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INSIGHTS / THE BIG PICTURE

Circular economy: Discarded goods get a new lease of life in Spain

Spain · Jan 24, 2019 · By Emanuela Ferraro

From e-chargers inside phone booths, recycling chatbots to refurbished stadium seats from Atlético Madrid, the offbeat magic of the circular economy is fast becoming a lucrative business in Spain

Serial-entrepreneur Andrés Martínez of iUrban nearly missed a job interview when his phone battery started to run out while he was following directions to the office location. It was the eureka moment when he saw the incredible business potential of installing mobile charging stations inside redundant phone booths scattered across the city.

Today, iUrban e-charging stations can be found in phone booths, lamp posts, metros, and other public facilities. Backed by the City Council of Málaga and the Andalusian board of commerce, the company has expanded outside the national borders into neighboring Andorra, Romania and even across the ocean into Mexico.

Many eco-friendly startups like iUrban have been launched in Spain, with founders taking advantage of national incentives that encourage the creation of innovative recycling models, as part of the pan-European drive to support the circular economy. A circular economy is "an economy that reuses and recycles resources to keep them in play for as long as possible", according to the MacMillan dictionary. Circular economy initiatives have the potential to grow exponentially across diverse industries. In 2015, the EU launched the Horizon 2020 program which backs startups with the necessary funding and government support to implement innovative and more sustainable models. The Spanish ecosystem is expected to generate approximately 52,000 jobs through such initiatives, according to Eurobarometer.

Spain's hothouse for circular economies

The Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Environment has recently launched the ISSOP seal in Spain to identify companies that have adopted, or are implementing, sustainable and circular models in their businesses. Various Spanish regions have also started their own action plans. Madrid has created Madrid7R Circular Economy to promote the “7Rs Strategy”: redesign, reduce, reutilize, recycle, repair, renew and retrieve products and materials within our ecosystems.

The Waste Agency of Catalonia has started to subsidize businesses that embrace a circular model and eco-friendly materials. Approximately 217 technology centers are now conducting research and offering innovative environmental solutions to businesses. In 2015, Catalonia's circular economies generated over €4 billion in turnover, or 2% of GDP, by focusing mainly on the recovery and reuse of waste, manufacturing of secondary raw materials, renewable energies and the rationalization of water consumption.

Edited by Suzanne Soh

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