Sustainability

10 Arab Upcycling Startups You Should Know About

These creative MENA-based companies make money while saving the environment.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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Rather than throwing that plastic bag or water bottle into the recycle bin, how about turning it into a t-shirt or a shower curtain, joining a growing band of Arab upcycles?

Upcycling refers to reusing an object in a new way without degrading the material it is made from, as opposed to recycling which generally involves breaking down the original material and making it into something else, using more energy. 

The MENA region produces an estimated 150 million tons of waste annually, according to a report by EcoMENA. [1] Data from the report shows that Egypt is the region’s largest waste producer, with more than 20 million tons of waste, while Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain are among the world’s top ten per capita waste generators.

Upcycling also applies to waste management and industrial waste. 90% of developing countries’ municipal waste is discarded in open and unsanitary dumps, creating health, environmental, and societal damage. Also, a typical ton of waste holds $120 worth of economic value that would be lost when it goes to a landfill or an incinerator.

The conventional waste management sector is ripe for change. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global cleantech market is expected to reach $870 billion in 2030 from $122 billion in 2022. 

From transforming waste into construction materials to fashion items to agricultural products, these discarded items are getting a second chance. 

These are some green Arab startups that are upcycling waste.

TileGreen 

Egypt-based startup TileGreen manufactures carbon-negative building materials from plastic waste. Through its patent-pending technology, the company recycles plastic waste into more than 40 types of building products, replacing cement in many cases, preventing carbon emissions, and preventing plastic landfilling. 

TileGreen works with waste collectors in Egypt to collect plastic bags before sending them to its factory to produce recycled tiles. The tiles are then sold to real estate developers and contracting companies for use in outdoor paving.  

To date, the startup has worked with renowned developers like SODIC as well as other leading players in the FMCG sector. 

Since the beginning of 2023, TileGreen has recycled more than five million plastic bags and aims to recycle five billion by 2025. 

10 Arab Upcycling Startups You Should Know About

Edama  

Edama is a Saudi-based startup that was founded in 2017 with the goal of turning 65% of the total municipal solid waste in KSA, which mainly consists of organic waste that usually ends up in landfills, into a precious resource.  

Edama transforms organic waste such as food and vegetation from landscaping or farming into rich soil that improves desert agriculture, helping to increase yields and reduce water consumption. The startup addresses multiple challenges, including waste disposal hazards, food security, and water scarcity by adopting a circular economic approach. 

10 Arab Upcycling Startups You Should Know About

DGrade 

DGrade is an Emirati company that makes clothes from plastic bottles.  DGrade provides sustainable solutions by producing clothing made from recycled plastic bottles and by supplying recycled flakes to packaging manufacturers to support a circular economy. 

The startup also targets young people. “Simply Bottles” is a DGrade initiative that works with businesses, schools, events, and other organizations to increase recycling rates of plastic water bottles. 

The company also facilitates recycling collection and engages people through workshops and events to promote recycling and sustainability. 

Plastic collected through the Simply Bottles initiative is recycled at DGrade's recycling factory in Abu Dhabi. 

10 Arab Upcycling Startups You Should Know About

UpFuse 

Egypt-based Upfuse recycles plastic bags and bottles into fashion products like bags, clothes, shoes, belts, and notebooks, among other things.

Caring about the environment encouraged two Egyptian women, who were very much into fashion, to take action and transform piles of waste into fashionable products by creating their own brand. Yara Yassin and Lama El-Khawanky founded Up-fuse in 2013 with a vision that focuses on making a difference in the community through recycling, revolutionizing handicrafts, and bringing the community together around one goal that would contribute to having a sustainable planet. 

The need to raise the public’s awareness about the value of the brand and how it represents an environmentally friendly and fashionable solution to waste management was one of many challenges the founders faced. The concept of wearing products made of recycled materials such as plastic bags, bottles, and even tires was not familiar to the vast majority of their targeted audience, so Up-fuse had to put efforts into changing perceptions around recycled products at large. Through disseminating awareness messages via their brand blog as well as partnering with several influencers and public figures, Up-fuse products became popular, especially among youth, not only for their unique designs but also for the company’s commitment towards environmental sustainability. 

