Bringing NextGen Cups to Market: It Takes a Village

By Closed Loop Partners & IDEO

Jun 29, 2020

The NextGen Consortium is a global initiative convened by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy. Starbucks and McDonald’s are founding partners of the Consortium, together with supporting partners The Coca-Cola Company, Yum! Brands, Nestlé and Wendy’s, as well as WWF as an advisory partner. IDEO is the Consortium’s innovation partner.

Local cafes, cities and students joined the NextGen Consortium’s collaborative efforts to advance reusable, recyclable and compostable cup solutions in pilots across the San Francisco Bay Area earlier this year.

Two years ago, the NextGen Consortium asked innovators: “How might we design the next generation fiber cup to be recoverable on a global scale, while maintaining the performance standards we know and trust?” From the start, we knew that our ability to successfully address the systemic challenge of cup waste would require strong collaboration across the entire cup ecosystem – from brands, suppliers and innovators, to municipalities, materials recovery facilities and mills, to advocacy groups and nonprofits, to the broader public. And we’ve been collaborating with these essential stakeholders, and others, ever since.

The NextGen Consortium serves as a collaborative platform for larger brands looking to move the needle on sustainability. By working together we’re one step closer to finding long term solutions, quicker than we would on our own — Jessica Marshall, Sustainability at McDonald’s

The Consortium’s journey began with the NextGen Cup Challenge —an open call for sustainable cup solutions that resulted in nearly 500 submissions from more than 50 countries. Twelve Cup Challenge winners were given the opportunity to enter the NextGen Circular Business Accelerator or the Advanced Solutions cohort; programs aimed at further developing the select winning cup companies – bringing them closer to pilot and market-readiness. And in early 2020 we launched The NextGen Pilot Readiness Program, a series of live, in-market pilots in the San Francisco Bay Area to further test and refine promising reusable and single-use solutions in surrounding local cafes.

We’re excited to keep learning, testing and exploring new cup technologies with the NextGen Consortium. The collaboration between companies, innovators and stakeholders is critical in our journey to find, and bring to scale, a more sustainable cup. — Chris McFarlane, Project Manager at Starbucks

NextGen Pilot Teams

CupClub: A returnable cup ecosystem, providing a service for drinks. Think bike sharing, but for cups.
Muuse : A deposit-based platform for smart, reusable beverage packaging, connecting their cups—and third party products—to Internet of Things technologies.
Footprint: Fully formed fiber-based cups, lids and straws with an aqueous-based coating that is recyclable and compostable.
PTT MCC Biochem: Recyclable cups with an innovative, bio-based BioPBS™ coating that makes the cup certified for compost in an industrial compost facility.

The Consortium’s pilots took place across multiple clusters of local cafes in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Oakland. We evaluated cups and cup systems on their technical feasibility, business viability, user desirability, and systemic circularity. And, through it all, the collaborative spirit came to the fore as the critical ingredient for success.

Tackling a challenge as complex and massive as global cup waste requires a multitude of stakeholders—and it’s important to activate them from the start in order to advance the entire ecosystem. The pilots’ success hinged on collaborative municipalities (San Francisco, Palo Alto, Oakland), local neighborhood associations and universities eager to drive awareness, willing and excited local cafes to help establish a network effect of pick up and drop-off points, curious customers to experiment with new habits and an engaged media to drive awareness. After engaging all of these stakeholders and putting the cups to the test in local cafes, what did we learn?

Customer and Barista Insights Drive Rapid Iterations
Every minute counts when it comes to encouraging the uptake of reusable cup systems. And every user engagement offers a valuable opportunity for feedback. Customers have to sign up to a mobile app to log their cup, navigate the payment process, receive their beverage and ultimately return their cup to either a cafe or a drop-off point. Each step of this journey impacts their perception of reusable cups. For example, customer satisfaction was higher when there was a lost cup fee rather than an upfront deposit, and customers breathed easy after an alert confirmed a successful cup return. Similarly, baristas provided vital feedback. Even a simple verbal prompt asking customers whether they’d “like their order in a reusable cup” increased interest and engagement. These insights, alongside the experimentation mindset that characterized the pilots, enabled teams to rapidly prototype and improve according to key learnings.

Different Local Cafes Banded Together to form Clusters for the Pilots
Clusters are areas where 5 or more stores are located within a 5-minute walk. This walk, or the “pedestrian shed,” is considered the distance people are willing to walk before opting to use transit instead. Cup drop-off points work best when along a customer’s existing route. Local cafes including Coupa Cafe, Verve Coffee Roasters, Andytown, and Equator Coffees formed clusters, opened up their retail locations and helped lay the groundwork for the Pilot rollouts. During the pilots we saw some cups distributed at one cafe and returned to another. To hit a critical mass of users and truly scale reusable cup systems, support for this kind of behavior is imperative. It is also highly complex and requires honing and thoughtful planning as well as collaboration across multiple brands.

A cluster of local cafes and drop-off points

 

City Governments, Universities and NGOs Played a Critical Role in Galvanizing Momentum
Usership, especially early on, is directly tied to awareness. Data is most informative at higher volumes. The City of Palo Alto’s Zero Waste team was instrumental in identifying retail partners for the Pilot and educating their network, including zero waste leads in neighborhoods, about the pilots. The City of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment team was also engaged and eager to learn more about reusable cup solutions, especially in the face of proposed regulations and ordinances. The non-profit organization UPSTREAM made key introductions to city officials and shared essential information regarding upcoming ordinances and policies. The network effect is real. By engaging these organizations and their respective communities, our reach multiplied, attracting more pilot participants, thus gathering more data to optimize systems and prepare for the mass market.

The success of the pilots was built on the foundations of collaboration, which engaged diverse stakeholders and enabled agile and quick responses to feedback. COVID-19 brought unforeseen challenges and intensified the question, how can we maintain customer trust with reusable cups? Throughout the pilots, the reusable solutions adhered to rigorous washing protocols, including one team utilizing an off-site industrial facility to ensure the strictest hygiene standards were maintained. The pandemic has further emphasized the importance of sanitation and health, and the critical need to communicate these elements effectively to customers.

