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8 Groundbreaking Startups Making the Circular Economy Look Easy

On January 20th, one of these companies will be crowned king of entrepreneurship at The Circular Economy Awards. You’ve already met those leading the charge. So, we’re taking a closer look at the eight finalists for the inaugural ‘Circulars,' who are undoubtedly biting their nails as they wait for the announcement of the winners at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

In this article, we’re looking at the entrepreneurship category, for early-stage organizations (plus one that's grown to become an industry leader) at the vanguard of the circular economy demonstrating innovation and market disruption.

Dutch aWEARness

This small Netherlands-based company is transforming the textile industry, one circularly produced garment at a time. By considering reuse right from the design stage, the firm’s work wear has the potential to be 100 percent recycled, cutting CO2, water usage and energy usage. In fact, with help from its partners, Dutch aWEARness has created the first circular supply chain in the textile industry, turning work wear into something that its clients use rather than own.


Essentially, turning to the kingdom of mushrooms to produce high-performance (and naturally, sustainable) materials with a vision to be as transformative as plastic — so in the future, your home could be insulated with, and your furniture constructed from, products using Mushroom Materials. An interesting vision, since the fungus is combined with (and takes advantage of) agricultural waste, whilst providing a neat alternative to plastics and foams, which sap up 10 percent of petroleum used in the US each year.


This firm is tackling the high costs and reduced quality associated with conventional tire recycling with its innovative process, which also cuts the accompanying CO2 emissions down to zilch. The cost to produce the product is cut significantly and puts a value on the 290m tires left for scrap in the US each year.


This super-lean startup has exploded onto the automotive scene by facilitating circular commerce projects (product-as-a-service, loan, hire, try-before-you-buy) with blue-chip clients the likes of Ford, Hyundai and Kia. Compared to its linear equivalents, the super-fast-growing company (indeed, one of the fastest growing technology startups in the EMEA) typically drives 70-90 percent cost savings.


This business model is a simple equation. It takes “waste” carbon from its partners to make fuel, chemicals and food — while the partners make money while doing good for the environment. More technically, Lanazatech’s gas-to-liquid platform uses proprietary microbes to ferment carbon-rich waste gases — not unlike beer. In the meantime, it could just lessen our dependence on petroleum.


Once a startup confined to the four walls of an apartment, Method is now the largest and fastest-growing "green" cleaning products company in its field. It’s championing circular economy principles by using infinitely recyclable materials, using renewable energy, with cradle-to-cradle certification, with a $250m annual revenue. Phew. Innovations include concentrated detergent (swiftly followed by Unilever and P&G) and its Ocean Plastic Bottle project, using discarded plastic from the sea to make its packaging.


Waste products such as used fats and oils have traditionally slinked their way to the landfill — but young, ambitious Olleco is turning these ‘fatbergs’ into biodiesel, with clients including McDonald’s, Dairy Crest and Sainsbury’s, to name but a handful. To enable the closed loop, Olleco offers the fuel back to those companies to run their distribution fleets — which was once the oil that its chips were fried in.

Waste Capital Partners

Every seven days, urban India creates a mound of garbage to rival the Empire State Building — two of them, in fact. With only 60 percent collected, and almost none environmentally processed, this waste is left festering in dumps and releasing methane. Waste Capital Partners composts 80 percent of organic waste and creates soil conditioner to sell to farmers. Not only does this reduce the waste, but it also offers a replenishing alternative to chemical fertilizer.

It’s a prestigious list, but who do you think will take the title in Davos?

This post first appeared on 2degrees on January 7, 2015.


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