Global waste levels are rising, and the US leads the world in terms of municipal solid waste (MSW) generation. With conventional waste management leading to swelling landfills and sustainable development and climate change goals promoting a more circular economy, technology has a strong role to play in improving the waste management and recovery process as well as boosting recycling rates. Several startups are developing smart methods using sensors, robots, IoT, AI, and innovative recycling technologies to collect and track waste, identify recyclables, and improve recycling rates. Startups attempting to create a business out of waste are in high demand from municipalities and companies across the country.
Increased demand for smart waste sorting and trash pickup methods:
AMP Robotics witnessed a growing demand for its waste sorting robotics system during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Recycled Track System expanded its services in early 2021 to three cities in the Northeast, Midwest, and Western US regions, witnessing significant revenue growth from its municipal business operations during the pandemic.
Pandemic-led new product launches:
Yardbird launched an entirely online model to sell its recycled furniture amid the lockdown in March 2020.
Rubicon introduced the Second Life Solution for personal protective equipment (PPE) in July 2020 to resolve the threat of an increasing amount of discarded PPE.
Recycling startups account for more than half of waste recovery and management industry startups. The majority of these companies focus on recycling plastic, textiles, and electronic waste, aiming to keep the waste out of landfills by giving it a second life. Additionally, these players have attracted the most funding.
The recycling segment is followed by waste monitoring startups that primarily use sensor-based technology and operate a cloud-based platform to allow residents and businesses to manage their waste levels and build an efficient trash pickup system. Lastly, around one-sixth of startups focus on waste sorting, using robotic and AI- based technology to sort and identify recyclables.
More than two-thirds of the startups across all of these segments are at the early or growth stages of technology development and customer acquisition.
More than half of the startups in the waste recovery and management industry focus on recycling with a focus on textile and plastics. Most of these companies are in the early or growth stages and use commercialized technology that enables them to recycle waste into materials that are suitable for secondary use. These companies are relatively well funded and experiencing high demand for their unique proprietary technologies. These startups are also actively pursuing customer partnerships with established companies such as Panasonic, H&M, and Ralph Lauren, to strengthen their market presence.
A smaller number of startups focusing on waste monitoring and sorting solutions have also reached the early and growth stages. These companies mainly target municipalities, Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs), and commercial businesses to deploy their solutions for improving the waste collection and sorting process. These startups are crucial for identifying recyclables and in turn improving recycling rates overall.
Based in Georgia, Rubicon connects local waste haulers and recycling businesses with customers via its cloud-based mobile and web application and provides recycling management services to the government, businesses, and individuals. The company’s mobile application allows on-demand pickup of trash. Moreover, its cloud-based software analyzes customers’ waste stream and uses the data it has collected on haulers (via its fleet management service and uber-type service) and clients, to provide possible recycling solutions.
Rubicon’s services and solutions are primarily subscription based, and it expects subscriptions to comprise more than 50% of its revenue through 2025. One of the company’s product solutions, RubiconSmartCity (which was developed to help city governments with waste and recycling operations), was rolled out in over 55 cities in the US. This is available on the AWS marketplace. The solution is priced at a flat fee of USD 202,812 for 36 months. In 2020, Rubicon generated revenue of over USD 500 million.
As of December 2021, the company’s network included around 8,000 vendor and hauler partners (of which 90% are small, independent businesses), with more than 8 million service locations across 50 states in the US and across 20 other countries (including Canada, Puerto Rico). Leading brands such as Seven Eleven, Sweet Green, Wegman, David’s Bridal , Walmart, Starbucks, FedEx, and the US city governments (including Kansas, Missouri, Baltimore) are using the company’s solutions. In 2019, Rubicon partnered with peer Terra Cyle (one of the leading recycling players) to offer the latter’s products as a part of Rubicon’s ecommerce marketplace.
Rubicon acquired three companies in 2018 to strengthen their waste brokerage services: Computerised Waste Services (provides waste, recycling, brokerage, and management services), WestRock Waste Services Division (operates its own recycling facilities and paper mills), and RiverRoad waste solution (a New Jersey waste and recycling company).
During the pandemic, in July 2020, Rubicon introduced a PPE Second Life Solution in an attempt to resolve the threat of an increasing amount of discarded personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition to the back-of-house collection, where Rubicon will pick up PPE materials from businesses, the solution also offered a public-use-mail-in-program where participants can use Rubicon’s collection boxes and send via UPS or FedEx to Rubicon for waste management.
In December 2021, the company announced that it will merge with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) “Founder SPAC” to go public on the NYSE. The transaction will provide Rubicon with USD 432 million in gross proceeds and will value the combined company at USD 2 billion. The deal is expected to close in Q2 2022.
The company has raised USD 222.7 million in funding to date. The company’s last round of funding was in 2018, raising a total of USD 76.6 million.
Startups in the industry primarily face competition from established general waste management service providers, which have started adopting sensor and recycling technologies via in-house innovations to recover and manage waste. This includes traditional waste management leaders such as Waste Management and Republic Services, together capturing more than half the waste management market share in the US, and further increasing their presence in the traditional space through mergers. Additionally, the industry hosts waste management players that pioneered the transition to smart waste monitoring and recycling technologies, such as Contelligent and Umicore, which have a strong presence in smart waste collection (using sensors) and recycling (electronic waste [e-waste]) methods.
In the meantime, large companies across various industries are also entering the space by focusing mainly on improving recycling rates. This includes companies such as Dell, Ford, Danone, H&M, and SC Johnson. These companies are partnering with or investing in startups to support their efforts in giving waste a second life.
Investments / Grants
Republic Services is the second-largest solid waste disposal and recycling leader in the US. The company operates a streamlined waste packaging, storage, shipment, and disposal process. It uses technology developed in-house and partners with smart waste management companies like Contelligent (a US waste monitoring software solution provider) to organize its waste collection process.
In 2015, Republic Services introduced an app and an online account for customers to organize their waste collection needs. As of May 2021, the app and account were used by 2.4 million customers. In 2018, to improve operational efficiencies, the company introduced a communication platform connecting drivers. Additionally, the company launched its RISE platform in 2020 to allow real-time communication between customers and drivers to optimize pickup routes. As of March 2021, the company claims to have efficiently managed 10,500 routes via its platform. Apart from these technological solutions, Republic Services offers expert opinions to industries seeking efficient ways to dispose of their waste.
Though the company generates the majority of its revenue from waste collection services (75% as of March 2021), it also provides recycling solutions for municipal solid waste (MSW) through in-house product offerings. The company’s data showed a significant increase in the recycling of cardboard boxes, aluminum cans, and plastic and glass bottles during 2020, given the rise in online orders during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In August 2020, Republic Services partnered with Nikola Corp. to develop and purchase 2,500 electric waste recycling collection trucks to accelerate zero-emission waste management. In April 2021, Republic Services announced that it would build its first organics pre-processing facility in Northern California to keep food and yard waste away from landfills as stipulated by the state’s new law.
No investor data is available