Moving forward, collaboration among diverse stakeholders is essential to ensure that innovative new systems of consumption can bring convenience and delight, while reducing the environmental footprint of our daily habits. The NextGen Consortium will continue to work with the Cup Challenge winners, as well as other promising cup innovations, to advance their solutions, while simultaneously strengthening and building the cup recovery ecosystem as a whole. This includes exploring new processes and working with waste collectors, materials recovery facilities, municipalities, and paper mills, among others, to explore the opportunities around cup recycling and composting. Our pilots in the San Francisco Bay Area provided invaluable feedback on how we can collectively enhance the drinking experience in a way that stakeholders (and the environment) can feel good about. And we’re excited to continue to accelerate the future of more sustainable cups.

CupClub’s Cup Chariot in action on Stanford University’s campus

Circular Innovations for an Evolving Retail World

By Kate Daly, Managing Director

Jun 28, 2020

This article first appeared here on the Retail Industry Leaders Association’s blog.

At Closed Loop Partners we believe it is disruptive circular solutions that provide resilience and create unique opportunities in the face of global pandemics, the ocean plastics crisis and accelerating climate risks. But we don’t need to start from square one. The transition to a circular economy that aligns the interests of shareholders, customers, local communities and the environment is already underway. Circular solutions maximize retailers’ opportunities for resource efficiency and profit, while aligning with consumer demand and long-term sustainability. So how do we get there?

HARNESS INNOVATION TO STOP WASTE BEFORE IT HAPPENS
The future of retail is arriving faster than anticipated. During the pandemic, trends like home delivery and automated check out accelerated, while the consequences of excess inventory became costly. The four key drivers of the circular economy – transparency, digitization, automation and localization – suddenly aligned with the urgent need to safely and efficiently deliver goods. The failings of our current opaque global supply chains reinforce that innovations in digitizing inventory and sharing data can create efficiencies and prevent waste, opening up new possibilities for smart stocking, real time tracking and optimized reverse logistics for returns.

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX AND REEXAMINE TRADITIONAL BUSINESS MODELS
Circular business models are reimagining the relationship between producer and customer. Nowhere is this more apparent than in fashion, where rental models and recommerce are growing their market share rapidly. This is critical as fashion consumption continues to increase, while the average number of times a garment is worn in its lifetime decreases. Between 2000 and 2015, the EPA noted that textile waste by weight jumped 67%. But profitable alternatives to throwing these valuable resources away have already emerged. Apparel leasing in the U.S. is estimated to reach a market value of $4.4 billion by 2028, while the sale of second-hand clothing is expected to more than double to $51 billion by 2023 according to GlobalData and ThredUp. Companies like The Renewal Workshop operating apparel refurbishment services for brands’ damaged or used goods, enabling brands to sell previously unsellable inventory. Both approaches offer traditional retailers opportunities for additional revenue streams from existing stock, increasing customer touchpoints with individual companies while encouraging long-term brand loyalty and customer satisfaction. This breaks the cycle of waste and helps brands recover the full value of products they’ve already manufactured.

The Rem

Clothing from The Renewal Workshop

ACCELERATE ADVANCED RECYCLING TECHNOLOGIES TO KEEP EXISTING VALUABLE MATERIALS IN PLAY
After a product’s resale market/value has been exhausted, there is still value to be found. Today’s ‘waste’ stream is rapidly evolving as new types of packaging and textiles enter the market. Most of these new formats and material blends are difficult to recycle after use, and few end markets exist for the materials to profitably remain in the value chain. But game-changing advanced recycling technologies are expanding. These technologies clean or break down mixed plastic packaging and synthetic fibers into their original building blocks so that they can then be reincorporated into manufacturing supply chains without diminished quality. Advanced recycling companies like Evrnu convert textile waste into new, high quality fiber for the creation of new clothing, in partnership with brands and retailers. It is this combination of disruptive technologies and collaboration across the entire value chain that can help eliminate the costs of incineration and landfill disposal, and instead create revenue from recycled materials.

It’s always the right time to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and protect the environment we share. Now is the moment to embed circular principles into core business models and harness these emerging innovations to ensure a more prosperous and sustainable future.

Closed Loop Partners at the United States Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Recycling

By Bridget Croke

Jun 19, 2020

Launched in 2014, Closed Loop Partners (CLP) is the first investment firm primarily focused on building the circular economy. Our vision is to help build a new economic model focused on a profitable and sustainable future that aligns the interests of shareholders, brands and local communities and the environment that we all share. Closed Loop Partners provides equity and project finance to scale products, services and infrastructure at the forefront of the development of a circular economy. We have over the past 5 years built a development system that connects entrepreneurs, industry experts, global consumer goods companies, retailers, financial institutions and municipalities.

On June 17, 2020, Bridget Croke, Managing Director, at Closed Loop Partners spoke at the United States Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as they held a hearing on “Responding to the Challenges Facing Recycling in the United States.” The following text is drawn from her testimony. 

Today, we have over 40 investments in companies and municipal projects in the United States, all focused on helping Americans avoid landfill disposal fees while generating good jobs in the recycling and manufacturing sector.  Our investors are a combination of some of the largest American based consumer brands in the world including 3M, Coca-Cola, Colgate Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, Keurig Dr. Pepper, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and The Walmart Foundation, as well as the American Beverage Association, institutional investors, family offices and environmental foundations.  CLP proves that public–private partnerships are critical to unlocking the capital needed to build robust recycling and circular economy infrastructure needed to create jobs, reduce waste and build the supply chains of the future.

Despite some of the headlines we’ve all seen, recycling is big business in America and should create the manufacturing feedstock for future packaging. In 2019, the recycling industry in America generated over $110 billion in economic activity, $13 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue and 530,000 jobs.  In spite of COVID and market challenges in recent years, 2020 is shaping up to be a year of major innovations in the recycling industry as it becomes central to circular economy business models that major consumer goods companies and cities are deploying. Transitioning US manufacturing to circular supply chains could unlock a $2 trillion opportunity.

Recycling continues to be the most cost-effective option for the vast majority of American cities. The economics are simple. Cities have two choices when it comes to disposal: recycle or landfill. While the value of recycling is generally reported as the amount that a city can be paid for its recyclables, the core economic value of recycling is actually the opportunity for a city to avoid costly landfill disposal fees.  Economic analysis conducted has shown that the U.S. scrap recycling industry is a major economic engine powerful enough to create 531,510 jobs and generate $12.9B in tax revenue for governments across the US.

