1 topic, 2 key figures, 3 startups to draw inspiration from
In 2021, the circular economy became the most funded sector in private equity, with over €2.2 billion invested, almost double the previous year (Novethic). Back Market, the electronics reconditioning specialist, has made this rise possible with €726 million in two rounds of financing. The model is gradually proving its cost-effectiveness and is of increasing interest to consumers who are turning to much more frugal lifestyles and consumption patterns.
The circular economy consists in producing in a sustainable way by limiting consumption and the production of waste. It can be defined more broadly as a system that valorizes resources at each stage of their transformation. The resources can be raw materials, finished products, goods, or services (such as car-sharing). According to ADEME, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, the functioning of this system is based on 7 pillars: sustainable supply of raw materials, eco-design of products, industrial and territorial ecological commitment, ecology of functionality, responsible consumption of products, extension of the useful life of goods and recycling of materials from products. The shift of companies from the linear to the circular model has advantages and challenges on several levels. From an economic point of view, the model allows companies to save on the costs of acquiring and transporting raw materials, which are abundantly available. This model is also a strong asset for companies as it improves their brand image and appeals to the growing number of environmentally conscious consumers. In addition, the circular economy is becoming more and more popular to comply with the increasingly strict regulations of the States in favor of ecology: the display of the lifespan of products, the development of packaging deposits, the support of the economy of functionality or the fight against waste and programmed obsolescence. In line with its March 2020 Circular Economy Action Plan, the European Commission last month presented proposals to green almost all physical goods on the EU market, with for example the introduction of ‘digital passports‘ for relevant products and ‘performance classes‘ from A to G for comparison.
Nevertheless, the circular economy model requires certain key success factors to establish effectively and sustainably. Firstly, the model must continue to prove its capacity to improve the profitability of industries, particularly those in emerging countries, which still have significant development potential in the linear model. Secondly, manufacturers need to have access to their products at the end of the cycle. Information technology can partly address this concern with for example online failure detection or monitoring of wear levels. From a macro-economic point of view, an ecosystem should enable actors to work together, facilitating shared objectives, dialogue, and alliance, sometimes even with competitors. Another important criterion is the establishment of reverse logistics channels to collect and optimally recover the considerable end-of-cycle volumes generated by the circular economy. Industrialists will be directly concerned, particularly for closed loops, but also SSE (social and solidarity economy) players and local authorities.
To this extent, several startups and large groups are developing solutions and initiatives to benefit from circular economy. A distinction can be made between operators, who try to modify their production processes and limit waste production, and companies that offer solutions to facilitate the circular economy, in terms of logistics, product monitoring, quality assessment, etc. In textiles, some large players such as Patagonia have focused on a strategic positioning allowing access to products at the end of the cycle with the presence of an “absolute guarantee” allowing the repair and modification of its articles. External startups, such as Murfy, are also choosing to penetrate this part of the value chain by encouraging consumers to repair household appliances rather than replace them with new ones. It offers three services: free tutorials on how to repair household appliances, repair by an employee technician, and an e-commerce platform for reconditioned appliances. Intending to create a circular economy ecosystem, another startup, Phenix, offers a range of solutions to companies – supermarkets, local shops, but also producers, industrialists, and wholesalers – to give a “second life” to their unsold goods, by putting them in touch with second life item collectors (charitable associations or even sales at a reduced price through a mobile app). The startup saves 120,000 meals a day, thus avoiding the production of 50 tons of waste per day. Finally, in a more global logic of recycling, several startups have contributed to the creation of the “internet of garbage“. This is the case of AMP Robotics, which raised 55 million last year and uses AI and physical robots to orchestrate sorting, picking, and placement tasks to increase recycling rates.
The circular economy holds great promise for the future. It is of increasing interest to companies in all sectors notably to reduce production costs and ensure an abundance of raw materials. It is also increasingly important for their image in the eyes of consumers who want to consume sensibly and sustainably. Finally, it is the subject of particular attention from the public authorities, who are enacting laws to act in favor of the environment and limit the production of waste.
2 Key Figures
Circular economy revenues in the plastic packaging recycling market are expected to have a CAGR of 9.1% between 2019 and 2030
The market revenue is estimated at $13.1 billion – Research And Markets
750 funded companies & + $3B invested in last 2 years in circular economy
3 startups to draw inspiration from
Murfy, created in 2017, has undertaken the mission of solving the overconsumption of household appliances, via the circular economy. It thus offers three services: free tutorials to repair one’s own household appliances, repair by an employed technician, and an e-commerce platform for reconditioned appliances. In one year, Murfy has tripled its turnover to €3.5 million in 2020.
Phenix has developed a platform to connect generators and collectors of second life items. The platform, Phenix Exchange, connects waste generators, ie companies and industries that want to sell off their old items, to agencies that wish to buy these items. These include recycling companies, NGOs etc. The startup raised $17,2M in 2018.
The American startup has developed an artificial intelligence-based waste sorting robot which picks recyclable materials off a conveyor belt in mixed waste, construction & demolition waste, and e-waste facilities. AI-technology is used to identify the waste material and machine learning platform keeps record of types of materials identified. The startup raised $55M in 2020.