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40+ Circular Economy Startups Across 7+ Industries

circular economy startups

“Everything is designed for you to throw away when you are finished with it. But where is “away”? Of course, “away” does not really exist. “Away” has gone away.” ― Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle.

Therein lies the opportunity presented by a circular economy approach – to become more conscious about the world around us and the systems that we have built. For entrepreneurs, it presents another opportunity: to disrupt industries with solutions that fix current challenges such as waste and pollution, keep resources in use for longer, and satisfy the need of consumers to have a lower environmental footprint.

In Southeast Europe, circular economy startups span industries from consumer electronics to food and packaging, from construction to fashion. To show what circularity looks like across various verticals, The Recursive prepared a list of 40+ circular economy startups and their innovations with business models, processes, products, and materials.

 

Circular Economy Startups in Consumer Electronics

8 in 10 households have a perfectly-working smartphone in their house that they do not use, with 83% of consumers purchasing a new smartphone because repairing is too expensive, research by Pandas, a startup we introduce below, finds. Yet most consumer electronics contain circuit boards that are built using precious metals such as platinum and copper. 

The circular economy startups we mapped in the consumer electronics market developed solutions for  repairing and refurbishing old gadgets using different technologies, business models, and consumer incentives to keep products and valuable materials in use for longer.

 

Name: Flip.ro

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: George Moroianu, Alin Luca, Alex Burghelia

Solution: They acquire old phones, refurbish them, and place them back on the market through an online marketplace.

Funding: Most recently, they raised a €6.5 million investment from eMAG Ventures. The CVC already owned 42.26% of the company through previous investments. In total, the company raised more than €8.3M.

Highlights: The company is currently consolidating its presence in Central and Eastern Europe. They already entered the Bulgarian market. They had over 100K customers in Romania and a €13.4 million turnover in 2021.

 

Name: Pandas

Headquarters: Athens, Greece

Founders: Fanis Koutouvelis

Solution: Pandas’ autonomous kiosks use proprietary AI technology to evaluate a smartphone’s condition, allowing users to trade in and receive money for their old phones on the spot.

Funding: They raised a €2 million pre-seed round in 2020.

Highlights: The company has developed patented wireless technology that streamlines the trade-in experience for telecom operators, retailers, and marketplaces.

 

Name: INKI

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Liviu Huluta, Karoly Kiss, Cristian Darie, Andrew Shailer Smith

Solution: The B2B platform refurbishes and rents electronic devices such as laptops and phones, together with a pool of services such as insurance and security.

Funding: They received an angel investment round of $200K in 2022.

Highlights: Each device generates around 80 kg of CO2 equivalent. INKI’s solution helps keep devices in the loop for longer through refurbishment and reselling.

 

Circular Economy Startups in Construction

The construction sector is one of the biggest consumers of raw materials, as well as carbon dioxide emitters. It uses around half of all raw materials we extract, generates nearly a third of overall waste, and accounts for 40% of energy and process-related global CO2 emissions.

One opportunity that the circular economy presents to the built environment is to utilize materials that would otherwise go to waste as input for construction elements, as well as natural materials that biodegrade, and thus return safely into the natural cycles. The circular economy startups we mapped bring forward such solutions.

 

Name: The Climate Change Company

Headquarters: Cluj Napoca, Romania

Founders: Sebastian Tudose, Dennis Debie

Solution: The company has developed a new road construction material made from waste plastic and glass called Littar®.

Highlights: In a pilot project constructing a driveway foundation for a residential house in Cluj, Romania, the company claims they up-cycled plastic and glass waste equivalent to 70,000 single-use plastic bottles and 6,000 glass wine bottles, and prevented 5 tonnes of CO2. The company is participating in the MVP track of Black Sea ClimAccelerator 2022.

 

Name: RongoDesign (Ed.note – website coming soon)

Headquarters: Cluj Napoca, Romania

Founders: Gabriel Barta (CEO)

Solution: The biotech startup uses organic waste that includes coffee grounds and residues from crops such as hemp and sunflowers, as the basis for safe and durable interior design products.

Funding: They have raised money from EU programmes including the COSME program and Start for Future.

Highlights: The company estimates their manufacturing process is carbon-negative and their products 100% biodegradable, preventing waste creation.

