Finland, and especially the capital region of Helsinki, is becoming a fertile ground for circular economy companies.
There are already hundreds of circular economy brands and products that are being developed in the happiest country in the world. And, it’s no wonder Finland is an ideal place to set up a circular economy business. Why do you ask? For starters:
- Finland was the 1st country in the world to create a circular economy roadmap
- Ranks #1 as the most environmentally healthy country in the world
- We’ve got the most sustainable city in all of Europe
- We rank #1 in bio-based circular economy
- We also rank #1 in wood cellulose-based fibres
- And #1 in battery recycling in the EU
All that said, rankings don’t mean much to businesses setting up camp in Finland if they don’t have the resources, connections, and government support. But that’s just it; circular economy businesses are thriving here because of the country’s commitment and government support to reach carbon neutrality and transform its economy into a circular one by 2035.
Finland’s circular economy roadmap and Helsinki’s own roadmap are paving the way for new sustainable business all across the globe. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most interesting and fastest-growing circular economy products and services in Finland. We even had a chance to interview one of the companies to get more insight. We hope the list inspires you!
Pioneers in circular textiles
The environmental impact of fast fashion is becoming a significant and rapid problem. With fast fashion, clothing has about a one-year lifespan before it ends up in a landfill. As the need to move away from that trend grows, sustainable fashion is on the rise. Finland has a long and successful history in textile manufacturing and design, and these companies are pioneering the way for a new kind of fashion.
Infinite Fiber technology turns trash that would otherwise be landfilled or burned into something truly valuable – a circular, new, premium textile fibre that reduces the world’s reliance on virgin raw materials. Fashion giants like H&M, Patagonia, and Wrangler are already partnering up with Infinite Fiber and using their trademarked superfibre, Infinna™.
Touchpoint turns textile and plastic waste into sustainable workwear. Finland alone produces more than 70 million kilograms of waste textiles each year. Textile waste can’t be reused if it goes straight to an incinerator. To make matters worse, workwear is often made from polyester, which is a plastic that has a very low recycling rate. Touchpoint provides its customers with the opportunity to turn waste into raw material. The company is constantly seeking new ways of using the textiles its customers throw away.
Spinnova created a new sustainable material made of wood without harmful chemicals. Inspired by how spiders weave their webs, Spinnova takes cellulose, nature’s most brilliant building material, and aligns it in an optimal way. The result—a strong, elastic fibre filament. Fashion brands like Marimekko, Fashion FWD, and H&M Group have partnered with Spinnova.
Ioncell is a technology that turns used textiles, pulp, or even old newspapers into new textile fibres sustainably and without harmful chemicals. It is an environmentally friendly alternative to water-intensive cotton production. In addition, the process may revolutionise the reusing and recycling of textile waste, as waste cotton can get a new life as high-quality luxury fibres. Ioncell® is first and foremost a research project developed at Aalto University in collaboration with the University of Helsinki and they have been developing the Ioncell® technology for nearly ten years.
Rens started as a conversation between two sneakerheads about the environmental impacts of the global sneaker industry and the less-than-stylish sustainable options on the market. Founders Jesse Tran and Son Chu, both originally from Vietnam, set out to harness the power of waste — putting 21 cups of coffee and six plastic bottles into every pair of Rens. In August 2019, Rens completed the all-time most successful Kickstarter campaign in Finland, as well as the most successful fashion crowdfunding launch in the Nordics.
Innovations in circular packaging and new materials
Sulapac innovated a sustainable alternative to conventional plastic made of biodegradable plant-based binders and wood. A truly unique feature of Sulapac is that the materials can be processed using existing plastics machinery. This enables large-scale production without significant investments in new machinery and makes sustainability an easy choice. There are limitless possibilities with Sulapac, and many companies are already using their line of biodegradable packaging for products such as cosmetics, food, and jewelry. Sulapac has also won several sustainability awards and is backed by big brands such as Chanel.
We had the chance to chat with Antti Valtonen, CMO at Sulapac, to dive a bit deeper into the ethos of Sulapac.
What is Sulapac’s vision in the circular economy space?
Our mission is to save the world from plastic waste. Our ultimate vision is to become the new standard for sustainable materials replacing conventional plastics.
A circular economy is essentially about the 4 R’s: recycling, reusing, reducing, and replacing. While recycling is a very hot and important topic, recycling alone won’t solve our environmental challenges. Sulapac is a solution that tackles the replacement and reduction of plastic pollution parts of the puzzle.
What is Sulapac all about?
Sulapac is really about mimicking nature. All of our products are designed like nature because nature knows best. When it comes to our products, we have three pillars that we stand by:
- Beautiful: All of our materials and products need to be beautiful because we believe it adds value to our customers—and they feel that this is something unique.
- Functional: We don’t want to make compromises on the user experience. If you take our straws, for example, they don’t get soggy like paper straws.