New York City, the largest market in the United States, is an example of how advanced recycling infrastructure and strong local markets create long term profits. New York City has a long-term public-private partnership with Pratt Industries that converts all of its recycled paper locally into new paper products sold back into the NYC market. Via its contract with Pratt, New York City is paid for every ton of paper its residents recycle, as opposed to a cost of over $100 per ton to send paper, plastics and metals to a landfill.

Minneapolis is another good example. Eureka Recycling and the City of Minneapolis invested in local community outreach focused on keeping their recycling stream clean of contamination, defined as non-recyclable material. The result is one of the lowest contamination rates of any municipal recycling program in the country. With a clean stream of valuable recyclables, Eureka consistently shares with Minneapolis the profits earned from the sale of their recyclables. In many other cities, unfortunately, approximately 15% of the material that arrives at the municipal recycling facility is considered contamination. Municipal recycling programs that keep contaminants out of the recycling stream via strong community outreach or enforcement realize lower costs and better revenue opportunities. Municipalities that recognize that recycling is part of the commodities industry, not the waste industry, generate value.

Along with the examples of Pratt Industries in New York City and Eureka Recycling in Minneapolis, Recology in San Francisco and Balcones in Austin, among others, continue to provide their municipal and commercial customers robust recycling service. In addition, municipalities like Pensacola, Florida and Davenport, Iowa that manage their own best in class recycling facilities consistently reduce landfill disposal costs and create local economic value for their constituents.

The value of recyclable commodities continues to have a wide range. The cost to process municipal recyclables at a recycling facility is, on average, $70 per ton. That means that for a recyclable commodity to have value, it must have a market that pays the recycling facility over $70 per ton of that material. A sample of the commodities that are usually profitable to recycle include PET plastic (beverage containers), HPDE plastic (laundry detergent and soap containers), rigid polypropylene (bottle caps, some yogurt containers), cardboard and aluminum.

In 2020, three innovations are driving the increased profit potential of recycling in America and the development of a vibrant and growing Circular Economy.

  1. The introduction of robotics and artificial intelligence. The future of the industry will be led by the recycling facilities that produce the highest quality commodity bales of materials. Companies like AMP Robotics have introduced robotics (robots) with artificial intelligence systems that enable the sorting and production of high-quality commodity bales, supply chain tracking and safeguards against contamination that were never before imagined in the industry.
  2. Packaging innovation. We are seeing the emergence and growth of smart refillable packaging systems like Algramo that makes it cheaper and more convenient for consumers to use packaging more than one time.  We are also seeing a growth in packaging that is designed to be recycled for value.  Temperpack, for example, is a packaging technology that uses recycled cardboard to keep packaged food cold, replacing a significant amount of low value plastics like Styrofoam peanuts, which are both not recyclable and a common contaminant in the recycling system.
  3. Advanced plastics recycling technologies, including purification technologies and chemical recycling technologies. Purification is an enzymatic process that improves the quality of recycled plastics so they can more easily be used again in packaging.  P&G invented a technology and helped launch a company, PureCycle Technologies, that will significantly increase the value of recycled plastic by removing color and smells. Chemical recycling is a process whereby plastic is depolymerized back to the base monomer, intermediary or carbon state in order to remanufacture a new plastic. Some plastics, like PET, HDPE and rigid polypropylene have significant value and are very profitable for the recycling industry, but they can degrade after a number of recycling cycles while some other plastics currently have limited value or are challenging to recycle. Chemical recycling has the potential to create an infinite circular economy value loop for all plastics. Some of the leading innovators are backed by major consumer goods companies. In 2020, we expect a number of emerging companies to move from pilot to commercialization phase.

These and other circular advancements are attracting significant private capital from leading investors. The industry saw investments from leading investors across asset classes. Google and Sequoia invested in AMP Robotics, Goldman Sachs is now the largest shareholder in Lakeshore Recycling Systems, Citi is largest investor in rPlanet Earth, a bottle-to-bottle plastics recycling facility in California and SJF Ventures invested in TemperPack.

The emerging leadership demonstrated by a number of retailers and consumer brands is driving the growth of the circular economy and improvements in recycling. Leadership means designing products and packaging that are free of any non-recyclable material and profitable for recycling. These packages are manufactured with recycled content, while reducing raw material inputs. Brands are telling their consumers that their commitment is to use recycled content in their packaging. Leaders are transparent in their progress, reporting in their annual reports the use of different recycled feedstocks. They know that any product or package that is not recyclable is destined for a landfill (or even worse, a river or ocean), and that cost is passed to the taxpayer.

Walmart has developed design for recycling guidelines for their suppliers to ensure the products sold in their stores are recyclable and piloting refillable packaging models.  Unilever’s Seventh Generation Brand uses mostly recycled HDPE plastic in its packaging and recycled paper in its paper products.   And over 10 global companies have invested over $150m in CLP’s investment funds so together we can help spur more innovation and create more tons of recycled feedstock coming through systems in the US.

We are also seeing a major trend amongst consumer goods companies looking to increase their use of recyclable material in the packaging and products they sell. It makes sense. At scale, along with the considerable environmental benefits, it should be less expensive for companies to manufacture using recycled material. That is why most major beverage companies including Coca-Cola, Keurig Dr. Pepper, PepsiCo, Nestle and Danone as well as the world’s largest consumer goods companies such as P&G, Unilever and Colgate Palmolive are publicly communicating aggressive goals for the use of recycled materials in their products and packaging.

For Americans, recycling is a matter of economic self-interest. Recycling our cardboard, paper, beverage bottles, rigid plastics containers, and aluminum cans has three important outcomes. First, it reduces the cost to manufacture the products we buy. Second, it reduces the amount of our taxpayer dollars used every year to pay landfills. Third, it generates revenue for our communities via the sale of recyclable commodities. A recent analysis reported the average cost to dispose of a ton of municipal waste in the US in 2019 was $55 per ton, and disposal fees in some states average more than $100 per ton.

