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.
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.
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.