Building a national circular supply chain platform – ReCircle’s ClimaOne platform in India

In May 2021, GSMA launched the GSMA Innovation Fund for Digital Urban Services with support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). The fund was open to start-ups and early-stage companies providing essential urban utility services who leverage digital innovations to make these services more accessible, reliable, sustainable and affordable. Successful organisations were awarded between £100,000 and £250,000 in grant funding and were provided with technical assistance. Pitches were received from 335 organisations in 43 countries across Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia, and from these, a cohort of nine organisations were selected. This blog series summarises the key learnings from the grant period.

ReCircle is building a digital platform that aggregates the collection and processing of plastic waste to sell EPR credits to businesses. Their tech-enabled platform, ClimaOne, addresses existing challenges in the industry by building a unified, transparent platform that provides real-time tracking, backed by data analytics, and simplifies reporting and compliance.

ReCircle partner with local waste collectors to collect, sort and pre-process recovered materials, after which the material is channelled to authorised recyclers/processors (see below for details). ReCircle currently operate their own collection, sorting, and material recovery facilities in Mumbai, and have partnerships covering over 270 waste recovery sites across India.

Diagram illustrating a circular supply chain for ethical, traceable plastic materials. Businesses buy plastic credits. L2 Collection Partner collects and segregates materials. Waste Processor purchases materials for recycling, creates credits, and returns to businesses.

In India, low-value and hard to recycle plastics—such as food packets, sachets and wrappers—are usually dumped in landfills as there is no, or very limited, value attached to collecting and processing this waste. Extended Producer Responsibility (ERP) rules for plastics were first introduced in India in 2016, requiring medium- to large-sized companies to recover the waste they produce. In the early days of this policy, compliance and enforcement were challenging, due to a lack of mechanisms for tracking and reporting on waste. In 2022, the Government of India moved to tighten the legislation as well as ban some single-use plastics. The changes in the regulations put a much greater emphasis on the tracking of waste, with companies required to register digitally via the Central Pollution Control Board’s online portal before importing or manufacturing plastics. This was much needed as between the period 2016-2020, India’s plastic consumption increased from roughly 14 to 20 million tonnes, a compound annual growth rate of 10%.

Purpose of the grant and key outcomes

The GSMA supported ReCircle to develop and launch their ClimaOne platform, which provides end-to-end traceability for plastic credits for businesses to track all plastic material collected on their behalf and close the loop by providing EPR plastic credits.​ The platform allows large plastic producers to take control of their sustainability targets at the click of a button and comply with India’s EPR laws. ClimaOne was successfully launched in June 2023, and has scaled rapidly since.

The key grant outcomes cover the scaling of ReCircles solution, the partnerships that have enabled this, the beneficial impacts on the waste pickers working with ReCircle, and ultimately the amount of waste diverted to productive uses.  

  • ReCircle’s scaling was much quicker than anticipated, with the revenue targets set in the grant exceeded by x50, attributed to high demand from the tightening EPR legislation. Over the course of the grant period, ReCircle onboarded 23 business clients to purchase credits to meet their EPR requirements; this has since increased to 32, including major brands such as Hindustan Unilever, Dabur, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, and Nestlé.
  • In 2022-2023, ReCircle diverted 78,498 metric tons of waste from landfills and turned it into a resource. ReCircle now work across 270 cities and towns in India, with the help of over 45 processing partners, 400 collection partners and working with over 3,100 informal waste workers (Safai Saathis).
  • The median monthly income range of the Safai Saathis (waste pickers) working at ReCircle’s material recovery facilities increased from Rs 5,001 – 10,000 to Rs 10,001 – 25,000. At grant closure, 80% of the workforce surveyed reported an enhancement in their quality of life after working with ReCircle.
  • In recognition of their contribution to the waste management sector, co-founders Rahul Nainani and Gurashish Singh Sahni were both named in Fortune India’s 40 under 40 list for 2024.
  • In 2022, ReCircle was recognised as one of the Top 30 Start-ups by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) at the Swachhata Startup Challenge.
  • At the end of 2023, and following the successful launch of ClimaOne, ReCircle closed a seed funding round with backing from Flipkart Ventures, Acumen, and 3i Partners.
Two women wearing blue uniforms and face masks are sorting through garbage on a conveyor belt under a covered structure. One woman holds a green plastic bottle. Various types of waste are scattered on the belt. The background includes metal walls and equipment.

Key learnings from the grant

  • The Indian EPR legislation has become central to their business model, as the sale of credits linked to EPR compliance now accounts for the majority of their revenues. Over the course of the grant, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) released updated EPR guidelines, which included a pivot to a credit-based model for accounting for plastic produced or used in their products. This tighter legislation was market-making in that it created much more, and more reliable, demand for the credits based on plastics being responsibly recycled.
  • ReCircle pivoted to focus on the B2B element of their business model. ReCircle run their own waste collection and processing operation in Mumbai, but have chosen not to scale this element of their business, focusing instead on being the tech enabler for others in the ecosystem. Currently this is centered on ClimaOne and traceability, but ReCircle also have plans to develop a B2B2C offering whereby direct to consumer brands and platforms can, via an API, offer a ReCircle authenticated plastic offset for when customers buy plastic packaging.
  • ReCircle were able to channel a large proportion of the credit sale price to the partners and waste pickers, and this was central to incentivising their continued engagement. As their model rests on the partnership and the continued engagement of Safia Saathis, ReCircle return about 75% of the credit sale price to the workers and processing partners.
  • In a recent upgrade, ReCircles MRF in Mumbai underwent upgrades, including the installation of a conveyor system. The integration of this conveyor has led to a substantial increase in processing capacity from 5 to 8 metric tonnes per day.
Three workers wearing masks and gloves are sorting and handling large white bags filled with materials in a warehouse-like facility. Green curtains hang along the sides, and an opening in the background provides natural light.

Looking forwards

Recircle are now looking to expand their offering to enable traceability post-recycling to the level of how the recycled materials are used in new products. This would enable the strengthening of claims made surrounding packaging containing recycled materials and would give consumers a new level of certainty into where their packaging comes from. Alongside this Recircle are also looking beyond the Indian ERP market to international organisations seeking plastic credits, and to introduce recycled materials into their supply chain. Beyond plastics, Recircle are also exploring how their solution can be delivered in other waste streams, most notably the textiles industry.

A new GSMA report on circular economy solutions

The GSMA recently published Making Circularity Work: How digital innovation enables circular economy approaches in waste management’. This report takes stock of how and where digital innovation supports circular economy models in waste management. It presents insights from Soso Care’s experience alongside others from the recently completed GSMA Innovation Fund for Digital Urban Services, as well as insights from other start-ups from across the ecosystem. While global recycling and reuse rates remain grimly low, and waste volume is outstripping population growth by a factor of two, the report highlights some key positive trends supporting circularity. There is growing momentum behind national and global policy change governing waste. In many cases, these changes are market-making for those working towards circular economy approaches. Demand for secondary materials in manufacturing is also rising, particularly those from e-waste in response to the limited global supply of critical inputs. That the waste sector is such a significant source of emissions presents the opportunity for mitigation, and for access to climate finance. Lastly, start-ups working in the waste sector are increasingly being viewed favourably by investors, with series raises in the tens of millions being increasingly common.   

This initiative is currently funded by UK International Development from the UK government and is supported by the GSMA and its members.
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