Despite these economic incentives, large parts of the United States still have little or no recycling collection or processing infrastructure. Much of the economic activity generated by recycling is accomplished by long standing recycling programs on the West and East Coast as well as the upper Mid-West of America. For those who live in parts of the country with limited or no recycling infrastructure, their tax dollars are wasted on the cost of sending valuable commodities to landfill that could otherwise be sold. While the 90m tons currently recycled in the United States saves American taxpayers and businesses over $3 billion annually in landfill disposal fees, over 180 million tons of recyclable materials are landfilled, costing American taxpayers and businesses over $5 billion annually in landfills fees. We are literally throwing money in the garbage.

It is also important to recognize how China, which has received much press as of late for their role in the American recycling ecosystem, impacts the industry. For much of the past 20 years, the U.S. recycling industry was dependent on China as the leading export market. As consumption and waste has increased in China, the Chinese government has decided to develop their own domestic recycling infrastructure. This may cause some short-term pain in some parts of the United States’ recycling industry, but leading companies in the recycling industry, consumer goods and packaging industry, as well as a number of investors, see this as an opportunity to further develop and profit from domestic recycling and manufacturing infrastructure.

These are exciting times in the recycling industry as the development of the circular economy continues to expand. Major innovations are entering the industry ranging from robotics to supply chain mapping to advanced technologies that recycle plastics. Like any major industry analysis in the U.S., there is no one or two cities that should be extrapolated to define the industry. There are cities where recycling is profitable and a major economic engine and there are cities where the recycling program is struggling. What is clear is that the cities that focus on limiting contamination in their recycling program, build efficient and effective material recovery facilities and who contract with best in class recycling companies benefit from recycling programs that are both profitable and produce good local jobs.

Leading municipalities, recyclers, manufactures and brands are starting to partner together to establish, and profit from, a circular economy in the United States where goods are continually manufactured using recycled material from local recycling programs. This partnership in developing a circular economy will result in one of the largest investment opportunities in the United States over the next decade, major reduction in landfill disposal fee paid by municipalities, and become a primary driver of job creation in local economies.

We encourage policy makers to build incentives and develop policy to spur the market for recycled content and product and system innovation that reduces waste, creates jobs and makes recycled content competitive with the raw material market.

4 Key Drivers Accelerating Resilient and Circular Supply Chains

By Closed Loop Partners

May 13, 2020

COVID-19 has disrupted inertia around the existing linear system, forcing a re-evaluation of the status quo and highlighting the risks of opaque and global supply chains. The timeframe of transformation is unprecedented, happening in months rather than years. The current circumstances emphasize the need for a transition to a more resilient circular economy. This sentiment was echoed in our webinar this month on Trends in Circular Innovations for Resilient Supply Chains.

Panelists from seemingly unrelated fields: fashion, recycling/technology, and logistics identified four themes that resonate across industries, build resiliency to system shocks, like COVID-19, and propel the circular economy forward: transparency, localization, digitization and automation.

Fast Tracking Transparency

The movement towards a circular economy cannot be accomplished by one actor, one company, or even one industry. Therefore, transparency and collaboration are essential. This means data sharing within and across industries and thoughtful collaborations.

Opaque supply chains prohibit stakeholders from understanding where, how and when ingredients or products are sourced, in transit, at a store or where they go after use. Identifying these gaps creates opportunities to reduce waste and increase efficiencies; all foundational elements of a circular economy.

Ocean freight shipping is a USD 115 billion industry with significant environmental impacts. Reports note that shipping accounts for about 3.1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions annually. Our portfolio company, TradeLanes, is transforming the industry that operates behind the scenes to supply many of our products. They are enhancing transparency by providing an online platform that addresses inefficiencies, digitizing and managing trade execution for bulk shipping of commodities (e.g., meats, grains, paper, plastics).

By digitizing the process, TradeLanes enables greater transparency. Parties are able to ensure timely negotiations, delivery and tracking of products. This reduces unnecessary wastage from mismanaged or spoiled goods and reduces error rates for clients. For exporters still reliant on outdated paper filing systems (a shockingly large proportion of the industry today), COVID-19 is shining a spotlight on how a lack of transparency creates industry-wide problems as critical shipments are delayed, poorly routed or lost amidst the chaos. TradeLanes is just one example of an innovator disrupting an industry through increased transparency in a complex multi-stakeholder process.

From Global to Local

As global supply chains are disrupted and industries experience supply shortages as a result of COVID-19, localization becomes increasingly attractive. By bringing production closer to end markets, supply chains can be more resilient to system shocks. Much like the eat local movement, companies are looking to source, manufacture and produce closer to market.  An ancillary benefit includes a reduced product carbon footprint.  With mounting pressures for greater ESG disclosures from investors, corporates and the public, among others, more companies are recognizing that localizing their supply chains has multifold benefits.

In the United States, the world’s largest apparel market, 97% of clothing is made abroad.  The path of one cotton t-shirt may be thousands of miles, with the cotton grown in India, milled in Mexico and sewn in South Africa. As awareness grows around the carbon footprint and resource intensity of the industry there is a growing movement to lessen the miles traveled. Our portfolio company, The Renewal Workshop, discussed how localization is built into their business model.  Their team helps brands repair and resell clothing, keeping materials that would otherwise be landfilled in play. The Renewal Workshop showcased its agile business model as it was able to quickly source local materials and pivot to respond to the demand for gowns and other personal protective equipment during the pandemic. The team is distributing gowns to hospitals in their home state of Oregon, while continuing to provide repair services for their brand partners.

Automating for Efficiencies

Like other themes enabling the circular economy, automation plays an essential role in creating change. AMP Robotics CEO, Mantanya Horowitz, discusses how his company’s AI and robotics system improves the efficiency of materials recovery facilities (MRF). Their robotics system is rapidly learning to identify material types and “picking” them off the conveyor belts. With the adoption of automated recycling systems, facilities increase the accuracy and purity of sorted recyclables, and thereby improve the economics of the industry.  Furthermore, when system shocks like COVID-19 span industries and require immediate change, like social distancing, robots give businesses the flexibility to adapt and reorient to new circumstances; in doing so, ensuring their employees health and safety. Automation can also enable staff to dedicate time to the most pressing responsibilities.