- Sustainable: We think about sustainability throughout the entire value chain. That means taking into consideration how the raw materials are sourced and how the manufacturing is done as well as the end of the product lifecycle.
Why is this important? If you have a bad experience buying your first sustainable product, you probably won’t go back to buy one again. It needs to stand out, it needs to work well, and of course, it needs to be sustainable.
What makes Sulapac unique?
Sulapac is a drop-in solution that can leverage existing machinery. You don’t have to invest or build your own factory to do it.
What advice do you have for other companies looking to start a circular economy business in Finland?
Finland is a really great platform to start a circular economy business. The atmosphere is really positive and supportive of new innovations. Because we have such a big forestry industry here, it’s an exceptional place to start something with new materials.
Paptic is on a mission to combat the global problem of plastic waste and microplastics. Paptic manufactures new bio-based material from cellulose that can be used as raw material. Bags and packaging made from Paptic’s material are recyclable and biodegradable, and they can be manufactured with existing paper machines after some modification. The two largest department stores in Finland—Sokos and Stockmann—are already using Paptic for their shopping bags.
Woodio designed the world’s first 100% waterproof solid wood composite made from real wood chips—with a minimal carbon footprint. The ceramic industry is among the most polluting industries globally, and Woodio realised there was an opportunity and need to improve the bathroom industry. The Woodio material innovation was inspired by making more sustainable wooden bathroom tiles, and today they have a line of bathroom sinks, bathtubs, and other bathroom accessories.
ExpandFibre is an R&D collaboration and an ecosystem launched by Fortum and Metsä Group to accelerate the development of sustainable bioproducts. It focuses on upgrading pulp fibres, hemicellulose, and lignin from renewable and sustainable sources of straw and northern wood into new bioproducts. Its mission is to meet the growing demands for sustainable textile fibres and other added value biomaterials.
RePack brands themselves as “reuse as a service.” They’ve developed a new way of packaging, where you only pay for the use, not ownership. With reuse as a service, e-commerce companies can share their packaging with a pool of webstores. RePack helps over 150 apparel brands and retailers to move away from single-use packaging.
Palpa is a deposit-based recycling system for drinks packaging. The development of a bottle return system began in Finland with the arrival of Coca-Cola bottles at the 1952 Olympic Games. Today, Finland has the world’s best bottle deposit and return system – thanks to the model administered by Palpa. The system is based on a fee that is returned to the consumer when they return a bottle or other drink packaging. In Finland, the recycling rate of aluminium cans is a whopping 96%.
ZenRobotics is a global leader in smart robotic recycling and the first company to apply AI-based sorting robots to a complex waste-sorting environment. Their robots, powered by our very own AI software, make recycling more efficient, accurate and profitable.
Molok offers municipal waste management companies recycling points for areas made up of larger detached houses. Instead of collecting mixed waste only, Molok’s neighbourhood collection allows residents to collect up to eight types of waste in a common collection point. With the help of Molok’s neighbourhood collection containers, the recycling rate in areas of detached housing can even be doubled from about 25% to 50%.
Netlet is an online shop that gives new life to surplus materials from construction sites. Netlet’s collection and sales service reduces the waste expenses of construction companies and makes lower-cost building materials available to renovators.
Hävikkimestari reduces food waste from catering service providers. Mass catering facilities produce a lot of food waste. The Hävikkimestari application by Lassila & Tikanoja helps to reduce it, which means lower raw material costs, less time spent on redundant tasks, and lower biowaste charges.
Products as a Service
3 Step IT leases office equipment to over 4000 organisations and manages nearly 2 million IT devices. After the leasing period, they refurbish and resells the used equipment. 97% of returned equipment finds a new home. The remaining 3% is usually faulty or broken equipment and is responsibly recycled.
MaaS Global is the world’s first true Mobility as a Service operator. Their award-winning Whim app gives its users all city transport services in one step, letting them journey where and when they want with public transport, taxis, bikes, cars, and other options, all under a single subscription.
Sharetribe dubbed the “platform of platforms,” Sharetribe allows companies or private individuals to create an online marketplace without needing any coding skills. This promotes the use of resources in the spirit of the sharing economy.
Naava offers “nature and healthy indoor air as a service.” Their intelligent green walls purify and humidify the air, while the company takes care of the maintenance through their automated system.
Combi Works provides “Factory as a Service” through a digital sharing platform (AirFaass SCM platform). Their mission is to combine manufacturing with the digital world by bringing together those that own production capacity and those that need it.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you’d like to discover more circular economy companies, check out our friends at Sitra’s comprehensive list featuring 100 circular economy companies in Finland.
If you’re interested in starting, expanding, or investing in a circular economy business, check out our handy guide that we put together “Circular Economy in Helsinki.”
To learn more about how why Helsinki is the ideal location to set up your circular economy business, check out this comprehensive guide we put together: Circular Economy in Helsinki Guide (2021 edition).
Writer: Audrey Agahan