Circularity Champions in Spain, 5 startups pushing a circular economy

Updated: Sep 14

While writing this I am looking at a glass vase I bought a few days ago. It makes me so happy and inspired just to look at it and to touch it. Sure, it's nice looking but not exceptionally beautiful. It cost €12 euros and was made in Spain. The Wow factor? 100% recycled glass.


From the top left: Patricia Astrain, recircular, Carlos Uraga, Nantek, Amaia Rodríguez Sola & Julen Rodriguez, Gravity Wave, Nuria Escudero Perez, PackBenefit, Paula Sánchez Collado, Cocircular.

"No one can do everything but everyone can do something"


Just like you I have been bombarded with loom and gloom messages about the energy crisis this summer, while spending time in both Sweden and in Spain. It's for real. I recognize that.


In Spain, there have been multiple heat waves since early June while urging people to reduce usage of air conditioning. In Sweden, the temperature was pleasant but the concern about how to keep your home warm during the winter months, is already on everyone's lips.


Instead of playing the blame game, we can turn on a more conscious mindset of our daily habits that waste more resources than most of us are aware of. Personally, I get a cold from air conditioning and prefer to use a portable fan anyway. I also love to walk everywhere and don't own a car. BUT those tweaks are not for everyone.


With some creativity we can all start by improving our collective habits with just 1% every day and increasingly challenge ourselves on ways to reduce, reuse and recycle. These Spanish startups are helping us do just that, pushing a circular economy.


Patricia Astrain, founder & CEO, recircular

Patricia Astrain, Founder & CEO, recircular (LinkedIn profile image)

Patricia Astrain is the founder and CEO of recircular based in the Basque Country. This Spanish startup claims to be the first digital B2B marketplace in Spain for waste, by-products or excess production, making it possible to resell what is waste for one company as valued raw material for another company.


The message to the seller on their marketplace is that it's possible to enter information about any type of waste, by-product or excess production, then an algorithm will suggest potential companies that could make use of these items and give them second lives.


From studies in Chemical Engineering, getting her masters degree in Refining, Gas and Marketing, she worked at a refinery in Spain and then as a factory manager in China, before returning to Spain again to start recircular.


"I have been devoted to recircular and the circular economy for more than 5 years now and our focus at recircular is to help companies get value (economic, environmental and social) out of their waste and other resources", she tells me.


At the time of writing, she just announced that recircular was selected to join the next Google for Startups Growth Academy: Sustainability program in Spain. Congratulations!


Carlos Uraga, CEO & Founder, Nantek

Carlos Uraga, CEO & Founder, Nantek (LinkedIn profile image)

Based in the Basque country, Nantek has developed a technology capable of turning plastic waste into fuel. Through a thermochemical process, based on nanoelements and a specific machinery, plastic residue is transformed into fuel and certain petrochemicals.


The seeds for the company started to sprout in his mind at the end of his studies as an industrial engineer. Now, four years later, production is about to get real.


"Our first production unit has been installed in the Port of Bilbao, this milestone has been key, and the next step is to convert it into a production plant of (transforming) up to 25,000 tons of plastic annually", he specifies in this interview in Spanish, June 2022. (translated)


Making this dream possible is a team of engineers and technical profiles. "From doctors in chemistry to more financial profiles, but all technical profiles, from the operations of the machinery to the design of reactions and prototyping", he comments in the same interview.


Production is set to start in 2023 (no more exact date is provided) and the ambitious plan is to expand rapidly in Europe and in the US.


Paula Sánchez Collado, Co-Founder & CEO, Cocircular

Paula Sánchez Collado, Co-Founder & CEO, Cocircular (LinkedIn profile image)

Based in Valencia, Paula Sánchez Collado, co-founder and CEO of Cocircular, together with her team, are on a mission to prevent construction waste from ending up in a landfill.


"Because in Spain, 45 million Tn is generated per year in construction waste alone, and this represents more than 30% of the total waste generated in any country. And that's 86,400 Tn of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere", she states.


Paula Sánchez Collado has worked for more than 15 years in management positions in the construction/real estate sector and is trained in Technical Architecture with an MBA in Business Management. She has also worked in India for several years which she says greatly impacted her in starting this venture back in November of 2018.


"One of its most prominent tools is 360º Advisor software, providing total waste traceability, how to reduce costs and time, and analyzes in detail everything that can be improved. The program provides impact metrics to the entire value chain and to the main departments of the company with graphs, reports and in real time", she tells Business Insider Spain (translated and shortened for brevity).


Amaia Rodríguez Sola and Julen Rodriguez, co-founders Gravity Wave


Amaia Rodríguez Sola and Julen Rodriguez (siblings), co-founders Gravity Wave

Nearly 50% of all plastic waste that exists in the oceans is made up of abandoned fishing nets, this company informs. I find that shocking.


Based in Alicante, the two siblings, Amaia Rodríguez Sola and Julen Rodriguez, co-founders of Gravity Wave, with the help of their appointed "plastic fishers", are liberating the oceans from these plastic fishing nets and re-using it to make designed furniture and other objects.


Through collaborations with private companies, Gravity Wave brings together more than 800 traditional fishermen who are paid for every kilo of plastic they remove from the ocean.


"We are also doing pilots with diving schools, which in summer on average can do 5 or 6 dives a day", tells Julen in an interview.


Can recycled fishing nets actually become something beautiful? You might find that these bar tables, matching the colors of the ocean, are. 😍

From not knowing anything about the fishing sector when they first started on the mission in 2020, today the company is present in more than 100 Mediterranean ports, in Spain, Greece and Italy. In addition to recycling they are part of creating a behavioral change within the fishing community.


"We are dedicated to giving solutions to traditional fishermen to offer them free management of fishing nets, so that they never end up at sea again and can give them infinite lives, and above all involve them in being part of the solution directly and actively", writes Amaia Rodríguez Sola in a recent post. (translated)


Nuria Escudero Perez, Quality, Environment and Product Director, PackBenefit

Nuria Escudero Perez, Quality, Environment and Product Director, PackBenefit.

Led by CEO Philippe Fèvre, the company PackBenefit is headquartered in Valladolid, in the region of Castilla y Leon. PackBenefit produces 100% compostable, bio-based food trays. Their trays are said to be "of vegetable origin with most of them being cellulose with a surface coating based on corn and potato starches in order to further protect the food they will contain."


That way this Spanish startup, founded in 2013, reduces unnecessary packaging to fit a circular business model. With a total capacity of 1,800 tons of cellulose per year, equivalent to 80 million trays per year, they are now serving customers in more than 40 countries, mainly France, Germany, Denmark and Spain.


The image shows Nuria Escudero Perez, Quality, Environment and Product Director. I can't figure out who the actual founder is so please leave a comment if you know.


In a recent interview on Youtube she shares more of the company mission and vision, subtitles in English.



NOTE: These startups have been selected by me without any outside interference, strictly based on my opinion on what kind of innovation and people drive actual societal change for the better. I also try to dig up the lesser known diamonds.


My hope is that these companies get more attention in the English speaking part of the world so that they attract more investment to keep up with their missions.


--> Did you enjoy getting to know these startups in Spain driving a circular economy forward? It would be great to know! Send me an email to caroline@expandtospain.com


Written by Caroline Lagergren

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