Doubling Down on Digital

Transparency, localization and automation could not be possible without the digitization of systems.  Digitization closes the gaps in systems by providing accurate and real-time data on the location, availability and condition of materials. With unwavering agreement, our panelists remarked on how systems devoid of digitization are likely to lag in a transition to the circular economy.

As COVID-19 brings the world economy to a sudden and grinding halt, it highlights the existing pain points in our current system. There is no better time to reflect on the fragility of the linear model. Resiliency lies with a transition to the circular economy, an economy that is transparent, local, automated and digital.

4 Companies Addressing Today’s Challenges & Building a Better Future

By Closed Loop Partners

Apr 22, 2020

We interviewed four of our portfolio companies’ CEOs to hear how their circular solutions are addressing COVID-19, how their business models are being impacted and what lies in store for the future. Together, they are championing robust, sustainable systems that help to accelerate our transition to a more resilient circular economy.

AMP Robotics

AMP Robotics: Matanya Horowitz, CEO

AMP is an AI and Robotics company focused on increasing the quantity and quality of sortation processes at recycling facilities.

What are the impacts of COVID-19 on your business today?

Demand for our A.I. sorting technology has significantly accelerated. Our technology directly addresses COVID-19 workplace safety risks, keeping people out of harm’s way, and keeping the public service of recycling going. We’re seeing repeat orders from existing customers and much larger orders from new customers.

How are you keeping people safe while still operating?

As an ‘essential business’, we’ve continued to deploy robots in customer facilities. Logistics are challenging, but we’ve worked closely with our customers to vigilantly adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.

What developments in the recycling industry will accelerate as a result of COVID-19?

Recycling is vital to the supply chain. This is evidenced as producers race to meet demand for packaging, tissue, and medical supplies. Without recycling there wouldn’t be enough raw materials to keep up. We expect infrastructure investment to increase addressing this vulnerability, while further elevating the importance of recycling.

For Days

For Days: Kristy Caylor, CEO

For Days is a direct-to-consumer apparel brand, operating with a fully circular business model.

What does the fashion and apparel industry look like post COVID-19?

Sustainability will be more important than ever before as customers reevaluate their personal priorities and make decisions based both on value and values.   Digital sales will continue to grow and there is a good chance we will all be wearing masks for a while…

What are you doing to help frontline workers today?

Over 4 weeks ago, we pivoted manufacturing to make masks based on requests from front line workers.  We have been both selling and donating masks and total volume has exceeded 70K masks.

How has your business model been impacted? 

We have an authentically optimistic message that is resonating with our community and we are a digitally based business, so that has not changed.  Our branded product is doing really well and the mask project has been a big success.  We’ve seen strong engagement across all channels and will continue spreading the good vibes!

HomeBioGas

HomeBiogas: Oshik Efrati, CEO

HomeBiogas creates modular household anaerobic digester units that convert household food and yard waste into renewable energy and liquid fertilizer.

Where do you see the most need for HomeBiogas systems?

There are 3 billion people around the world who are still cooking on firewood and charcoal, inhaling toxins from the smoke and suffering from indoor air pollution. Having free and clean cooking gas from HomeBiogas systems would drastically improve and extend the lives of these people.

How does HomeBiogas reduce the risk of disease in emerging markets?

Unfortunately, epidemics and natural disasters will always happen. HomeBiogas systems provide families with independent and reliable access to energy, food security, and sanitation. Families that can make their own fuel and food, and have a solution for waste management will be more resilient and prepared to face challenging times.

What is the change that you would like to see in the world post COVID?

I hope that the world, both governments, and private consumers alike, will wake up to our collective need to take better care of our planet. It’s time we widely adopt green technologies and renewable energies that use the resources we already have like, biogas, solar, wind, rain, etc. COVID showed us that it’s also possible to lessen our impact- we are all capable of consuming less and recycling more. Let’s keep going and keep awareness post-COVID as well.

Algramo: José Manuel Moller, CEO

Algramo builds a “smart dispensing system” for CPG products that incentivizes the reuse and refilling of packaging.

What are the impacts of COVID-19 on your business today?

COVID-19 has pushed us to turn our efforts to our delivery system. Our sales in this area have increased since our service allows people to buy essential cleaning products from their homes, reducing any unnecessary exposure to health risks.

How are you keeping people safe while still operating?

We are taking all the necessary measures to take care of our team and our customers. We have protocols in place that promote social distancing and reduce human contact while interacting with our services. Also, we have equipped our sellers with overalls, masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and we clean our tricycles constantly.

What developments in the recycling industry will accelerate as a result of COVID-19?

Recycling services that include home collection are experiencing accelerated growth and so are product refill systems as fewer people touch the containers, therefore reducing the possibility for spreading the virus.

The Journey to Innovate How We Drink on the Go: 2 Years into the NextGen Consortium

By Bridget Croke, Closed Loop Partners

Feb 20, 2020

Reuse Cups

This week, we hit a major milestone nearly two years after we launched the NextGen Consortium, our multi-year journey to solve for the waste associated with to-go cups: four of the winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge are piloting their solutions in cafes in the Bay Area.

After a six-month innovation challenge that identified 12 promising sustainable cup solutions out of hundreds of submissions, the hard work began to help innovators scale their solutions to address the global waste challenge while creating an equal or better customer experience. A six-month Accelerator provided six winning companies with mentorship, networking, and exposure to the end-of-use recovery systems their solutions need to navigate. And this week we are thrilled to start putting some of those cups to the test in the real world.

Two winning reusable cup innovators from the NextGen Cup Challenge — CupClub and Muuse — will start piloting their “smart” cup systems in Palo Alto and San Francisco respectively over the coming weeks. While Muuse is piloting a cup made of stainless steel, CupClub is using a cup made of polypropylene, demonstrating the diversity of material solutions out there. Footprint and PTT MCC Biochem Company Limited will also begin piloting their recyclable and compostable fiber cup solutions this month.

The beginning of this journey in 2018 coincided with a time when the movement to stop waste generated by single-use packaging began to take hold. We launched a Consortium to leverage the power of the world’s biggest food and beverage brands (Starbucks, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, The Coca Cola Company, and Nestlé are all partners in the NextGen Consortium) and to create a market signal to drive scalable solutions for recyclable and compostable cups. And while expanding the recycling of food packaging is still a critical and primary focus of this ambitious endeavor, the dark horse in this race has been reusable and refillable cup systems.

