Water and waste management: 4 solutions offered by startups

By Early Metrics Team - 07 November 2022

Every day, 2 billion litres of wastewater are dumped into rivers or seas. This amounts to 23,000 litres of water per second. Most of this water is untreated and directly released without being cleaned. In emerging and developing countries, 90% of wastewater is discharged into the environment without any treatment. The health and environmental damage that results from this is highly problematic.

According to WWF, all rivers in Europe are polluted (25% extremely so). This pollution can be linked to agriculture or industrial sectors, in addition to domestic wastewater that is more or less well treated. The world population naturally discharges an estimated 11 million tonnes of waste per day, including organic matter, nitrogen, heavy metals and oxidisable materials. According to the WHO, 3.1% of deaths in the world are linked to poor water quality. Wastewater treatment is therefore a key issue for all countries from a health and environmental point of view.

Startups are therefore providing new ways to better handle water and waste management. Here are the technologies they are putting in place to reuse wastewater, purify it and transform our organic waste so that it no longer ends up in our rivers.

4 solutions for better water and waste management

Reuse of domestic grey water

The average toilet tank has a capacity of 9 litres. Every time the toilet is flushed, several litres of drinking water are wasted. But the water doesn’t have to be drinkable for this type of use.

The American startup Epic Cleantec has come up with a solution to this problem. It offers a way to recycle grey water (domestic water with little pollution) in order to give it a new use. Grey water, once recycled, can be used for toilet water, washing machines or even garden or park irrigation. According to the startup’s promise, a household or business can expect to reduce its water consumption by 50%. Other startups, such as Hydraloop, are also developing this process of reclaiming grey water to give it a new purpose.

Water purification with filtration membranes

Each year, industrial facilities in the United States discharge 255 billion gallons of wastewater into public waterways. Once used by industrials, this water is treated chemically, physically or biologically because it cannot be discharged directly into the sewer system. However, it is not pure enough to be reused. In France, the industry that discharges the most wastewater is the chemical industry, followed by nuclear power plants, which need large quantities of water to cool their reactors.

Aware of this problem and the environmental issues involved, the American startup ZwitterCo has developed a membrane based on zwitterionic polymers that can filter wastewater and reuse it for industrial purposes. The device reduces water consumption and thus saves money. It can recycle up to 10 million gallons per year.

Converting organic waste into biofuel

According to ADEME, 165 kilos of biowaste are emitted per person per year in France. Most of this waste is incinerated or thrown into rivers. Given that biowaste is mainly composed of water (between 60 and 90%), incineration is a major energy expense. It would be better to opt for recovery solutions.

This is the choice made by BinHappy, a French startup that assists professionals in sorting, collecting and recovering their biowaste into biogas or compost. The startup works with restaurants, companies, school and hospital restaurants, nursing homes and local authorities.

Once collected, the waste is transformed into compost or biogas that can be used to produce heat or electricity. The startup uses two processes to convert bio-waste: methanisation or composting. By methanisation, one tonne of biowaste produces 150m3 of biogas on average, which then allows the production of 728kWh. By composting, one tonne of biowaste produces 500 to 600 kg of compost.

The Israeli startup HomeBiogas has developed a solution for individuals. It sells inflatable modules to be installed directly in gardens that transform organic waste using a bacterial system. Once digested by the bacteria, a biogas is formed that can be reused as a source of heat or energy. In addition to this biogas, the bacteria also form a fertiliser that can be used directly in home gardens.

Turning waste into materials

Plastic is one of the most common types of waste in the seas and oceans. Every year, 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean according to WWF. This pollution then finds its way into the food we eat. A study by Newcastle University estimates that we ingest 5g of plastic every week, the equivalent of a credit card. It’s clear today that plastic is no longer the material of the future we once thought it was.

In fact, this type of material takes several hundred years to disappear naturally. As a result, many startups seek to use this waste in order to create new materials. For example, MarinaTex has taken up the challenge of making biodegradable plastic from fish remains. According to a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, 50 million tonnes of fish are wasted every year. This process has a double benefit: it makes it possible to recycle waste that was previously unused, and it makes a more eco-friendly material.

Another example is the French startup Eco’ring, which develops raw materials for foundries from waste containing graphite, silicon and metals such as carbon, silicon and iron. Since its creation in 2013, the company has recovered more than 10,000 tonnes of industrial waste, including more than 1,000 tonnes of alkaline and salt batteries.

Growth of the water and waste management market

In conclusion, water and waste management is a significant issue that still requires considerable effort. A growing number of startups are therefore choosing to develop new technologies and processes to reduce this sector’s environmental impact. From the reuse and filtration of wastewater to the transformation of organic waste into fuel or plastic, the startup ecosystem has developed promising solutions.

This market has been valued at $14.3 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow at 14.2% per year to 2031, reaching a forecast $53.6 billion. As for water treatment startups, $470 million was raised in 2021.

For a long time investors considered this sector as unattractive. However, they now increasingly understand the importance of these solutions for the future of our planet. In recent news, Olea Edge Analytics became the first “half unicorn” in the sector in 2021 by reaching a valuation of $500m following a $105m investment by the Gradiant Corporation fund. Overall, startups are clearly increasingly seen as a useful tool to help push progress forward for better water and waste management.

Written by Guillaume Weber, VC Analyst at Early Metrics and translated by Julie Durban.

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