Innovation Takes Center Stage at WasteExpo’s Pitch Slam

Four teams are finding new ways to innovate in the waste industry to help communities strive for zero waste. Those teams will take center stage to show off their ideas at WasteExpo.

Gage Edwards, Content Producer

April 19, 2023

5 Min Read
circular economy MR1540.jpg
Tsung-Lin Wu / Alamy Stock Photo

The very first Pitch Slam competition occured in 2022 and we’re thrilled to host it again. As states continue to strive for zero waste and climate resiliency, fresh ideas are needed and fostered by the industry. NextCycle is an accelerator program that helps champion these ideas and move them to the investment-ready stage. WasteExpo partners with NextCycle again to allow four of these future shaper teams to compete for additional funding sponsored by RRS and WasteExpo. Each team receives 5 minute pitch + 5 minute Q&A time with judges; the teams compete for overall prize money and a fan favorite prize. Potential investors are encouraged to attend as well. We’re vetting teams to compete now, so be sure to look for updates. Join us and be a part of this exciting event to help support innovative ideas that are getting us closer to a true circular economy. 

The first Pitch Slam was held at last year’s WasteExpo event and it was such a success that it is back in a big way to help drive some new projects in 2023. Fresh ideas are always a need in the waste industry to help communities, and really, all of us, achieve a zero-waste future and more sustainability. Luckily, the industry is full of promising teams pushing for a brighter future and some of the best projects today will be on display at WasteExpo in a few short weeks.

Each team will give a five-minute pitch to show off their innovative plans to help communities push toward zero-waste goals. Then teams will take questions for five-minutes from an interested crowd, industry leaders, the competition’s judges, and on hand investors. Winners will win prize money, a fan favorite prize, and additional funding from RRS and WasteExpo.

This year attendees can expect pitches from four promising teams and will be able to feel their energy and passion for the industry through their innovations. The final four teams this year include: Birch Biosciences, DeliverZero, Porous Pave Inc. & BSG Tire Recycling, and VMX International.

The Birch Biosciences team, founded in 2021, is working with synthetic biology and machine learning to build high performance “molecular scissors” that can efficiently break down plastic polymers, contributing to a sustainable, circular plastic recycling process. This process reduces plastic recycling CO2 emissions by 70% compared to conventional plastic recycling.

Waste360 reached out to the Birch Biosciences team to ask them some quick questions ahead of WasteExpo and their big pitch.

Waste360: How is your project serving the waste industry and sustainability immediately and long term?

Birch Biosciences: Our project is a "big idea" to re-invent how we recycle PET plastics by using enzymes instead of heat to simplify the recycling process, use less energy, and produce 100% recycled plastic products with the same performance characteristics as virgin plastic.  We design enzymes that act as "molecular scissors" to break down plastics at low temperatures into the standard chemical building blocks that are used to manufacture that PET plastic. These building blocks are a drop-in replacement for plastic manufacturers, and enable production of commodity priced, virgin quality, 100% recycled content products.  This bio-enzymatic recycling process also reduces some of the need for plastic sortation, as PET bottles, clamshells, and polyester textiles are acceptable input materials.  In effect, we can take a lower cost input material and produce a higher quality, higher purity output material.

Waste360: Which of those challenges are specific to your innovation/project?

Birch Biosciences: We're a startup company that doesn't have decades of experience working in the waste management industry.  One of our challenges is finding high quality advice from within the industry to make sure we are building a process technology with the right product-market fit for waste management.  We want to find ways to work together to innovate and make better informed decisions about how to pilot and scale our technology.  We will go farther, faster if we have good partners and work together to build this technology.

One of Birch Biosciences’ competitors this year is VMX International (VMXI), a 22-year-old minority women owned business who specializes in waste services and recycling. Their mission is closing the loop in the lithium-ion battery market by targeting recyclable resources already available and expected in used lithium-ion batteries near the end of its life. The efforts by VMXI will work to alleviate ongoing concerns stemming from human rights, since important material for these batteries are presently primarily mined in third-world countries. And work to preserve supplies, as concerns are raising over said supplies of battery materials that are non-renewable.

VMXI is working to reduce the social and environmental impact of end-of-life lithium-ion batteries, utilize existing resources to minimize environmental impacts of virgin material mining through recycling, and provide long term gainful employment for disadvantaged communities.

Waste360 was also able to ask VMXI a few questions ahead of the Pitch Slam at WasteExpo about its service.

Waste360: How is your project serving the waste industry and sustainability immediately and long term?

VMXI: Our project contributes to a circularity model with proper evaluation of batteries for second life and/or recycling to retrieve precious metals reducing the need for virgin materials .

Waste360: What challenges do teams face in the waste industry when trying to innovate and what challenges are specific to your innovation/product?

VMXI: Lack of capital to sustain current operations while building infrastructure for new emerging markets.

Waste360: How is innovation shaping the waste industry?

VMXI: Electrification is helping to reduce our country's carbon footprint however safety of batteries and infrastructure has to catch up.

VMXI and Birch Biosciences will be joined by Porous Pave & BSG Tire Recycling who are teaming up to transform scrap tires into ADA compliant permeable paving solutions. These Michigan base innovators are working tirelessly to turn old, used tires into new materials such as tree surrounds, paths and trails, and bunker liners for golf courses.

Finally, DeliverZero rounds out the competition with its program to make it easy for restaurants, delivery apps, and POS systems to offer customers the option to receive takeout and delivery in reusable containers that can be returned to any point on the DeliverZero network.

Editor's Note: The WasteExpo 2023 Pitch Slam will take place in New Orleans on Tuesday, May 2.

About the Author(s)

Gage Edwards

Content Producer, Waste360

Gage Edwards is a Content Producer at Waste360 and seasoned video editor.

Gage has spent the better part of 10 years creating content in various industries but mostly revolving around video games.

Gage loves video games, theme parks, and loathes littering.

Stay in the Know - Subscribe to Our Newsletters
Join a network of more than 90,000 waste and recycling industry professionals. Get the latest news and insights straight to your inbox. Free.

You May Also Like