We are seeing a growing demand from consumers and policy makers – and therefore an opportunity for brands – to completely rethink how we deliver products. And eliminating the need for single-use packaging in the first place is part of the suite of tools that can reduce waste and climate impact. From “naked” stores with no packaging to tech-enabled reusable packaging that tracks and recirculates items, sometimes with a consumer incentive, these models are growing. And cups are the next frontier, with a goal of making reusable cups as convenient as single-use. With these emerging cup models, consumers can simply get a cup at the cafe, drop it off at drop spots around the city or return them to the cafe for their next use. Companies like CupClub, Muuse, ReCup and others also work with the cafes and/or offsite washing facilities to collect and sanitize the cups.

Designing reuse models that can work in the complex ecosystems of a Starbucks or McDonald’s and creating an optimal customer experience across the US is no small task. Our testing and pilots over the last year have helped us identify pitfalls that have made past ideas fail. Innovation is a messy, iterative process and often failure leads to learnings, and learnings lead to success. Through the public-facing pilots launching this week, we are testing the cup’s technical feasibility, business model viability, user desirability and circular resiliency, among other things.

Lessons learned from these trials will be shared with NextGen Consortium partners, further honing and testing their systems to bridge the gap between prototyping and in-market testing and broader rollouts.

We see a bright future for pioneers in the reuse revolution like NextGen Cup winners CupClub, Muuse, and ReCup. We are equally excited to watch the innovation flood gates open thanks to the market signal created by the global brands in the NextGen Consortium coming together to find new solutions. We are seeing an unprecedented number of promising market entrants in reusable cup models. While we don’t yet know which models or businesses will be able to meet the operational needs and scale of today’s marketplaces, we know that the NextGen Consortium has been successful at bringing talent to the table. Just as ride-sharing, e-commerce and smart-devices have disrupted legacy business models that had dominated for many years, beverage containers and cups are ripe for the new models that help us improve the drinking experience without the negative consequences of today’s throwaway culture.

To advance the circular economy, we need the space to make and learn from mistakes and to bring together unlikely bedfellows to enable systems change. Today, we are at a tipping point, with an increased sense of urgency to address the global crises of climate change, ocean plastic pollution, and waste. We have the building blocks to scale a solution for cups, and can leverage and build upon the NextGen model to design out waste. First up it’s the cup, but the opportunities for pushing the bounds of sustainable design are endless.

Bringing the NextGen Cup to Life

By Closed Loop Partners

Nov 18, 2019

We interviewed four of our portfolio companies’ CEOs to hear how their circular solutions are addressing COVID-19, how their business models are being impacted and what lies in store for the future. Together, they are championing robust, sustainable systems that help to accelerate our transition to a more resilient circular economy.

AMP Robotics

The NextGen Consortium is working to change the future of beverage consumption. Together, brands, industry experts, and innovators are aiming to bring a waste-free to-go cup to market. With 250 billion fiber to-go cups produced annually, the majority of which end up in landfills today, this is not a small task that one stakeholder can solve alone. And that is the spirit in which the multi-brand NextGen Consortium was formed, launched by Closed Loop Partners in 2018 to advance the design, commercialization, and recovery of sustainable food packaging alternatives.

NextGen Cup is the Consortium’s first initiative, which began with an open call for solutions from around the world to redesign the fiber cup so that it’s fully recoverable at a global scale. Twelve winning teams were selected from the 480 submissions, and six of those teams recently completed an accelerator focused on getting their solutions ready to go to market. The accelerator led to significant progress for each of the teams, as they move along the journey from concept to tangible solution—Accelerator teams have now tested their solutions in a live environment, developed scalable manufacturing plans with 1-3 year rollouts, and have made improvements to their cup design to meet specific circular design criteria.

As we reflect on the learnings of brands, innovators, experts, and designers coming together to tangibly move the needle on a global issue, there are three conditions that have continuously contributed to measurable progress.

AMP Robotics: Matanya Horowitz, CEO

AMP is an AI and Robotics company focused on increasing the quantity and quality of sortation processes at recycling facilities.

What are the impacts of COVID-19 on your business today?

Demand for our A.I. sorting technology has significantly accelerated. Our technology directly addresses COVID-19 workplace safety risks, keeping people out of harm’s way, and keeping the public service of recycling going. We’re seeing repeat orders from existing customers and much larger orders from new customers.

How are you keeping people safe while still operating?

As an ‘essential business’, we’ve continued to deploy robots in customer facilities. Logistics are challenging, but we’ve worked closely with our customers to vigilantly adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.

What developments in the recycling industry will accelerate as a result of COVID-19?

Recycling is vital to the supply chain. This is evidenced as producers race to meet demand for packaging, tissue, and medical supplies. Without recycling there wouldn’t be enough raw materials to keep up. We expect infrastructure investment to increase addressing this vulnerability, while further elevating the importance of recycling.

For Days: Kristy Caylor, CEO

For Days is a direct-to-consumer apparel brand, operating with a fully circular business model.

What does the fashion and apparel industry look like post COVID-19?

Sustainability will be more important than ever before as customers reevaluate their personal priorities and make decisions based both on value and values.   Digital sales will continue to grow and there is a good chance we will all be wearing masks for a while…

What are you doing to help frontline workers today?

Over 4 weeks ago, we pivoted manufacturing to make masks based on requests from front line workers.  We have been both selling and donating masks and total volume has exceeded 70K masks.

How has your business model been impacted? 

We have an authentically optimistic message that is resonating with our community and we are a digitally based business, so that has not changed.  Our branded product is doing really well and the mask project has been a big success.  We’ve seen strong engagement across all channels and will continue spreading the good vibes!

HomeBioGas

HomeBiogas: Oshik Efrati, CEO

HomeBiogas creates modular household anaerobic digester units that convert household food and yard waste into renewable energy and liquid fertilizer.

Where do you see the most need for HomeBiogas systems?

There are 3 billion people around the world who are still cooking on firewood and charcoal, inhaling toxins from the smoke and suffering from indoor air pollution. Having free and clean cooking gas from HomeBiogas systems would drastically improve and extend the lives of these people.

How does HomeBiogas reduce the risk of disease in emerging markets?