 

Name: Metis Seagrass

Headquarters: Athens, Greece, and London, UK

Founders: John Yannis Pavlakis

Solution: Metis Seagrass produces eco panels from dried seagrass Posidonia Oceanica, which they collect from Mediterranean beaches. The seagrass would otherwise go to waste or landfills.

Funding: They received a non-refundable grant of €10K, co-financed by Greece and the European Union.

 

Name: Wasteful

Headquarters: Sofia, Bulgaria

Founders: Ivan Borov, Aleksandar Parvanov

Solution: The company transforms hard to recycle plastic and industrial waste into durable and beautiful construction materials for designers and architects. 

 

Circular Economy Startups in Fashion

In 2017, the Global Fashion Agenda was estimating 92 million tonnes of textile waste was created every year, on track to reach 134 million by 2030. A growing middle class around the world and a culture increasingly influenced by celebrities and catwalk trends have sown the seeds of fast fashion, a cheap and quick way to bring high-fashion designs to the masses and renew them every season. 

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Circular fashion startups coming from Southeast Europe have been working on solutions to reduce both pre-consumer and post-consumer fashion waste and turn it into new products, from new clothes to rugs, as well as innovative materials that minimize waste, and marketplaces that incentivise renting and selling pre-owned clothes.

 

Name: 3WLabel 

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Irina Moreno, Zuzana Mandic

Solution: The brand aims to reduce the waste of pre-consumer textile waste from factors by using it to make elegant, timeless, minimalist clothes. Editions are limited and each product is numbered.

Funding: The co-founders bootstrapped the company, investing 60K euro in the first year of operations.

 

Name: Vintello

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Diana Enachescu, Laur Neagu

Solution: Vintello is a fashion resale platform where anyone can sell pre-loved items from their wardrobe.

Highlights: The company is participating in the MVP track of Black Sea ClimAccelerator 2022.

 

Name: REDU

Headquarters: Iasi, Romania 

Team: Andreea Sofronea, Designer, Maker and Manager; Elvys Sandu, Designer and Maker

Solution: REDU is a social enterprise that creatively transforms textile and clothing waste into new and unique fashion items.

Funding: In 2015, the project received implementation support through the Norwegian Financial Mechanism 2009-2014 as a green innovation initiative.

 

Name: MIRET

Headquarters: Zagreb, Croatia

Founders: Domagoj Boljar, Hrvoje Boljar

Solution: The startup aims to design and produce compostable and recyclable shoes from natural, renewable, and sustainably grown materials, such as hemp.

Funding: The company raised over $720K in a crowdfunding campaign.

Highlights: MIRET has obtained several international awards and certificates such as the IDA Design Awards, Global Footwear Awards and the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certificate.

 

Name: LOOMescu

Headquarters: Sibiu, Romania

Founders: Cristina Radu, Codruta Rabagel, Maria Lupascu

Solution: LOOMescu is a weaving studio that gives a new life to used textiles as new, unique items. For instance, your old T-shirt can become a rug or a decorative wall hanging. 

Highlights: The company is participating in the Early Stage track of Black Sea ClimAccelerator 2022.

 

Name: Renti

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Clara Mateoiu, Irina Rucareanu

Solution: Renti is a marketplace that women can use to rent fashion items from their wardrobe for short-term uses.

Highlights: The two co-founders are students at The Entrepreneurship Academy and have previously founded humancecosmetics.ro. The company is participating in the Early Stage track of Black Sea ClimAccelerator 2022.

 

Name: Esenca App

Headquarters: London, UK, with Romanian founders and team

Founders: Cosmin Gabriel Ciocirlan, Mihai Petre, Eduard Cojocea

Solution: Esenca offers an AI-based measuring app that helps predict the exact size of a fashion item that a customer needs. It thus helps reduce the problem of returns in fashion e-commerce.

 

Name: NOLD

Headquarters: Sofia, Bulgaria

Founders: Boryana Uzunova

Solution: NOLD aims to become a dedicated pre-loved hub for brand clothes. In the app, sellers and buyers can list, explore, chat and shop pre-owned products.

Highlights: The company recently entered the UK market with their resale solution.

 

Circular Economy Startups in Food

Food waste is a big issue. We waste approx. 2.5 billion tons of food annually, which is 40% of food produced worldwide. Up to 37% of this waste is generated by consumers, retail, and food services. In turn, all this food waste accounts for 10% of all CO2 emissions.

