Debunking junk – 10 years of rethinking garbage

Mar 1, 2024 | News

Faux leather woven out of waste gelatine. Packaging grown from fungi. And electricity storage systems powered from old EV batteries. All of these innovations are leading the way towards a more sustainable and greener future. All previous winners of Europe’s top prize for circular economy startups, the Green Alley Award.

This year marks 10 years of recognizing and nurturing outstanding alternatives in our throwaway culture.

RePack, a Finnish outfit, won the first prize in 2014. It addressed the problem of excessive packaging waste generated by online shopping. It offers durable bags and wallets made of recycled polypropylene in place of single-use plastics. These bags are designed to be reused again and again. The company has already clocked more than half a milllion reuse cycles.

RePack’s remarkable feature is that it appears unremarkable amongst the other innovators who have received the Green Alley Award. Other companies have made breakthroughs in bioplastics and insulation, as well as low carbon building materials. It is a list bursting with hope of solutions that disrupts the accepted system of manufacturing products to be consumed, then discarded at great cost to the environment.

The idea for the awards came from Jan Patrick Schulz 10 years ago. He was the CEO of the German-based Landbell Group, and he saw the urgent need to curb the use of finite resources on the planet by switching to a more circular economy.

Landbell began in 1995 as a small local waste disposal company. Today, it is a closed-loop innovator that operates in over 60 countries. It offers take-back schemes to help businesses meet their sustainability targets and comply with environmental regulations.

Landbell’s mantra is to reduce, reuse and recycling. The Green Alley Award showcases visionary entrepreneurs that are pioneering eco friendly materials and turning waste into resources.

The list is filled with solutions that are disruptive of the current system of manufacturing products to be consumed, and then disposed of at a considerable cost to our planet.

In 2014, only 79 companies competed for the top prize of EUR7k (PS6k). The winner of this year’s award will receive EUR25k (PS21300) and the judges will have to narrow down 339 hopefuls into a select five who will compete at the Grand Finale on 25 April in Berlin. The five finalists will be joined by one more finalist, chosen by the public from a list of 20. This includes innovators who make skincare products out of coffee grounds, bridges made from old windmill blades, and new building materials made from waste glass.

The event is more than just a chance to win a prize: it’s a chance for the finalists to show off their work. The event will also give them the chance to network with other eco-entrepreneurs, potential investors and collaborators. In the long-term, the award has fostered an active community of circular economy startups. It has also provided expert mentoring sessions, and invested in green innovation to the tune EUR1.3m (PS1.1m).

British firm Mimica, a finalist for the 2021 Green Alley Award, received research and development funding last year from the UK Government. The firm is developing a temperature-sensitive food label with the potential to cut a third of seafood waste in the UK, some 9,000 tonnes a year.

As the world grapples with climate change and the depletion of resources, the impact of circularity initiatives like those shortlisted for the Green Alley Award may be enormous.

World Bank research shows that the demand for natural resources exceeds the planet’s ability to regenerate them in a ratio of 1.75. The study also shows that in Europe, the amount of resources derived by recycling waste has increased by nearly 50% over the past two decades.

Schulz says, “We started the Green Alley Award ten years ago to help entrepreneurs who take on circular economy issues. “As we celebrate this milestone we also look to the horizon and a decade full of opportunities. Our commitment remains steadfast – to nurture, inspire and elevate circular economy startups who will continue to push boundaries and lead the way to a more sustainable future .”

Let’s continue to eliminate waste for another decade and beyond.

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