Start-ups forge new paths towards a more circular economy

A path emerges when we walk on it, says an old Chinese proverb – a timeless wisdom that also shapes the thinking of today’s start-up scene. And it’s a good thing, too, for new paths are urgently needed, particularly when it comes to questions of recycling, resource efficiency, and waste prevention. Our society wastes vast amounts of resources every day with our outdated patterns of business and consumption. Globally, 60 billion tonnes of non-renewable raw materials are still consumed each year.

Limited resources demand green disruptions

It’s long been clear to most of us that our planet’s resources are finite. We thus have no alternative but to abandon the concept of “produce, use, discard” as quickly as possible and to rethink our entire economy more in cyclical terms. The industry needs a kind of “green disruption” to induce a transformation along new paths. Young entrepreneurs with creative new solutions can play a key role in this process; they have huge potential to turn the waste and recycling industries upside down.

This has been clearly demonstrated by the Green Alley Award, a Europe-wide competition for founders with a focus on ideas for a circular economy. Last year alone, around 200 applications from more than 50 countries were submitted – and the numbers are growing. The solutions proposed by the start-ups aimed to combat food waste, improve waste disposal, offer ecological alternatives to environmentally harmful products, and reveal new ways of recycling, to name just a few examples.

Start-ups lead the way

The founders of Green City Solutions, winner of the 2017 Green Alley Award, developed a freestanding wall covered with moss on both sides. The wall, called City Tree, absorbs fine dust and as much CO2 as almost 300 normal trees. Companies and cities can buy City Trees and thereby help improve urban climate.

Another great example is the 2016 Green Alley Award winner, British start-up Adaptavate. Founder Tom Robinson was shocked to discover how unhesitatingly plasterboard is used in the construction industry despite its significant environmental impact. Waste disposal is critical here: the building material contains toxins like sulphates, which is why leftover plasterboard is considered hazardous waste. To improve the situation, Robinson founded Adaptavate and developed the Breathaboard, a 100 percent recyclable wall covering made from agricultural waste. With his alternative to plasterboard, the entrepreneur wants to revolutionise the construction industry.

The Finnish start-up RePack addresses the problem of increasing packaging waste in the mail order business. In Germany, an average of more than 200 kilograms of packaging waste accrue per capita annually, and the numbers are rising due to the boom in online shopping. That’s why the RePack team has developed a shipping bag that can be reused up to 20 times. When shopping online, consumers pay a kind of deposit for the reusable RePack. Once they’ve received their goods, they throw the RePack into the closest mailbox, then receive a credit for their next purchase. The Finnish start-up has already won over some fashion brands that now send their goods in the reusable bags.

Good ideas pave the path towards a circular economy

Green City Solutions, Adaptavate, RePack, and many other start-ups are exploring new paths that are proving themselves viable. Their ideas are thereby enabling us to put a circular economy into practice. But we need a whole lot more of such ideas!

There are countless approaches for making supply chains more efficient with new digital technologies or establishing sharing models and services that render ownership superfluous. There’s also still much to be done in the realm of material longevity and recycling. The industry is ready to be shaken up by young people – so show courage and strike new paths!

About the Green Alley Award

The Green Alley Award is open for tenders once again; applications will be accepted until 25 July, 2017. For more information, visit

Since 2013, Green Alley has been supporting start-ups that want to contribute to a circular economy on the basis of innovative ideas. It brings together young entrepreneurs with an international network of experts, well versed in both circular economy and business development; they know where there’s customer demand, which ideas can work, and what still needs to be improved, and they’re familiar with important market niches and regulatory pitfalls.

Source DWR eco GmbH

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