There is a lot of talk about the need to transition to a circular economy. Companies - big and small alike - embrace the challenge with enthusiasm, drive and innovative ideas. Municipalities and public organizations are putting a great deal of effort, too. And not just because there’s an urge for this transition to take place, but because it is the right thing to do.
Circularise, a young, innovative company based in The Hague, has taken it upon itself to enable the circular economy by bringing transparency and trusted data-sharing to supply chains globally. So, what does that entail exactly? - you might ask.
Founded by Mesbah Sabur and Jordi de Vos in 2016, Circularise is on a mission to disrupt the system. They have developed a decentralized network based on blockchain that allows stakeholders to disclose key information about the materials used in products, while maintaining anonymity and the integrity of their intellectual property (IP).
“If you go into a recycling facility, you’d find a lot of products lying around without knowing what materials exactly are used in each of them,” says Mesbah. “The problem is that if you don’t have that information, you cannot effectively recycle them.”
Circularise wants to be the solution to that problem.
Starting at the source
The key to a circular economy is the ability to reintroduce products into the economy - break them down into their original building blocks and reuse the raw materials to create something new.
Mesbah and Jordi have learned a lot about the potential of the circular economy over the past years, with their journey starting at the TU Delft. It was during Mesbah’s Master’s that they got to know more about the concept of Critical Raw Materials - a list of materials that the European Commission flags as “crucial to Europe’s economy”.
“Recycling the products we have and reusing their building blocks is the way forward if we are to preserve those critical raw materials for as long as possible,” says Mesbah.
The main challenge that Circularise aims to tackle may seem like a straightforward one, at least at a first glance: enable the communication between stakeholders in the supply chain. Get them to talk to each other and share relevant information so products can be recycled as best as possible.The truth, however, is far from simple.
The companies that mine the materials do not usually communicate with the product manufacturers, who do not communicate with the recycling facilities. It is not about them not having the means to talk to each other, but about not having a platform where they can be transparent, yet maintain the confidentiality of IP-sensitive information.
Circularise uses a combination of blockchain, peer-to-peer and encryption technology to create a platform for information storage and communication. It is entirely decentralized, too, eliminating the need for an intermediary to manage the information.
With a recent grant secured from EIT Raw Materials, Mesbah and his team are a step closer to commercializing and scaling their technology. For the moment, they are mostly focused on plastics having identified it as one of the fastest growing waste streams in Europe and thus the one with the most potential.
Commercialization, growth - and a pilot with the Province of South Holland
While Circularise may have started small, they have sure made strides over the past couple of years. In early 2019, they went to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to validate their idea on an international level.
“We connected with several manufacturers of plastics and were excited to see that they had the same idea about bringing more transparency to the industry,” says Mesbah. “If they are creating polymers that are sustainable, it is only in their interest to communicate that. The same goes for brands that are using sustainable materials in their products.”
In a time when companies set targets for decreasing their carbon footprint or even becoming carbon neutral by a certain, usually tight, deadline, having a means to ensure that the materials they use are indeed sustainable (and traceable) is game-changing. Mesbah and his team have already piloted their technology with four major manufacturers of polymers and four brands, in which they’ve covered a key segment of the supply chain.
With the funding from EIT Raw Materials, they will be looking to expand their team, commercialize their technology and make the step to becoming a scale-up.
In addition to the projects that Circularise has been running together with manufacturers and brands, the company has also gotten itself a pilot with the Province of South Holland. As part of it, it brought together various stakeholders such as the government and contractors into a consortium.
“In a way, you can see provinces and municipalities as brands,” says Mesbah. “They spend a lot of public money on products that need to become more and more sustainable in the future.”
The team has, so far, provided workshops on how blockchain technology can help the Province invest in sustainable materials for infrastructure projects. The pilot will be concluded with a feasibility report later this month describing how such technology will be developed and integrated during the proposed follow-up project.
The Province of South Holland aims to become energy-neutral by 2050. In this transition, it would need tools that will allow it to keep track of the circularity of everything it invests in. Innovations like that of Circularise can be the way forward for both industry stakeholders and public institutions. In the end, moving towards a circular economy is inevitable - and while it may be a challenge, it can only be a good thing.
Mesbah Sabur will be a speaker at the Opening Event of this year’s Upstream Festival. Join now to hear his take on Resetting the Economy.