Turning Waste Into A Multi-billion Dollar Industry

A first-of-its-kind report launched by Callaghan Innovation; NZ CleanTech for the World - The New Waste to Value, provides insights into New Zealand's growing CleanTech industry and inspiration to the next wave of innovators by profiling many of the Kiwi businesses and support organisations staking out global niches in this space.

The report explores how Waste to Value (a growing subcategory of CleanTech) has significant potential to grow New Zealand's economy and shows that New Zealand is taking its responsibility as kaitiaki (guardians), seriously.

Callaghan Innovation has set a new and ambitious target to boost New Zealand into the top 10 countries on the Clean Group Innovation Index by 2022 - New Zealand is currently ranked 22nd.

NZ CleanTech refers to New Zealand businesses developing innovative products, processes and services that bring about a stable climate, clean water and smart-resource use, in New Zealand and globally.

Waste to Value involves turning waste streams into income and such innovations can support New Zealand's post-COVID-19 economy recovery.

COVID-19, while being problematic for our economy, also provides a unique opportunity for local innovation to soar.

"There was plenty of Kiwi ingenuity already happening in the CleanTech space, but we expect this to accelerate in a post COVID world," explained James Muir, Callaghan Innovation Business Innovation Advisor, Energy and Environment.

Biological and Industrial Waste Opportunity

The report identified both industrial and biological waste to value as key growth areas, profiling Zincovery, Geo40, Usedfully, Citizen, Frenz Eggs and Ligar/The Refinery as Kiwi companies already seizing opportunities to capture value from biological and industrial waste in new and enhanced products.

One successful example of an Industrial Waste-to-Value business is Kiwi business, Usedfully, who aim to create commercial value from textile waste while reducing environmental impact. Less than 1 percent of clothing is recycled into new clothing which represents a huge loss in value. Textile waste contributes to 10 percent of global CO2 emissions, and 80 percent of our drinking water is contaminated with microplastics, 30 percent of which comes from textile waste.

Usedfully has designed a new circular system for the management of end-of-use clothing and textiles. It enables members’ clothing and uniforms to be added to a database at time of sale, measuring volumes and impacts, then when the clothing is taken out of circulation, reprocessors can be contacted so they can turn it into new products.

"The key is taking these innovations from an idea through R&D and market validation, all the way to the global stage. Our report clearly shows collaboration between government agencies, private sector organisations, investors and innovators is essential to create pathways for successful innovation."

Smarter resource use could contribute billions of dollars to New Zealand’s economy. One study by Sapere Research Group found that if Auckland alone converted to a circular economy, up to $8.8billion could be liberated in additional economic activity.

Around half of Callaghan Innovation’s CleanTech businesses are still in the early stage,  just over a quarter are expanding, and another quarter are established. A very promising sign is that venture capital (VC) investment in ClimateTech globally is growing five times faster than overall VC investment, and three times faster than AI, according to PWC’s report ‘The State of Climate Tech’.

"New Zealand's small scale, R&D expertise in niche areas and environmental challenges make us an ideal CleanTech launch pad,” said Muir.

"Kiwi CleanTech businesses on the world stage are becoming catalysts for local activity. We need to focus on encouraging investment, developing support and commercialisation capability in Waste to Value going forward."