In the food industry, circular economy startups from the region are either using waste as input for high-value products such as animal protein or beauty products, or experimenting with business models that match consumers with food producers that want to avoid waste creation and are willing to sell at a discount.

 

Name: Better Origin

Headquarters: Cambridge, UK, with Greek founders and investors

Founders: Fotis Fotiadis, Miha Pipan

Solution: Better Origin creates insect mini-farms, which convert local food waste into high-quality animal feed based on insect larvae.

Funding: The startup raised a $16M round in April, 2022, led by Greek VC Metavallon, among others, bringing total funding to $19.8M.

Highlights: In the UK, the company helped retailer Morrisons launch its first carbon neutral product by converting their fruit and vegetable waste into insect feed.

 

Name: Nasekomo

Headquarters: Sofia, Bulgaria

Founders: Marc Bolard, Xavier Marcenac 

Solution: The company uses the black soldier fly larvae to feed on organic agro-industry waste, a process that results in proteins, which they use as the basis for animal feed products.

Funding: Nasekomo received a €325K grant from Innovation Norway to scale their production, bringing the company’s total funding over €5M.

Highlights: The startup is taking part in a major international project, EcoeFISHent, as one of the 4 projects selected out of the 92 presented.

 

Name: Cupffee

Headquarters: Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Founders: Miroslav Zapryanov

Solution: Cuppfee developed a patented coffee cup made of natural, cereal-based materials, which can be conveniently eaten or composted safely.

Funding: The company bootstrapped in the beginning, then got angel investors onboard and obtained a bank loan to invest in production and reach full automation.

 

Name: Coffe-Eco

Headquarters: Pastras, Greece

Founders: Dr.-Ing Alexis Pantziaros, Marios Vlachogiannis

Solution: Started as a research project, Coffe-eco developed a proprietary extraction process to extract valuable ingredients from coffee grounds waste to be used in food and cosmetic products.

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Highlights: Aside from the coffe-eco extract, they have developed and launched two new products in personal care with beer and wine byproducts. They were awarded as one of the three international finalists in the Vegan B2B Innovative Ingredient category by the V-Label organization. 

 

Name: Foody (rebranded from Sofia2Go)

Headquarters: Sofia, Bulgaria

Founders: Svetoslava Simeonova

Solution: The project aims to reduce food waste in the HoReCa sector by offering a managed marketplace for restaurants, hotels, and cafes to sell food that was produced but not sold during peak times.

Funding: They recently received an investment from Innovation Capital of 50K euro. 

Highlights: The company is present in Sofia and Varna and  plans to expand to other major cities in the country in the near future.

 

Name: Bonapp.eco

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Diego Roy de Lachaise, Gregoire Vigroux

Solution: Bonapp.eco is a platform that connects local retailers, including grocery stores, restaurants, shops, gas stations, bakeries, coffee shops, hotels, and beauty shops wanting to sell products approaching an expiration date with consumers that want to purchase at a discount.

Funding: The startup raised a seed investment of 800K euro to expand beyond Bucharest in Romania and further into Eastern Europe.

 

Name: FoodObox

Headquarters: Sofia, Bulgaria

Founders: Jane Dimitrova, Velin Kerkov

Solution: The company aims to help food business owners reduce food waste by selling surplus through a mobile app. Clients can place orders for surprise boxes and collect them from certain venues.

Funding: FoodObox recently got an investment from Innovation Capital of 310K euro.

Highlights: The app is currently used by 35,000 users. The company has participated in the Rubik Garage international accelerator program by Rubik Hub.

 

Name: Savables

Headquarters: Timisoara, Romania

Founders: Rares Mara, Marius Pascu

Solution: A startup that aims to reduce food waste by connecting food places with customers through a digital platform.

Highlights: The company is participating in the Growth track of Black Sea ClimAccelerator 2022.

 

Name: CompoGO

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Andra Paval

Solution: The platform sells composting equipment that can be used by consumers businesses in the food industry to transform surplus food into organic fertilizer.

Highlights: The project was born during Andra Paval’s last year at The Entrepreneurship Academy. Next year, the company aims to get 15 clients and attract an investment of 100K euro.

