7 Startups Leading the Circular Economy

05 February 2018 by Rachel Frost
blog author

​What goes around definitely comes around with the circular economy. The opposite of the linear economy (which is all about “taking, making and wasting”), its aim is to eradicate waste by utilising what we already have on the planet. Reuse and don’t abuse.

Defra calculates that UK businesses could benefit by up to £23 billion a year through low-cost or no-cost improvements in the efficient use of resources, so it’s no surprise that more businesses are turning their minds to recycling materials back into their supply chains.

We’ve taken a look at some of the startups that are throwing themselves in the deep end, coming up with clever ideas and leading the way in revolutionising the way we do things.

1. Toast

This firm, founded in 2015 by Tristram Stuart, brews beer that claims to be the best thing since, well, sliced bread. Because that’s what it’s made from.

Toast earns its crust (ahem) by creating its award-winning craft beer brewed with surplus bread, but it gives all profits to the charity Feedback, which aims to halve food waste by 2025.

Feedback was also set up by Stuart, an award-winning author and campaigner on the environmental and social impacts of food production. The charity leads a global movement against food waste, working with governments, businesses and civil society. Its campaigns include: Feeding the 5000, Gleaning Network, The Pig Idea, Stop Dumping, and the FSE Network.

Toast forecasts that it will donate more than £3.6m to food waste organisations by 2020.

2. Niaga

Netherlands-based DSM Niaga (the word ‘Again’ spelled backwards) boasts a group of redesigners who focus on making toxic and non-recyclable elements in everyday products healthier and reusable.

They set out to find a way to recycle carpets, more than 95 per cent of which are eventually burnt or land-filled because they are mostly made of materials glued together with latex that is difficult and costly to separate.

All of the materials in Niaga’s carpets can be recovered for input to a new carpet. They are made out of pure polyester or a mixture of polyester and polyamide, polypropylene or wool and the two layers are joined together with a reversible adhesive that can be easily separated after use.

Last year Niaga partnered up with Mohawk, the second-largest flooring maker in the US, which became the first company to incorporate Niaga’s system into its own.

3. Sulapac 

Sulapac won the 2017 Green Alley Award for its innovative alternative packaging for cosmetics products and helping to banish plastic waste from entering the ocean.

The Finnish firm was founded by Suvi Haimi and Laura Kyllönen and beat five other finalists from France, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands to Europe’s first award for circular economy start-ups.

The toxin-free packaging is made from sustainably sourced Nordic wood and natural adhesives and is fully biodegradable.

4. Banyan Nation

India’s first vertically integrated recycling company won the Dell Circular Economy People’s Choice Award at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year.

It uses data intelligence to integrate a largely informal supply chain to maximise plastics recovery and reuse. So far, Banyan has recycled more than seven million pounds of plastics and integrated more than 2,000 informal sector waste workers in their value chain.

Banyan Nation’s work for Tata Motors in automotive bumper recycling and its partnership with L’Oréal, the French cosmetics giant, in shampoo-bottle recycling helped put the company on the global sustainability map.


The Danish startup has a solution for the universal problem of clothes that are discarded because they no longer fit.

Focusing on the maternity and childrenswear market it uses an online platform to offer high quality, organic clothes for a monthly subscription.

Customers receive a bundle of clothes, which are exchanged for larger sizes as the child or belly grows. The returned clothes are checked for flaws and then treated and repackaged.

VIGGA has circulated more than 130,000 pieces of clothing saving an estimated 13 million litres of water and 10 tonnes of CO2 emissions. A third-party life cycle assessment calculated that a VIGGA subscriber could reduce their carbon footprint by up to 80 per cent.

6. Bureo

Chilean firm Bureo has found a way of transforming discarded fishing nets (which account for 10 per cent of the ocean’s plastic pollution) into skateboards and Jenga games.

Youths in Chile and North America are being educated on how they can play a role in keeping the oceans clean through Bureo’s Net Positiva recycling programme.

The company works closely with fisheries to provide a positive end-of-life solution to their discarded gear through a supply chain that produces a regenerative resource known as NetPlus material.

Each Jenga Ocean game is made from more than 25 square feet of nets and Bureo has collected more than 150,000kg of discarded nets to date, resulting in more than $1 million of product sales since 2014.

7. Fat Lama

Like Airbnb for your possessions, Fat Lama’s online platform enables users to rent out items for a short amount of time. It means that people can temporarily own something they may otherwise not be able to buy.

Oxfam recently released a report which suggested that each household has an average of 143 unused items lying around.

The London-based firm was set up by three friends who estimated that a peer-to-peer stuff-sharing platform could provide a substantial additional income to those who rent their belongings out.

You could consider renting out the record player you haven’t used in years, or your car roof box which is just gathering dust in the garage. If you bought your roof box for £110 and rented it at £10 a day, you’d only have to lend it for a handful of weekends in order to make your money back. And it keeps items out of landfill which is the desired result!