10 Arab Upcycling Startups You Should Know About

Nadeera 

Nadeera is a Lebanese startup taking on waste mismanagement through an integrated, inclusive, and technology-enabled novel approach. This startup primarily works with municipalities to design and deploy citizen-centric, integrated, and sustainable waste management masterplans. Their focus is on citizens' outreach to reduce, reuse, and sort waste all enabled by technology; in addition to implementing waste tracing to monitor performance, optimize efficiency, and ensure higher material and value recovery.  

Nadeera also works with residents, local businesses, and community leaders to promote waste reduction and sorting waste at source. Through an anonymous IoT tracking system, the company sends feedback to waste sorters and records transactions on an immutable blockchain. Residents and businesses that sort their waste are rewarded through a token system that allows them to reap the benefits of their environmental stewardship. 

10 Arab Upcycling Startups You Should Know About

Seramic 

Seramic Materials is a UAE-based company born out of the innovative environment of the Masdar Institute at Khalifa University.  The company developed a unique circular economy solution to recycling solid industrial waste into sustainable value-added products in the technical ceramics and construction materials markets.  Seramic Materials was established in 2019 to manufacture 100% recycled ceramic products from heavy industry waste, such as incinerator ash and byproducts from the steel industry. 

Replacing a precious natural resource with waste products for ceramic production has myriad advantages beyond keeping the conventional raw materials in the ground. Using waste products can be significantly cheaper, meaning a final product can be 10% to 50% cheaper depending on its application. 

By avoiding the extraction of natural resources and their transport, carbon emissions are significantly reduced, and emissions produced by manufacturing are lowered by at least 20% compared with conventional ceramic manufacturing methods. Plus, all the waste that would have headed to landfill can now be diverted to a second life and purpose. 

Seramic Materials is now expanding into technical ceramics, manufacturing advanced thermal energy storage materials, which can operate in temperatures as high as 1,250°C, and which are, to date, the most cost-efficient ceramics on the market. 

10 Arab Upcycling Startups You Should Know About

CIRCL 

Based in Akkar, North Lebanon, CIRCL was founded by Hiba Mikhael and Elya Rizk. The essence of CIRCL's work lies in its creative recycling efforts. They collect, and repurpose waste materials, selling them to companies and upcycling them into innovative products. 

Their approach encouraged people to recycle their garbage in exchange for money, not only incentivizing recycling but also turning waste into a valuable resource. 

10 Arab Upcycling Startups You Should Know About

IDYR 

Morocco’s textile industry throws away 205,000 tons of fabric every year, and only 8% of the unwanted materials get recycled. 

Fadwa Moussaif, a young eco-conscious Moroccan, saw in Boucherouite – the art of crafting carpets from pieces of excess fabric, wool, or leather -- an opportunity to support women in the Atlas Mountains and a chance to promote sustainability in the fashion industry. 

Moussaif created IDYR (“Life” in Tamazight) -- a social enterprise that rebrands and modernizes the art of Boucherouite while allowing women in the Atlas Mountains to make a profit from their talent. Women working with the company modernized their craft and began making clothing items and handbags, in addition to carpets. 

10 Arab Upcycling Startups You Should Know About

RecycloBekia  

This Egyptian start-up is amongst the first in the MENA region that is dedicated to recycling electronic waste. This company is concerned solely with the collection of electronic disposals offering green recycling and safe date destruction to combat the hazards of electronic waste along with conserving natural resources.  

10 Arab Upcycling Startups You Should Know About

Hunaya   

Nour Nsheiwat from Jordan has found inspiration in the little pieces people throw out thinking they will not need anymore; She turns them into tasteful pieces of furniture, while making her contribution to maintaining the ecosystem. 

10 Arab Upcycling Startups You Should Know About

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CORRECTION: This article was edited for clarity on 29 November, 2023. 

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