Unfortunately, epidemics and natural disasters will always happen. HomeBiogas systems provide families with independent and reliable access to energy, food security, and sanitation. Families that can make their own fuel and food, and have a solution for waste management will be more resilient and prepared to face challenging times.

What is the change that you would like to see in the world post COVID?

I hope that the world, both governments, and private consumers alike, will wake up to our collective need to take better care of our planet. It’s time we widely adopt green technologies and renewable energies that use the resources we already have like, biogas, solar, wind, rain, etc. COVID showed us that it’s also possible to lessen our impact- we are all capable of consuming less and recycling more. Let’s keep going and keep awareness post-COVID as well.

Algramo: José Manuel Moller, CEO

Algramo builds a “smart dispensing system” for CPG products that incentivizes the reuse and refilling of packaging.

What are the impacts of COVID-19 on your business today?

COVID-19 has pushed us to turn our efforts to our delivery system. Our sales in this area have increased since our service allows people to buy essential cleaning products from their homes, reducing any unnecessary exposure to health risks.

How are you keeping people safe while still operating?

We are taking all the necessary measures to take care of our team and our customers. We have protocols in place that promote social distancing and reduce human contact while interacting with our services. Also, we have equipped our sellers with overalls, masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and we clean our tricycles constantly.

What developments in the recycling industry will accelerate as a result of COVID-19?

Recycling services that include home collection are experiencing accelerated growth and so are product refill systems as fewer people touch the containers, therefore reducing the possibility for spreading the virus.

What’s next for the NextGen Cup?

As each of the six teams stepped off the stage during the final accelerator pitch event, the NextGen Consortium entered the next phase of this work: pilot readiness testing.

After the initial prototyping at Google campuses, select teams will now work to increase the size and complexity of their testing locations, looking at universities and offices, among other locations. Additionally, these teams will now begin to prototype alongside select teams from the NextGen Consortium’s “Advanced Solutions Program,” later-stage teams from the NextGen Cup Challenge that did not require the initial accelerator programming. As these teams work to reach market readiness, their greatest need is additional data points that will prove their concept’s ability to operate at scale.

The pilot readiness tests aim to provide much of that data and help setup teams for next steps around scalability. In parallel, the NextGen Consortium will continue its work convening experts and identifying opportunities to align new cup designs and materials with the infrastructure like MRFs, paper mills, and other recyclers that would process them at end-of-use.

From 480 innovative ideas to live prototyping to preparing for pilot readiness and beyond, these next generation cups are paving the way for a waste-free future. These are not solutions that will be ready overnight and require multiple layers of testing and iteration. That’s why NextGen Cup has a multi-stage, multi-year approach to identifying, testing, and scaling sustainable cup solutions to integrate into the global supply chain.

NextGen Cup is designed to both acknowledge the complex journey of the cup, from design through to cup recovery after-use, and accelerate it by de-risking the process in its collective efforts and creating methods for effective prototyping and pilot readiness.

 

The Latest Insights and Analysis from Chris Cui, Director of Asia Programs

By Chris Cui

Chris shares her latest thoughts and takeaways from a recent trip to China where she attended the 14th China International Plastics Recycling Conference & Exhibition and visited a local MRF.

China’s Material Recovery Facilities Are Fast Adapting To A Post National Sword World

We gained valuable market insights from policy makers and market practitioners at the 14th China International Plastics Recycling Conference & Exhibition in September in Shanghai. The discussion focused on how stakeholders across the recycling system should work together to develop a domestic closed-loop ecosystem. This means doubling down on collection, transportation, and reprocessing efforts to enable brands to reach their circularity goals.  It became clear that the Chinese government is determined and committed to supporting the development of the circular economy in the coming years by carrying out the following policies:

  • Implementing a tax to support the recycling industry
  • Creating green standards for recycled plastic and for the production of recycled plastic

 

We saw firsthand the rationale behind these policies that are being considered. Mr. Wang, the Secretary of CRRA, was also quick to note the number of new faces in the room, including brand owners and capital providers, like Closed Loop Partners and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. This helped to send a strong signal to the recycling industry around the business case for the circular economy.

Chris promoting the circular economy to brand owners & the recycling industry in China, Shanghai.

Chris promoting the circular economy to brand owners & the recycling industry in China, Shanghai.

Witnessing The Transformation Of A Traditional MRF Into A Tech Enhanced One

It’s been three months since mandatory trash sorting was enforced in Shanghai and other big cities across China. We visited a local MRF to see how the new laws have impacted business. Tianqiang, led by CEO Mrs. Hu, has transformed its business model from a MRF to an all encompassing solutions provider, adding collection, reprocessing and production capacity.

  • Tianqiang has implemented technology enabled collection services. They have set up café style smart collection centers with digital scales that are linked to real time commodity prices. Residents get paid immediately by cash or credit according to the commodity price on a given day. Also, operators of the MRF are able to see the exact amount of recyclables collected from each transaction and accumulated at each center on a dashboard. This data helps inform the local government’s waste reduction targets for different communities.

Weighing paper recyclables at Tianqiang.

  • Tianqiang is embracing vertical integration. Although their recycled plastic is sold mainly to car and furniture manufacturers, they are also producing their own products such as clothes hangers to sell to retailers. Their recycled paper is being sold directly to the no. 1 and no. 2 paper products manufacturers in China.
  • Tianqiang’s collection centers are rent free, strengthening an earlier point that the Chinese government is supporting the development of local recycling infrastructure, for example by providing free land to encourage private sector growth.

Locals separating and sorting recyclables at Tianqiang.

A Linear Take-Make-Waste Economy Has Prevailed For The Last 50 Years, But The Circular Economy Is Where Value Will Be Created In The 21st Century

This week, we hit a major milestone nearly two years after we launched the NextGen Consortium, our multi-year journey to solve for the waste associated with to-go cups: four of the winners of the NextGen Cup Challenge are piloting their solutions in cafes in the Bay Area.

After a six-month innovation challenge that identified 12 promising sustainable cup solutions out of hundreds of submissions, the hard work began to help innovators scale their solutions to address the global waste challenge while creating an equal or better customer experience. A six-month Accelerator provided six winning companies with mentorship, networking, and exposure to the end-of-use recovery systems their solutions need to navigate. And this week we are thrilled to start putting some of those cups to the test in the real world.

