WasteAid Circular Economy Network

The first 12 months of WasteAid’s Circular Economy Network in India, South Africa and Vietnam has revealed a genuine appetite for companies and individuals across these countries to join together, to learn about the circular economy and how it can help solve the global waste crisis. 

The focus of the network has always been to be practical, showcasing the circular economy in action and connecting entrepreneurs to each other as well as researchers, funders and other organisations. Network member Nondumiso Sibiya, CEO of BoombaDotMobi in South Africa, has shared with us what the network means to her: “WasteAid’s Circular Economy Network has a sense of inclusiveness, where we can easily share common challenges with other green players across the globe. It is exciting to know this.” 

Twelve months into the project, we thought it would be a good moment to pause and reflect on what has been achieved and what lies ahead. From webinars with industry experts that address key issues, to live events that boost public awareness, and the ultimate Zero Waste Cities Challenge – here’s our year in review. 

WasteAid’s Circular Economy Network fast approaching 500 members 

Since the launch of the Circular Economy Network in December 2020, some 500 people have joined us as members from across the world. In addition, more than 600 companies and individuals have joined our online events to discuss a diverse range of topics, including: 

The network has also collaborated with a variety of waste specialists, municipalities and national organisations. For example, Professor Linda Godfrey in South Africa reminded us of the huge opportunities for job creation if the circular economy model was adopted. In fact, she estimates that the adoption of a life-cycle approach to waste management could create 9-25 million jobs globally. 

Another key highlight of the year was learning about the efforts from Pizza 4P’s in Vietnam, where the team are pioneering circular approaches in their restaurant chain. At the moment, they are running an earthworm project, converting around 50 kilograms of food waste each day into compost to support their vegetable gardens. 

An area of Pizza 4P’s kitchen gardens

Pizza 4P’s also transforms cheese waste to support its microbrewery production. When turning fresh milk into cheese, as much as 90% of the total volume is discarded in the form of whey. Today, the team has found innovative ways to transform the waste into their own original craft beer, known as the Dalat Whey Strout. 

In India, network members heard from Recykal and its award-winning app which links buyers and sellers of waste streams together. The platform enables transactions with full transparency and traceability, while individuals are incentivised for the responsible disposal of their waste. At the same time, informal waste workers get better value for their collections. 

Collaborative events that showcase a close of loop 

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Circular Economy Network has been able to organise some small in-person events, thanks to our sponsor Huhtamaki and other local partners. Some examples include preventing marine litter through beach and riverbank clean-up activities that also demonstrated how to close the loop on the materials collected.  

Nano Morante, co-founder of PLASTICPeople in Vietnam, understands that collaboration is key to solve these issues: “We believe that connecting with each other and acting together are the solutions to these single-use plastic issues.” Nano’s team has found – and is continuing to find – new ways to turn low-value plastics into quality materials and products.  

Co-founder of PLASTICPeople, Nano Morante, educating the community on single-use plastics at one network event near Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam

All events have been successful in gaining media coverage in both television and press. In South Africa, the network partnered with Nosh Food Rescue, Bokashi BranBoombaDotMobi, The Compost Kitchen and Celebrity Chef Citrum Khumalo with a team of chefs from the Culinary Passions School of Hospitality. By working together, one tonne of food waste was diverted from landfill and turned into almost 1,000 nutritious meals for the local community.  

“It was super valuable to be able to connect with people who are enthusiastic about different aspects of the waste stream and to see the energetic enthusiasm for future collaborations within the Circular Economy Network,” said Hanneke van Linge, network member and founder of NOSH Food Rescue.

NOSH Food Rescue and volunteers recovering food from the market

WasteAid’s Zero Waste Cities Challenge

Now, the network is moving into yet another exciting phase of the project — WasteAid’s Zero Waste Cities Challenge. The contest will award €10,000 to six entrepreneurs to scale their circular economy innovation across Johannesburg, Guwahati or Ho Chi Minh. 

After a launch that secured more than 25 pieces of press coverage in the three locations and reached tens of thousands of people, the Challenge attracted 100 good quality and innovative applications. Proposals ranged from completely new ideas from entrepreneurs to established organisations and companies looking to scale up proven circular economy models.  

Our team has been thoroughly impressed by all of the initiatives out there. The challenge entries have been as diverse as upcycling clothes and sofas to pioneering refill approaches and finding solutions for chicken feather waste.  

During July, 36 entrepreneurs were shortlisted to receive eight weeks’ business mentoring. These individuals will now have the opportunity to refine and hone their business cases with local business incubator companies: 

Vietnam Silicon Valley Foundation

Vietnam Silicon Valley Foundation has great experience in stimulating Vietnam’s startup ecosystem. Since their inception in 2013, the team has invested in and supported more than 80 companies. 

Seed Academy

Seed Academy will support all 12 shortlisted entrepreneurs based in South Africa. The team offers excellent business incubator and investment experience, leaning on the use of tried and tested methodology to build confidence and get companies business-ready. 

Massive Earth Foundation

The shortlisted entrants in India will be mentored by Massive Earth Foundation, whose team has a specific vision for companies focused on environmental protection and the climate while also having a range of relevant investors at their fingertips.  

The ultimate goal of the three business mentoring programmes is for all 36 entrepreneurs to finish the process feeling that there has been a significant value-add to their operations, as well as to find a useful network of industry professionals to connect with and to secure links to venture capitalists. 

The top five innovations in each country will reach “finalist” status in September, and they will receive focused support to strengthen their pitch and present to a panel of industry experts and established entrepreneurs come October. On top of the €10,000 funding prize for each of the six winners, those selected will also receive further mentoring and coaching support for up to six months — helping to make their ideas a reality. 

What’s next for the Circular Economy Network?

Towards the end of the year, the Circular Economy Network is looking forward to hosting even more webinars, a range of virtual ‘cafe-style’ conversations between members and plenty of other events. Keep an eye out for webinars from all three network locations in the run up to COP26, where WasteAid will be exploring the issue of open waste burning and its significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.  

WasteAid Circular Economy Network

Looking ahead to 2022, the Circular Economy Network team is intending to host three conferences – pandemic permitting – to share even more knowledge, showcase best practice and to help the network’s members connect and collaborate with one another. Make sure to pay a visit to the website and follow the team on Twitter and LinkedIn to be kept up to date with the latest network developments. 

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