Your trash is our treasure: InSymbio's digital marketplace for by-products

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

Waste is just a resource that’s out of place, says InSymbio.
Waste is just a resource that’s out of place, says InSymbio.

Related tags Citrus

Coffee grounds used to grow mushrooms, orange peel transformed into clothes and hemp for 3D printing are just some of the food waste by-products traded on InSymbio’s digital marketplace for food biomass, residues and by-products.

Rethink – Sustainable Solutions is an Italian engineering and technical consulting firm which aims to foster the transition towards a circular economy.

As part of this mission it has developed InSymbio, which focused on biomass, residues and by-products from the agricultural and forestry sectors.

CEO and founder of Rethink – Sustainable Solutions Stefano Esposito told FoodNavigator: "The idea was born from the consideration that, according to Eurostat, every year in Europe, 33 million tons of bio-based materials are wasted.

"These cheap bio-based resources could instead be used as feedstocks by all the companies in the nascent sector of the bio-economy to produce fuels, fibres, feed and chemicals, replacing their fossil fuel equivalents. However, due to the lack of valid sales channels, aggregated data and awareness, the agricultural sector is missing these opportunities.”

Companies set the price for their own raw materials and can receive different quotes. A quick search throws up a firm based in Salerno selling 123 kg of lemon peel for €123 and another selling 20 tonnes of sorghum biomass for €100.

insymbio_logo_png (2)
© InSymbio

Orange peel clothes and coffee mushrooms 

“Among our most interesting cases, we have a company that is using coffee grounds to produce mushrooms, another one that is using hemp to produce a filament for 3D printing, a third one that is using orange skins to produce a [textile] fibre," ​said Esposito. 

© Orange Fiber

This last company, Orange Fiber, was set up by fashion student Adriana Santanocito and her roommate in 2014, and uses some of the 700,000 tonnes of otherwise wasted residue from Italy's citrus fruit processing industry to create sustainable thread and cloth.

Esposito  said: “Until now we have not refused any materials submission or request, but we monitor the platform in order to assess that the materials are in line with what we are trying to accomplish.”

It is in the process of testing out different pricing models to see what works best for its customers, but at the minute companies can list or search for up to three raw materials without any charge. Between three and ten listings costs €199 per year.

So far InSymbio has attracted interest from companies that use the service both on a one-off basis and more regularly, but Esposito said the aim is to transform it into a tool that industry uses regularly. 

It currently has around 100 users with around 50 different raw materials listed on the platform but it expects the pace to pick up in coming months with testing underway, said Esposito, adding that it is currently looking for industrial partners or trade associations willing to do a proof of concept.

Initial testing is being carried out in Italy, Esposito said the scope is global although trading between firms is usually done locally.

It says that revenue could increase by up to 40% as well as boosting a firm’s green image, and can be used to increase a company’s rating in programmes such as the EU’s Rural Development Plan.

InSymbio was selected last year for the EU-funded Open Data Incubator for Europe (ODINE) and received €100,000 in equity-free funding.

It also won the New Entrepreneurial Talents award at the Milan Expo last year.

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