How sustainability startups are changing the way we think about waste

Not all startups are developing apps and other tech. Meet the businesses committed to disrupting the way we think about waste.

So much talk of startups is focused on tech. But what about the people re-thinking some of our most basic problems, or building a business by doing things ever so slightly differently? A lot of innovation happens outside the tech bubble. And to celebrate it, we’re kicking off a new series focused on non-tech startups.

Today, we’d like to present you some disrupters who are making a real difference when it comes to rubbish, recycling and waste.  – people who don’t just talk about sustainability, but have put it at the heart of their business.

Recycling 2.0

Sorting waste into categories can be time-consuming and, frankly, tedious. Which container does the coffee cup go into again?

It’s a problem for businesses, too – and recycling startup First Mile is recognising the problem. Bruce Bratley founded it to offer bespoke collections for those previously restricted by set pick-up times and locations. Now, his company manages the recycling of more than 25,000 London businesses, making nearly 13 million collections annually.

 “Collectively, we need to reduce how much we use, and recycle as much as possible in an eco-friendly manner,” Bratley told Cityscapes.

The statistics are impressive: on average, 66 per cent of materials collected are recycled, compared to the overall London recycling rate of 33 per cent. And the company claims that most companies can expect to recycle 90 per cent of the waste they produce. Anything that can’t be recycled is used to create green energy.

First Mile won a trophy at the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards in 2018, for its London sack-sorting facility or ‘Sackatory’, designed to make it even easier for business owners: no need to separate glass, plastic and paper.

The company Quantum Waste works with a similar principle. It streamlines its collections into two types: ‘food waste’ and ‘everything else’. The brainchild of Javier Rojo, it works on a per-bag pricing system.

Clients simply fill the bags and arrange collection. They’re then taken to small local depots equipped with ‘Qube’ technology: a system that transforms rubbish into organic fertiliser for farms. One of the core aims is to decentralise waste collection, meaning shorter local journeys.

“Rather than transporting waste over large distances into processing facilities, Quantum Waste was created to bring technology closer to where waste is produced,” Rojo told Cityscapes. “We have developed technology and systems capable of doing what large waste management companies do but more efficiently, closer to where waste is produced.”

And he has bigger plans. “Imagine self-sufficient cities, with a network of recycling centres sprouting across neighbourhoods, staffed by entrepreneurial individuals who are able to recycle most waste streams and provide a local supply of energy, fertilizers and raw materials.”

Waste not, want not

OLIO wants to change how we think about waste completely, one carrot at a time. That wonky parsnip? It could be the making of someone’s stew. That tin of peaches sitting at the back of the cupboard? Just the ticket for your neighbour’s pudding.

The nifty app matches up surplus food with people who can rescue and use it. Simply snap a pic of the surplus item or ingredients and post it on OLIO. It’s a way for cafes, shops or neighbours to share food for free.

It could be a box of veg from an allotment, or the results of an enthusiastic cake-making session after watching the Great British Bake-Off. Or it could a family that’s off on holiday but hasn’t run down the contents of the fridge.

Around a million people have joined OLIO since it launched in the UK in 2015, sharing almost 1.5 million portions of food. 

Tessa Clarke, who co-founded the app with Saasha Celestial-One, told Cityscapes about her inspiration: six sweet potatoes, a white cabbage and some pots of yoghurt.

“I was moving country and found myself on moving day with some good food that we hadn’t managed to eat, but that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away,” she said. “It seemed to me crazy when there were surely plenty of people within hundreds of metres of me who would love it. The problem was they just didn’t know about it.”

By matching up want and need, these innovative startups are helping individuals and businesses to more effectively preserve resources and pave the way to a more sustainable future.

Emily Taylor
Emily looks after Consumer Marketing for Zipcar, leading on our promotional campaigns and marketing communications. When she isn’t developing her passion for creating content, she spends weekends judging the UK’s ability to make decent coffee (we forgot to mention she’s Australian) and obsessing over dogs she doesn’t own.

Date published: 5 April 2019

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