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Solutions for the transition towards a circular economy

The European Green Deal, Europe’s agenda for the transition towards a circular economy, aims to reduce pressure on natural resources, stop climate change, revert biodiversity loss, cut pollution and create sustainable growth and jobs. To reach these goals there needs to be a transformation of our throwaway economy into one where waste is eliminated, resources are circulated, and nature is regenerated.

The current economic system is based on linear principles of extracting natural resources, using them up, and wasting huge amounts of materials. It is crucial to build circular systems where the production, processing and disposal of products create benefits for people, the planet and prosperity (3p’s of Sustainable Development). Future-proof companies need to implement circular strategies and business models throughout the entire value chain to address the enormous challenges on the Green Deal agenda.

DataScouts can help you expand your knowledge about the latest developments and innovations in the transition to a circular economy. The DataScouts Market Scan accelerates finding the right market insights for different sectors and helps to get an understanding of the ecosystem around your business to identify risks, opportunities and potential partners. The Market Scan also enables better decision making around long-term strategic priorities and ways towards a future-proof company. In this article, the DataScouts methodology is applied and the most important and uncertain market trends related to a circular economy are presented in a PESTEL-analysis.

Trends linked to circular economy

Further in this article, the results are presented of a market scan that addresses solutions for the transition towards a circular economy. To have a clear overview of the concept of circular economy, an innovation landscape is provided. This landscape helps to understand the specific context, define keywords that are linked to the concept, show new innovation types and distinguish traditional business models from new ones.

Circular Economy Landscape

Although there are a large number of initiatives that seek to address the circular economy action plan, this article focuses on circular solutions that will have a major impact on future businesses. The topics that are further discussed here are waste-to-energy solutions, circular packaging and waste management tools. These promising solutions are interesting for corporates because they will increase competitiveness, boost economic growth and create new jobs.

Waste-to-energy solutions

The circular economy retains the value of products or resources by bringing them back into the value chain after use. Besides mechanical recycling, one of the biggest circular economy trends is the upcycling of waste to energy by incineration, gasification, pyrolysis, liquefaction, anaerobic digestion or hydrothermal carbonisation. The energy produced at waste-to-energy facilities provides the opportunity to not only sell electricity onto the grid but also to deliver energy to houses, public buildings and industries. Waste-to-energy ensures companies comply with stricter environmental regulations and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and landfill volumes. Cambrian Innovation (USA) addresses the issue of water scarcity and safety with a bioelectrically-enhanced wastewater treatment solution, which converts wastewater to renewable energy. Major companies such as AB InBev are utilizing the services of Cambrian to upcycle their wastewater to energy. Other relevant corporates that provide circular solutions to convert waste into energy are Plastic Energy (ESP), SEaB energy (UK), Keppel Seghers (BE) and Attero (NL).

Circular packaging

In 2019, it was estimated that 177.4 kg of packaging waste was generated per inhabitant in the EU. Circular packaging is an essential element of response to stop the increasing amount of packaging waste. An innovative circular packaging aims to address waste and loss reduction by preserving product quality, as well as product safety issues. Moreover, it addresses the long-term crucial issue of environmentally persistent plastic waste accumulation as well as the saving of material resources. European actors in this market domain are Bio-lutions (DE), Paptic (FI), Reconcil (FR), Relicta (IT), Vytal (DE) and Loop (UK). The latter is a small company that convinced the world’s biggest brands to begin testing reusable packaging. They introduced a new system of high-quality packaging that can be returned and refilled. In essence, they changed the ownership model of packaging from consumer to producer. Partners of Loop include among others Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Unilever, Mars, Clorox, Coca-Cola and Danone. European retailer Carrefour, logistics company UPS and resource management company Suez are also engaged in the system.

Waste management tools

Separating and sorting waste is key to ensuring that the right materials are recycled. Unfortunately, this process is still a problem for many waste management facilities because most of the time a single-sort system is followed in which all the recyclables end up in the same box. Waste management tools are a solution to this problem. These tools make use of disruptive technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning, the internet of things and robotics to identify and trace materials across supply chains. They help companies to increase material value by analyzing their waste and differentiating materials from each other as well as identifying nuances among the same material. They also can automatically detect if the materials are chemically contaminated. This is why waste management tools are one of the most promising trends linked to a circular economy. Recycleye (FR), for example, is a company that tackles the problem of waste sorting. With the help of AI, it identifies and classifies all items on waste streams by material, object, and even brand. By the end of 2020, they partnered with energy leader TotalEnergies to identify food-grade and non-food-grade plastic packaging with the goal to increase the circular recycling of these products. This partnership even helped develop new applications, such as improved food packaging. Other actors active in the domain of waste management solutions include Circularise (NL), Winnow (UK), Excess Materials Exchange (NL) and Lixo (FR).

Circular economy solutions

The solutions that are presented in this article shows how a global market scan can help identify key trends and relevant ecosystem stakeholders to make the transitions towards a circular and sustainable economy happen.

After the ecosystem is scanned and mapped, a monitoring arena allows our customer to continuously monitor the most relevant market trends. The DataScouts Monitoring Platform allows companies to automatically monitor relevant stakeholders, such as strategic partners, customers as well as competitors, collect information about relevant topics and accelerate the process of scenario planning.

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