As we approach a tipping point in the climate crisis, with scientists warning of disastrous consequences, more of us are realizing that our current economic model must change. We must stop consuming endlessly and shift to a way of operating that focuses on reducing and reusing nature’s precious resources. Here are four companies aiming to help us create a circular economy — one that eliminates waste.
Ryan Smith is the founder of Recyclops.
Ryan Smith is the 29-year-old founder of Recyclops, an Uber-like service that leverages a tech-driven smart routing app and local drivers to provide curbside recycling in rural areas, doorstep recycling for urban apartments, and in-office or curbside recycling for businesses. Recyclops has eliminated many of the logistical problems that previously kept recycling out of these areas.
“I didn’t initially set out to create a business in the circular economy. In fact, recycling really wasn’t on my radar,” says Smith. Growing up, his family had easy access to recycling, so he took it for granted. Then during college, he moved into an apartment building that didn’t have recycling. He began doing more research and found out that roughly 40% of homes in the US lack access to curbside recycling services. There are 34 million single-family homes throughout rural regions and smaller communities and 16 million apartments that lack recycling. Since then, it has been Smith’s mission to change this.
In developing Recyclops, Smith quickly realized he wasn’t just solving a recycling issue, but also a logistics issue. Every community has a distinct set of logistical challenges, and Recyclops has to figure out different strategies to make recycling work in each city.
Smith’s advice for aspiring changemakers is to test everything. “Someone once told us, if you’re not applying the scientific method to your startup, you’re not doing it right. This bit of advice has since shaped the way we do everything at Recyclops. Every time we’ve failed to test an aspect of our business before launching it, we’ve quickly paid for it. And usually that’s in the form of a bigger failure, which typically translates to cash.”
George Gebran is the founder of Scrappy Pet Treats.
Scrappy Pet Treats
2. Scrappy Pet Treats
George Greban is the founder of Scrappy Pet Treats, a company that recovers and recycles eggshells from the food service industry waste stream and turns this high-value calcium source into pet treats. Eggshells are nature’s perfect source of calcium-carbonate, yet this rich resource has become a major food industry pollution problem globally. In the US, eggshells are listed as one of the top 15 food waste problems by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Scrappy Pet Treats has diverted more than 10 tons of eggshells from the food service industries’ waste streams and repurposed them into rich calcium treats for pets – creating a product that first perfectly into the circular economy. The company’s proprietary, chemical-free homogenizing and pasteurizing process turns the recovered eggshells into an ultra-fine powder. Ultimately, Scrappy hopes to not only reduce food waste but also alleviate environmental degradation caused by the demand for mined calcium, which is taken from limestone mountaintops and coral reefs.
Greban grew up with food. His family has owned and operated a chain of breakfast restaurants for more than two decades. Over time, he saw how many tons of eggshells their restaurants alone were sending off to landfills. He was driven to find a solution. When he began researching eggshell waste, Greban discovered just how pervasive this problem is. And he also realized that by solving this food waste issue, he could help reduce the destruction of natural resources as a result of calcium mining. On top of which, our bodies actually absorb this organic source of calcium more efficiently than mined calcium carbonate.
“Innovation is hip, yet threatening,” Greban says. He strongly recommends that aspiring entrepreneurs watch “predator versus prey videos on National Geographic. You’ll be reminded how brutal the jungle is and how someone is always trying to steal your lunch. In this case, you are the predator and the prey is the industry you’re trying to disrupt. Be ready for a fight. You’ll have to work 80 to 100 hours per week and sleep at the office. But take that first step. Don’t be afraid. Have confidence in your stride.”
Mark Hansen and Alice Murphy are the cofounders of FLI Right.
3. FLI Right
Mark Hansen and Alice Murphy are the cofounders of FLI Right, a company that aims to harness transformative technologies to support the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Their first technology effort, the FLI T3 System, takes direct aim at plastic waste by empowering individuals and businesses to transform remnants into useful products — and potential revenue streams. For instance, local breweries can use the T3 to grind down their plastic six-pack carriers and remold them into tap handles or coasters. With T3, even plastic from e-waste (e.g. computer keyboards and mobile phones) can be transformed into small objects such as flower pots.
Both Hansen and Murphy have pursued careers in the aerospace and defense industries, and share a deep passion for “imagining a life without limits.” When they discovered that the economics surrounding plastic recycling are very challenging, they were driven to take action. Communities are ceasing recycling programs due to the high costs and it is estimated only 9% of plastic waste is recycled. By tackling the problem at its source, enabling plastic waste to be converted directly into valuable products, the business case for recycling begins to close. Local communities and businesses can leverage their own plastic waste stream to increase profits, benefit the planet, and engage people.
“When nothing is certain, anything is possible,” says Hansen and Murphy to aspiring changemakers. “All it takes for someone to be successful is to find their passion, build a team, and work until they transform the future.”
Svanika Balasubramanian is the cofounder of rePurpose.
Svanika Balasubramanian is the cofounder, along with Peter Hjemdahl and Aditya Siroya, of rePurpose, a company whose mission is to strengthen the waste management infrastructure in countries like India and provide stable livelihoods to marginalized waste workers. RePurpose helps individuals and organizations measure their plastic footprint, take responsibility for it by funding the recovery and recycling of an equivalent volume of plastic by vetted formal waste management enterprises in India, and reduce their plastic consumption in a gamified manner with personalized tips and tools.
“I never expected to create a career around trash,” says Balasubramanian, “but rePurpose has become an unexpected, wonderful union of the core tenets instilled in me during childhood. I was raised to hold nature in high regard, and with the belief that empowering one’s community was as important as empowering one’s self. RePurpose helps protect our oceans, and our world’s most vulnerable ecosystems and populations. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Eight million tons of plastic finds its way into our oceans every year. The enormity and impersonal nature of the statistics can lead to apathy and inaction. RePurpose realizes that it has to make this issue, and the solution, more approachable in order to change human behavior. That’s why they designed a model that helps each consumer and business take action for their unique plastic footprint.
Balasubramanian offers this advice to other aspiring changemakers. “Dream big. Though we follow the lean startup model, you’ve got to dream big if you are going to inspire massive change and motivate others to join you. And be prepared to hear no… a lot. When you’re building something that challenges the status quo, you’re likely to encounter closed doors, push back and obstacles. When that happens, dust yourself off and get back in the ring swinging.”