Season 5, Post 5: Enzymes for the circular economy
We have a big problem with plastic. Just 14% of the plastic produced on the planet globally is recycled each year (per the OECD). Nearly all of it ends up in landfills. If it doesn’t find its way to a landfill, then the waste may end up in the ocean. The equivalent of one dump truck of plastic alone is tipped into the ocean every minute, every day. On an annualised basis, the total weight of all this plastic would be equivalent to 90 aircraft carriers (per Pew Research). Assuming this estimate is accurate, then by 2050, there will be more plastic by weight in the ocean than fish.
Rather than get too depressed by this possible outcome, it’s much better to think about potential solutions. To this end, we were lucky enough to meet with the management of Carbios, a €400m listed French business which believes that it may be able to help solve the plastic problem.
The company has a 12-year history and since its inception has worked with several local academic institutions to develop a set of proprietary enzymes which, it believes can help businesses rethink the life cycle of plastics. The technology developed by Carbios is protected by patent and works around the principles of biodegradation and bio-recycling. The company’s first goal is to target PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastics – the stuff not only of drinks bottles but also many items of clothing (in the form of polyester). Carbios can already boast an impressive roster of partners ranging from L’Oréal and PepsiCo in the consumer space to Puma and Patagonia within the textiles arena.
Carbios is still early in its journey, with the business at a pre-revenue stage and its first plant not set to be operational until early 2025. Nonetheless, its progress is admirable. The fact that Novozymes has come on board as an industrial partner also speaks to the potential of Carbios’ technology.
We have consistently highlighted plastic pollution as a problem that the world needs to solve. Solutions other than those being pioneered by Carbios will almost certainly emerge, but given the magnitude of the challenge, there is a sizeable addressable market opportunity for complementary technologies. Our larger concern is just how workable are broader commitments to circularity – both on the parts of governments and corporates. While the notion sounds simple in principle, in practice, it can be dauntingly complex. Beyond possible greenwashing issues (might companies be prioritising brand image over fundamentals?), we think detailed cost-benefit analysis is almost always necessary. Watch this space. Later in February, we will be releasing a detailed theme piece on the circular economy.
2 February 2023
The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.
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Alex Gunz, Fund Manager
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