Discover some of the most exciting solutions at ChangeNOW 2022 that are breaking the chain of endless consumption
Economists have discussed the idea of a circular flow of materials and energy since the 1960s. But, to date, our economic growth has been based on consumption and material use.
In fact, since 2000, our global material footprint—the amount of raw materials needed to satisfy our demand for consumption—has ballooned, growing faster than both the population and the standard measure of economic performance, gross domestic product (GDP).
In response to this, the idea of the circular economy has grown in popularity. In the words of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy decouples economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, instead of the two advancing in lockstep as they do today.
Achieiving circularity is a historic challenge that will require the development of solutions and partnerships that eliminate waste and circulate products and materials. Some of the most promising are on display at ChangeNOW 2022.
Cyanobacteria are a truly ancient family of microbes, with recent research suggesting they may have emerged between 3.4 and 2.9 billion years ago. And they are the first organisms we know of to employ ‘the single most important evolutionary innovation’ – photosynthesis.
These natural biofactories have played an outsize role in the history of our planet, and they could also be instrumental to our future. Dutch startup Photanol harnesses the ‘superpower of cyanobacteria to photosynthesize’ to create any carbon compound – from plastic to personal care products. The company modifies the metabolic pathways of the bacteria so that they create useful compounds. These ‘circular chemicals’ replace fossil-fuel-derived materials, and the entire process removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Read more.
Roughly 36 per cent of all the plastic produced is used in packaging. And 85 per cent of this packaging ends up in landfill or as unregulated waste. It is this sea of rubbish that Czech startup MIWA Technologies is looking to tackle with its ecosystem of smart packaging.
Retailers fill reusable transport capsules with different food products in-store. Customers then fill smart cups from the capsules, with the former acting as their personal reusable packaging. When the shopper dispenses a product from a capsule to their cup, information on the product is shared with the MIWA app, where the customer can pay for their purchase. The customer then washes their cups at home before re-using them next time they go shopping. An information system underpins the whole process to ensure its smooth and efficient running. Read more.
One company’s waste is another’s resource. This is the founding principle of Czech startup Cyrkl, creator of Europe’s largest platform for industrial waste management. The platform essentially acts as a ‘matchmaker’ that pairs companies with waste to sell with those who are looking to buy. Instead of adding to landfill, companies post potentially useful materials on the marketplace, where other companies can buy them and put them to good use.
Almost any waste is accepted on the site – from cardboard and carbon black to polystyrene and PET bottles. And Cyrkl claims that companies can make big savings – both environmental and ecocomic. The startup estimates that a typicallarge company can make annual cost savings of €1.2 million while preventing 121 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Read more.
Electric vehicles are great. But the lithium batteries they rely on cause a headache at the end of their life. Lithium batteries are made up of many parts and are difficult—and potentially dangerous—to recycle. As a result it is currently cheaper to mine new lithium than to recycle it, with only 5 per cent of lithium batteries recycled globally.
French startup NOWOS is tackling this issue by repairing and refurbishing old batteries rather than recycling them. Using a process that involves placing a casing around the batteries, NOWOS was able to repair 74 per cent of all the discarded small batteries it received in 2020. The startup also offers battery logistic services with a network of collection points where unusable batteries can be safely stored before being processed in accordance with legal regulations and in a way where materials can be recovered. Read more.
Want to discover how innovation will change the world in 2022? Read our special report produced in collaboration with ChangeNOW.
Springwise is a proud partner of ChangeNOW, which takes place in Paris 19-21 May 2022. As the world’s largest event for the planet, the three-day international summit brings together entrepreneurs, business leaders and policymakers to accelerate change.
Words: Matthew Hempstead
18th May 2022