 

Circular Economy Startups in Packaging

Of the global waste composition, 12% is plastic waste, which includes plastic packaging. 5 out of 10 on the list of EU-banned single-use plastics, enforced in 2021, are packaging products that often end up in landfills or natural waters, where they stick around for hundreds of years.

Innovators from Southeast Europe are tapping into the opportunity presented by the circular economy in the packaging sector to experiment with new materials that can return safely and quickly into the environment, or with entirely different business models, such as reusable bags or bottles.

 

Name: LAM’ON

Headquarters: Sofia, Bulgaria

Founders: Angela Ivanova, Gergana Stancheva 

Solution: LAM’ON produces plastic substitutes for the printing and packaging industries: a compostable laminating film and a corn-based packaging foil, respectively.

Funding: They started with a grant from EIT Climate-KIC and a prize from the Chivas Venture competition. In 2020, they got the support of  business angels to help them reach a market-ready stage.


Highlights: They are in the process of accelerating production and expanding the team.

 

Name: DiFOLD

Headquarters: Sofia, Bulgaria

Founders: Radina Popova, Petar Zaharinov

Solution: DiFOLD produces a reusable origami water bottle, using a proprietary design technology that allows the bottle to fold and occupy less space in travel bags.

Funding: After bootstrapping, they raised an angel funding in 2020, and then raised $190K through crowdfunding campaigns.

Highlights: 2 months ago, the company shipped its first batch of 6500 bottles to its Kickstarter and IndieGoGo backers.

 

Name: R-CREATE 

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Linda Vasilescu, Adina Huma

Solution: The first B2B digital platform in Romania offering packaging-as-a-service for e-commerce companies.

Highlights: Since launching, they extended their packaging portfolio to cover around 90% of the online delivery market in the low volume, large value category. They partner with different businesses, from book publishers to national courier company, DPD Romania.

 

Name: Zero Wave

Headquarters: Sofia, Bulgaria

Founders: Denimir Dimitrov, Blazhka Dimitrova

Solution: The company is manufacturing food products made of a by-product, which would otherwise go to waste: the residual malt generated in beer production. They are also preparing to launch a biodegradable tableware line.

Funding: They are opening a fundraising round in December.

Highlights: Aside from Bulgaria, they are present on the Greek and Romanian markets through a partnership with SILABG.COM, a platform for food supplements. They also signed a contract with Shell and are looking into signing with two more big international companies.

 

Name: Pai din Stuf

Headquarters: Tulcea, Romania

Founders: Mihai Palura, Dorinela Oaie

Solution: The company manufactures biodegradable straws from reed obtained locally from the Danube Delta, as alternatives to plastic straws.

 

Name: Biodeck

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Maria Desmirean, Adrian V. Georgescu, Tudor Georgescu

Solution: Biodeck produces biodegradable and compostable packaging such as bamboo tableware and food boxes made of sugar cane. They are part of the Promateris group.

Funding: They started with an initial investment of 50-100K euro.

Highlights: The company is aiming for a revenue figure of 50 million euro in the next 5 years, up from 13 million euro in 2020.

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Circular Economy Startups in Other Consumer Goods

Name: Evertoys

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Tiberiu Lupu, Alina Marian

Solution:  The company provides a toy and games subscription service for families. They also have a buyback program through which they offer to buy used toys from families. 

Funding: After bootstrapping at the beginning, they received several rounds of financing , through Seedblink, Sparking Capital VC and their first angel investors, VG Partners.

 

Name: Infinity Toy Box

Headquarters: Sofia, Bulgaria

Founders: Boryana Levterova

Solution: The company purchases toys, books, and games from manufacturers or distributors, stores them and rents them to individual consumers, via a subscription-based model. They also buy unused toys from customers and give credits on the platform in return.

Highlights: Infinity Toy Box participated in the Rubik Garage international accelerator by Rubik Hub. They are in the process of raising a pre-seed round.

 

Name: Foldo 

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Nicolae Baciu

Solution: The company makes interior decorations and furniture from unused and recyclable cardboard, for both consumers and businesses such as office buildings.

 

Name: Laura and Wine  

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Laura Chiriac

Solution: Locally designs and manufactures wine glasses from recycled glass.

Highlights: The company is participating in the Early Stage track of Black Sea ClimAccelerator 2022.

