UK start-up wins top prize at European circular economy awards

UK start-up Aeropowder won the 2018 Green Alley Award last week for its sustainable insulation material made from waste chicken feathers.

 UK start-up wins top prize at European circular economy awards
Aeropowder co-founder, Elena Dieckmann, pictured with Jan Patrick Schulz, CEO of Landbell Group

Global environmental consultancy company Landbell Group set up the Green Alley Awards in 2014, aiming to transform the waste and recycling industry by supporting innovative green start-ups. At the award ceremony in Berlin on 18 October, six European finalists presented a live pitch to the audience and a jury of experts, made up of representatives from award organisers Landbell Group and its partners in the circular economy.

After the expert panel consulted with one another, Aeropowder was announced as the winning start-up for its alternative approach to a frequently forgotten waste product.

Aeropowder uses waste feathers from the poultry industry, which are thoroughly cleaned and treated before being covered in a certified, compostable food grade liner. These components make up a material Aeropowder has called pluumo, which the company hopes can become a sustainable replacement to conventional polystyrene packaging, PE-foams or thermal foil.

Already popular in the UK, Aeropowder has had its whole stock bought by one butcher, who admired the sustainable packaging for the upmarket and environmentally-friendly edge it provided to his products over those of his competitors.

The start-up will receive a prize of €25,000 (around £22,360), which it promises will go towards a new machine to help the two-person company try to meet the high demand for its product. Aside from the cash prize and an upcycled trophy made of elements from roller shutters, Aeropowder will also have the advice of the Landbell Group on hand as it continues to expand.

Elena Dieckmann, co-founder of Aeropowder, said: “Winning the Green Alley Award shows us that we are going in the right direction. Feathers have incredible properties, as they are lightweight and robust, and insulate against heat and cold. We have requests from Spain, Germany and France; not only from customers but also from feather suppliers.”

Read more: Meet the young scientists behind the award-winning company

Aeropowder was one of six finalists announced in September, whittled down from the 215 entrepreneurs in over 30 countries who applied this year.

“Once again, this year’s decision was not easy, and our finalists presented six strong and well-designed concepts,” said Jan Patrick Schulz, CEO of Landbell Group. “Aeropowder convinced us with their product pluumo, as they are repurposing materials which would otherwise be disposed of. We want to give the Green Alley Award to those innovative approaches that directly feed into the idea of a circular economy.”

This year there was also a crowd award from Seedmatch, Germany’s first platform for crowd investing. This was awarded to the German start-up, Superseven, which has designed a 100 per cent biodegradable type of packaging made from cellulose. This prize includes a one-day workshop with the Seedmatch team, teaching the start-up how to create their own crowd campaign, whilst also offering a crowdfunding campaign on Seedmatch or Econeer (its sister platform).

The growing success of the Green Alley Awards means it has attracted more partners over time; aside from Seedmatch, Landbell Group now works with Bethnal Green Ventures (a UK accelerator programme) and R2Pi (an EU Horizon 2020 project). This year, the event was also sponsored by the compliance scheme provider European Recycling Platform (ERP) UK, a Landbell Group subsidiary company.

2018 finalists

 UK start-up wins top prize at European circular economy awards
The founders of the six start-ups

Aside from Aeropowder and Superseven, there were four other innovative start-ups hoping to change the way waste is handled.

Circular IQ, based in Amsterdam, has designed new software that would enable customers and buyers across the supply chain to monitor and optimize the circularity of their products.

Austrian start-up Refurbed is also looking at how digitalisation can be used to support a circular economy. It offers an online marketplace where high-quality refurbished products from smartphones to computer monitors can be sold on, as brand new, reducing the amount of new products that need to be manufactured.

Meanwhile, Italian company Ecoplasteam took a more hands-on approach, instead dealing with physical waste at the end of its life cycle. Ecoplasteam has created a new recycling technique capable of processing all the different components of aluminium packages together, which produces a new plastic and metal composite material.

MIWA, from the Czech Republic, introducing some unique technology to the concept of buying food in reusable containers. The company’s innovation would see food stored in capsules in supermarkets, ordered through an app by the customer and then packed in a reusable container for the customer to take home, bypassing the concept of single-use packaging altogether.

What is the future of the circular economy?

Resource spoke to Dr Thomas Fischer, Head of Market Intelligence and Governmental Affairs for the Landbell Group, to discuss how our attitude towards waste is beginning to change – and how start-ups can help.

He began by saying that “driven by public opinion and marine littering”, the circular economy concept has a great chance of taking off and replacing our current linear economic model.

But removing plastic packaging altogether isn’t the answer; as Fischer went on to point out, packaging is an integral part of life today. “You need it for food, to prolong shelf-life. So we will need more complex packaging – we need to strike a balance between preserving the function of something, like food, and preventing waste. Prevention must come first, and then we can create the right solutions for packaging.

“We need to design solutions for materials which are currently non-recyclable,” he continued, adding that this presents a large market available for more green start-ups to move into.

Through the Green Alley Award, start-ups are given a platform for recognition. “We raise awareness for them because of the publicity that surrounds the award and the finalists, [and] we also offer networking and expert sessions,” Fischer explained, pointing out that Landbell has built a clientbase for last year’s winner, Sulapac, a Finnish start-up creating sustainable packaging for cosmetics.

To find out more about the Green Alley award, head to its website.

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