Michael Smollan
Michael Smollan

Circular Economy: Investing for good

by Michael Smollan. There are several trends and opportunities that lie in solving issues around waste.

by Michael Smollan. The challenges of shifting from a linear to a circular economy are undeniably complex. However, many innovative companies and stand out entrepreneurs are determined to make the change. There are several trends and opportunities that lie in solving issues around waste.

‘Take, make and waste’ has long been the norm as we have stretched, bent, and reshaped within the confines of the linear economy. Certainly not a one size fits all approach, but undoubtedly a generalised legacy not to be worn with a global badge of honour. Instead, the shift is far more thoughtful. To rethink, reduce, reuse, repair, refurbish, recover, recycle, and ultimately reset our approach as we back the circular economy when it comes to making stuff and throwing it away. Simple as that. Not quite, but certainly the first step in committing to use business for good as we collectively disrupt the way we think and how we consider future growth. Its all about the design with the end in mind, where we are forced to consider how to make new things work.

Predicted trends indicate that one needs to take into consideration first and foremost, legislation either done autocratically or democratically, along with the need for supply chain solutions when it comes to reusing materials and packaging. The need to adopt chemical recycling that breaks down plastics into simpler components instead of mechanical recycling that involves grinding down or shredding plastics, including the discussion around toxin-free packaging. And seen in the news, the move from fast to sustainable fashion, for example, in a first for Adidas, its recyclable sneakers.

One sees it happening and the shift is palpable amongst the bigger players, along with entrepreneurs balancing the risk ratio gamble in partnering with like-minded investors when noticing a gap in the market and diving in. However, for others, it seems to still be early days for scaling solutions and this lag effect will need to be fast tracked and catch up played for developing real solutions and making this a part of a company’s overall strategy. In some states in the US, headway is being made with Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) bills requiring manufacturers and retailers to contribute to the cost of collecting, recycling, and disposing of their products at the end of life. Pantene and Colgate have partnered with Loop, an online shopping platform that provides products to consumers in containers that can be reused multiple times. Unilever, Walmart and Nestle are also amongst some of the bigger retailers helping to drive progress in terms of chemical recycling and adopting new ways of doing things.

At Smollan, we have partnered with Mr Green Africa, a fair-trade plastics recycling company based in Kenya; as well as developing Gcwalisa and SMART dispensers with transformation consultancy DYDX,  whereby customers can use their own cups, tins, containers, bottles, or bags ,to dispense a branded product and in so doing eliminating the need for single-use packaging. The point being, that the first step needs to be taken and a commitment made to find solutions that speak to the circular economy that drives, among other focus areas, purposeful sustainability within supply chains.

In a World Economic Forum report published earlier this year, when taking into consideration how to deal post-COVID in the circular economy, it highlighted the fact that the pandemic had several similarities to the climate crisis where we are forced to look for alternatives in order to do the things that are no longer viable. How we produce, distribute, purchase, and consume things. This seems to favour a circular economy and the sustainability of catering to people’s needs long term.

The reality is we cannot rely on governmental changes alone nor on corporate in isolation. We need a concerted, collaborative effort between business, government, and start-ups. It is only through the creativity and the risk of businesses like Mr Green Africa, Loop, and our Gwalisa refill project, where we see small glimmers of hope. To scale and gain traction, these ideas and concepts need to be heavily invested in by large corporates which have a responsibility to this planet, based on their histories. Only through this collaboration will we see a change in mentality from all parties and get the desired outcome we so desperately need to be striving for.


Michael Smollan is Chief Growth & Innovation Officer of Smollan. Smollan is a leading retail solutions company that delivers growth for retailers and brand owners across five continents by covering every aspect of how their brand is managed at the point of purchase, from field sales to in store and digitally. Smollan partners with brand owners and retailers to deliver accelerated growth by increasing reach, driving availability and visibility, increasing efficiency and delivering superior shopper experiences; operating across emerging and developed markets, in modern and general trade, and across physical and digital channels.


– Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter every Monday and Thursday • Subscribe here