound-proof wall panels.

Image: Nazena 


Concerns about contamination and hygiene have made the food sector more wasteful than most. But French company Pandobac spearheads a reusable packaging service for food wholesalers and those who provide delivery services. Companies can rent different sized transport bins, return them to be washed, and track them via QR codes at all times.

Image: Pandobac

Circular economy

Peggada means ‘footprint’ in Portuguese, and the team behind this online platform is encouraging Lisbon residents to reduce theirs. As well as tips on how to live more sustainably, it also features a database of environmentally friendly businesses. The project was one of the finalists of the Women4Climate programme and plans to scale to other cities in the future.

Image: Aayush Gupta

Circular economy

Packaging stalwarts such as styrofoam cannot be recycled but remain in wide circulation. Proservation in Germany has developed a natural alternative using grain husks. The company says it has all of the same shock-absorbing, insulating and lightweight credentials, while being 100 per cent biodegradable.

Image: Proservation 


Reimagining the scrap sector for the digital age, ScrapAd was named by Spain’s leading entrepreneurship magazine as one of the most innovative startups in 2021. It’s a marketplace for the purchase and sale of all recyclable materials, from metal and plastic, to paper and electronic waste, and is already live in more than 60 countries.

Image: ScrapAd

Scrapp Ltd

Confusion about what to recycle means UK households sent 6.6m tonnes to landfill in 2019. This free app aims to simplify the process: users just scan a product’s barcode to find out which part of the packaging is recyclable in their UK location and earn points for doing so. These can be spent via Scrapp’s in-app sustainable marketplace, or donated to affiliated charities such as Plastic Bank.

Image: Scrapp Ltd

Source One

Hospitals churn out a huge amount of waste. The NHS, for example, produces 133m tonnes of plastic waste per year. Much of it is complex to recycle and expensive to manage. Source One in Germany has developed a solution that its team says can extract up to 95 per cent of the recyclable plastic material from this type of waste.

Image: Diana Polekhina


The rising popularity of electric cars is good news for lowering emissions but bad news for battery waste. The team at German startup Voltfang offer one solution by repurposing used car batteries to power private home electricity storage solutions.

Image: Voltfang
Main image: Ezra Bailey/Getty

Positive News readers can vote for their favourite circular startup here. Voters will be entered into a prize draw to win one of three Trendraider sustainable boxes, containing ‘circular lifestyle products’. The six startups will then present their ideas to an international jury on 28 April and the winner will receive €25,000 (£20,856). Voting closes 15 February.

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