Two winning reusable cup innovators from the NextGen Cup Challenge — CupClub and Muuse — will start piloting their “smart” cup systems in Palo Alto and San Francisco respectively over the coming weeks. While Muuse is piloting a cup made of stainless steel, CupClub is using a cup made of polypropylene, demonstrating the diversity of material solutions out there. Footprint and PTT MCC Biochem Company Limited will also begin piloting their recyclable and compostable fiber cup solutions this month.

The beginning of this journey in 2018 coincided with a time when the movement to stop waste generated by single-use packaging began to take hold. We launched a Consortium to leverage the power of the world’s biggest food and beverage brands (Starbucks, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, The Coca Cola Company, and Nestlé are all partners in the NextGen Consortium) and to create a market signal to drive scalable solutions for recyclable and compostable cups. And while expanding the recycling of food packaging is still a critical and primary focus of this ambitious endeavor, the dark horse in this race has been reusable and refillable cup systems.

We are seeing a growing demand from consumers and policy makers – and therefore an opportunity for brands – to completely rethink how we deliver products. And eliminating the need for single-use packaging in the first place is part of the suite of tools that can reduce waste and climate impact. From “naked” stores with no packaging to tech-enabled reusable packaging that tracks and recirculates items, sometimes with a consumer incentive, these models are growing. And cups are the next frontier, with a goal of making reusable cups as convenient as single-use. With these emerging cup models, consumers can simply get a cup at the cafe, drop it off at drop spots around the city or return them to the cafe for their next use. Companies like CupClub, Muuse, ReCup and others also work with the cafes and/or offsite washing facilities to collect and sanitize the cups.

Designing reuse models that can work in the complex ecosystems of a Starbucks or McDonald’s and creating an optimal customer experience across the US is no small task. Our testing and pilots over the last year have helped us identify pitfalls that have made past ideas fail. Innovation is a messy, iterative process and often failure leads to learnings, and learnings lead to success. Through the public-facing pilots launching this week, we are testing the cup’s technical feasibility, business model viability, user desirability and circular resiliency, among other things.

Lessons learned from these trials will be shared with NextGen Consortium partners, further honing and testing their systems to bridge the gap between prototyping and in-market testing and broader rollouts.

We see a bright future for pioneers in the reuse revolution like NextGen Cup winners CupClub, Muuse, and ReCup. We are equally excited to watch the innovation flood gates open thanks to the market signal created by the global brands in the NextGen Consortium coming together to find new solutions. We are seeing an unprecedented number of promising market entrants in reusable cup models. While we don’t yet know which models or businesses will be able to meet the operational needs and scale of today’s marketplaces, we know that the NextGen Consortium has been successful at bringing talent to the table. Just as ride-sharing, e-commerce and smart-devices have disrupted legacy business models that had dominated for many years, beverage containers and cups are ripe for the new models that help us improve the drinking experience without the negative consequences of today’s throwaway culture.

To advance the circular economy, we need the space to make and learn from mistakes and to bring together unlikely bedfellows to enable systems change. Today, we are at a tipping point, with an increased sense of urgency to address the global crises of climate change, ocean plastic pollution, and waste. We have the building blocks to scale a solution for cups, and can leverage and build upon the NextGen model to design out waste. First up it’s the cup, but the opportunities for pushing the bounds of sustainable design are endless.

Team Spotlight: Allison Shapiro, Executive Director

Allison joined the Closed Loop Partners team this year and is responsible for strategic partnerships, capital formation, and fund structuring at the firm. We sat down with her to hear more about her journey into the circular economy world where profitability and sustainability meet.

I was ready to transition to a role where I could enable systemic change in a work environment where risk-taking was encouraged. I had already decided the circular economy was the right next sector — it was a matter of finding an exciting role that would blend investing, industry influence, and a triple-bottom-line ‘systems thinking’ manner of evaluating problems.

Tell us a little bit about your previous life and what brought you to Closed Loop Partners?

As a college student, I became excited by the possibility of capital markets enabling social and environmental change across national borders. I was a student at Georgetown University’s Foreign Service School studying Science & Technology Policy. I loved everything involved with social and environmental finance: from measuring impacts, to pricing them, to setting up schemes to finance and trade them, all with the goal of finding the most most efficient ways to protect and enable them.

After graduating, I became a carbon markets analyst at a D.C.-based non-profit, studying and reporting on voluntary carbon market trading regimes around the world.  At the time, the economy was booming; there were several cap and trade bills in the U.S. Congress; and a carbon price seemed imminent — we could finally decouple greenhouse gas intensity from economic growth! Alas, the financial crisis happened the following year — and with it, so did the near term prospects for a national carbon price.

So, I returned to school in 2009 to study finance and the business of sustainability at the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute, receiving an MBA and an MS in sustainable systems science.  After graduating in 2012, I joined JPMorgan in a rotational management training program. Following the program, I became a structured finance banker to alternative investment funds, creating custom financing solutions for alternative investment funds. I enjoyed the product development and also the sophistication of my clients. Most interesting of all, I was seconded to JPM’s Sustainable Finance team for part of my last year at JPM to set up two social impact funds.

After these secondments, it became clear that I was ready to transition to a role where I could enable systemic change in a work environment where risk-taking was encouraged. I had already decided the circular economy was the right next sector — it was a matter of finding an exciting role that would blend investing, industry influence, and a triple-bottom-line ‘systems thinking’ manner of evaluating problems.  Having become aware of Closed Loop Partners (CLP) through friends in impact investing two years earlier, the decision to join was an easy one. We’re at a tremendously exciting phase in our platform growth, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

What excites you most about the circular economy?

Two things: the urgency of the waste / conservation problem, and the fact that circular economy solutions make so much sense!  Also, I’ve been obsessed with recycling since college. I even went ‘dumpster diving’ for a month on Georgetown’s campus to try to figure out the right combination of bin siting and labeling that would encourage people to recycle. Yeah, I was cool.

What are you most looking forward to in your role at Closed Loop Partners?

Being able to apply my finance and systems analysis experience to helping Closed Loop Partners grow.  The impact, network, and respect that CLP has built in the recycling, sustainability, and impact investing industries is impressive.