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POSITIVE NEWS - The six businesses vying to be crowned Europe’s most promising circular startup

Posted 25th March 2022 • Written by •

From repurposed EV batteries to packaging made from food waste, the Green Alley Award has announced the finalists for its annual award, which recognises businesses at the forefront of the transition to a circular economy

The EU might be banning certain single-use plastics but, according to Europe’s first prize for circular economy startups, this is only the beginning of what can be done to reduce waste and minimise pressure on natural resources.

The Green Alley Award champions and supports innovative businesses that design with scarcity, pollution and reuse in mind. In eight years, the award has attracted more than 1,400 applications from 30 countries.

The six finalists for 2022 receive help with planning and scaling their businesses, plus a chance to network with circular economy experts. At the final pitch event on 28 April in Berlin, the most promising will be awarded €25,000 (£21,035).

Many of the young businesses selected this year started with personal challenges that led to all kinds of inventions.

1. Flexi-Hex

Keen surfers Will and Sam Boex wanted to find a way to transport their boards around the world safely but without using plastic – so the idea of Flexi-Hex was born. Today the Cornwall-based business has sold more than 2.5m lightweight, recycled paper sleeves with a clever honeycomb design. The sleeves stretch around everything from Seedlip non-alcoholic spirits, cosmetics and crockery to surfboards.

2. Voltfang

Meanwhile, three friends from their engineering student days in Germany, David Oudsandji, Roman Alberti and Afshin Doostdar, bought a campervan and set up a solar panel on it to charge their devices. Soon they started experimenting with using an old electric car battery to store up the power when the sun wasn’t shining.

“In the meantime, Roman’s father said he needed a battery for home storage [of his solar power],” says Oudsandji. “We built it in one week: we didn’t sleep that much but we had it up and running. Afterwards, we said we want to do something with purpose, to enable a future worth living. We made a plan and founded Voltfang.”

The startup now works with supermarkets, hotels and industrial partners, repurposing old electric vehicle batteries into arrays that can be used to store renewable energy – particularly for industry, to boost supply at times of peak need. They are working on certifying their product for the German market.

3. ScrapAd

Scrap was also an inspiration for the co-founders of Spanish startup ScrapAd. While at a recycling machinery fair in Las Vegas, Samuel Ruiz and Sandra Montes discovered that some people had travelled more than 5,000km just to see if someone would buy their old materials. So, they launched their platform, which matches sellers with buyers, and verifies what’s on offer.

4. Atelier Riforma

For Elena Ferrero (pictured, left), chief executive of Italy-based Atelier Riforma, fashion industry waste was the trigger to create the business, which collects and ‘retailors’ used clothes. The startup, which she founded with the aptly named Sara Secondo (pictured, right), is creating a tech solution based on artificial intelligence (AI) that can catalogue textile waste and connect it to a digital marketplace. From there, charity shops, recycling companies and ‘refashioning professionals’ can take their pick.

“The problem is that, in directing the garments to circular destinations, careful sorting is required,” says Ferrero. “Currently this process is done by hand, and requires time and resources. For this reason, nowadays less than one per cent of all textile material is recycled into new clothing.

“As soon as our prototype is finished in May 2022, we will train the AI and integrate it into the technology, and in the next few years, we’d like to transform our technology into industrial machinery to be used by more organisations.”

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