The Circular Economy as an opportunity for Irish entrepreneurs

By Christina Drechsel

As raw materials are becoming scarce and increasingly expensive, companies that make an effort to save resources not only contribute to a cleaner environment but also have a real competitive advantage. The European Commission, which is currently working on the EU Circular Economy Action Plan, estimates that waste prevention, eco-design, reuse and similar measures could save companies within the EU between €250 and €465 billion annually in raw material costs.

Let’s look at Ireland, where more than one-third of all household waste is recycled. It is one of the leading EU countries in reducing the amount of waste going to landfill, which is a great start, however, implementing a Circular Economy is far more than just recycling. We urgently need new business models around sharing, repairing, reusing and remanufacturing – in all sectors of our economy, e.g. in e-commerce, fashion, energy and even in the building sector.

The good news is that there are many ideas in the pipeline. However, these ideas need support to actually make a difference and transform our economy. Green Alley, headquartered in Germany, was established in 2014 to help start-ups contribute to building up a circular economy. In order to give these ideas visibility and help them to grow, Green Alley has set up the “Green Alley Award”, a business competition for circular economy start-ups and eco-entrepreneurs. What differentiates the Green Alley Award from all the other competitions is that it is one of the first to specialise in the Circular Economy and focus on topics such as resource conservation, waste reduction, recycling and similar.

Within the last four years, a wide range of business models has come to the attention of the Green Alley team. It’s always a tough decision to choose the outstanding concepts for the award. In 2014, the Finnish start-up RePack won the Green Alley Award for its mission to reduce packaging in a fast-growing e-commerce business. RePack has developed a new type of shipping bag made of fully recyclable materials, which can be taken back via a multi-path system and used several times by the customer.

Another area that urgently needs some great Circular Economy solutions is the building industry. It creates some of the biggest amounts of non-recyclable and toxic waste, for example, plasterboard which contains gypsum. This waste constitutes about 15% of all construction and demolition waste. It’s difficult to recycle, can impact groundwater and result in the production of dangerous landfill gases. Adaptavate, the winner of the Green Alley Award 2015, has been working on an alternative to gypsum plasterboard. The British start-up has developed a 100% recyclable wall called ‘Breathaboard’, which is made from agricultural waste and is a sustainable alternative to conventional wall claddings made from gypsum.

Green City Solutions, winner of the Green Alley Award 2016, based their innovation on the concept of the “Smart City” by combating and eliminating problems like high emissions, high energy cost and air pollution through new and smart technologies. Increasingly, cities have to take measures against air pollution, like driving bans and creation of parks. Green City Solutions idea is a detached wall covered with moss on both sides which filters fine dust, nitrogen oxides and CO2 from the air and thus reduces air pollution. The wall called “City Tree” absorbs 240 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to almost 300 trees.

These are just three inspiring start-ups but there are many more with great ideas for a Circular Economy. This sector, on first glance, may appear complex to young founders. To become involved requires access to a great network of experts. This is why Green Alley was founded. The award finalists benefit from Green Alley’s network and partners, such as the British accelerator programme Bethnal Green Ventures, Germany’s crowdfunding pioneer Seedmatch or ERP Finland, another specialist in the recycling sector. This year, the Green Alley Award is joined by H2 Compliance, a compliance service providing advice on chemical legislation as well as R2Pi, a Horizon 2020 project.

Every year, the Green Alley Award focuses on a different European country. The aim is to connect different start-up scenes across the continent and to build up a network of young enthusiasts in the Circular Economy. In the past, UK and Finland have been the centre of the attention. This year, the Green Alley Award has chosen Ireland as its focal country.

Dublin is home to more than 1000 start-ups and is also known as the European headquarter for various American tech companies – Google, Facebook, and eBay, to name but a few. As a gateway to the United States and the United Kingdom, Ireland is an attractive place to invest; 46 percent of investments in local start-ups have been made by international investors. Having said this, Green Alley is looking forward to getting in touch with young Irish entrepreneurs to provide a platform for them to connect with other founders in the area of the Circular Economy.

It’s worthwhile taking part in the Green Alley Award. Six start-ups will be invited to the final round of the Green Alley Award 2017 in Berlin, where they will participate in individual workshops with experts and experienced start-ups from the Circular Economy. They will also receive valuable feedback on their business models. Following a live pitch in front of an international audience and a jury of experts from the field, the winner of the Green Alley Award will be chosen, ultimately winning a prize package worth up to 30,000 euros.

Detailed information about Green Alley, its award, and the application process can be found here:

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