 

Name: OilRight  

Headquarters: Timisoara, Romania

Founders: Ana Munteanu, Roxana Damaschin-Tecu

Solution: Replicating the model of OilRight Slovenia, launched in 2014, the Romanian company collects used cooking oil from consumers and transforms it into artisanal candles.

Funding: The project launched after winning a European grant for social enterprises.

Highlights: In 2021, the company sold around 6500 candles and 1000 kits for candle making. They collected around 4 tons of oil per month and aim to reach 5 tons in 2022.

 

Name: Veltra Bikes  

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Sabin Dimian

Solution: The company is creating bikes using laminated bamboo along with other sustainable materials.

Highlights: Among other awards, Veltra won the Transport Innovation Challenge 2017, was Country Finalist Winner for Power Up competition, and was a finalist at E.On Energy Globe Awards 2018.

 

Name: Urban Mirror

Headquarters: Cluj Napoca, Romania

Founders: Cristina Cantemir

Solution: Urban Mirror is a sustainable art and design studio that transforms unconventional materials, waste and unused objects into art installations, interior design objects, and furniture.

 

Name: Toboro

Headquarters: Paris, France, with Romanian founders and team

Founders: Adina Teleuca, Ana Chivu

Solution: Toboro provides a platform with a  mobile app that enables the easy rental and borrowing of products between peers.

Funding: They won the grand prize (10K euro) at the 4th edition of the Future Makers incubator organized by Social Innovation Solutions in Romania.

Highlights: Toboro became the first startup in Romania accepted at the Station F Founders Program, organized by the Station F community in Paris.

 

Name: Estiverde.ro

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Miruna Iliescu

Solution: One of the first online shops in Romania to sell zero waste, plastic-free and natural ingredients based products in areas such as beauty.

 

Name: Magazinul Zero Waste (The Zero Waste Store)

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Ana Maria Raducanu

Solution: Physical and online store in Bucharest dedicated to encouraging a zero waste consumption of day to day products, selling products in bulk and without packaging, or in plastic-free, recyclable packaging. Online orders can be taken from the store or delivered via couriers on bike and using take-back packaging.

 

Name: Nakedshop.ro

Headquarters: Sibiu, Romania

Founders: Paula Amariei

Solution: Nakedshop.ro is a small family business that sells zero-waste alternatives to packaged products, which often contain plastics. They do not use plastic for packaging. Instead, they reuse boxes and packaging received from suppliers, paper tape and recycled packaging.

 

Circular Economy Startups in Recycling & Waste Management Services

Name: Recycllux

Headquarters: Brussels, Belgium, with Romanian team

Founders: Alexandra Cernian

Solution: The company is building a solution that uses Earth observation data and AI to identify plastic litter in natural waters and thus help collect it. Further on, the platform would use blockchain technology to connect plastic producers to waste collectors.

Highlights: The company is participating in the Growth track of Black Sea ClimAccelerator 2022.

 

Name: PolyMore

Headquarters: Timisoara, Romania

Founders: Iohana Macesanu, Cristian Pogan

Solution: PolyMore is developing a solution that uses AI to automatically detect the level of contamination in the plastic waste bins, helping improve the waste sorting process.

Funding: They kickstarted with external funding from competition awards, including the Social Impact Award in 2021.

Highlights: The company was recently awarded Regional Winner for Central & Eastern Europe in the Super Connect for Good 2022 competition.

 

Name: EcoTree

Headquarters: Bucharest, Romania

Founders: Alexandru Petrescu, Marius Cirstea

Solution: EcoTree offers a cloud software solution for waste management stakeholders. Waste generators can partner up with collectors and automatize the process. The platform also offers business intelligence modules for data analysis and reporting.

Funding: In 2021, the company raised a $500K round, led by Sparking Capital and joined by Seedblink and business angels, bringing its total funding to $750K.

 

Name: Recycglobe

Headquarters: Athens, Greece

Founders: Konstantinos Astridis

Solution: The Recycglobe platform connects directly individual users who want to dispose of their recyclable waste with waste collectors.

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https://therecursive.com/author/antoanelaionita/

Antoanela is a Deputy Editor at The Recursive, where she writes about climate tech, blockchain, and other high-impact innovations in Southeast Europe. She loves complex topics and translating geek to chic. Her holy grail is telling stories that have great potential for social and environmental impact. Prior to becoming a full-time journalist, she worked in various sustainability roles.
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