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EMBRACE GREEN INNOVATION WITH EKOMODO 

Founded as an intrapreneurship project aimed at making accessories from recycled PET plastic, the Spanish company EKOMODO has won several awards since its birth in 2018. Its team showcases the potential of small young startups to spearhead the shift towards a circular economy in southern Europe.

Words By José M. Sainz-Maza

06/07/2021

We often hear of the importance of producing less waste, giving used products and materials a second life, and recycling those that can no longer be used for anything else. We refer to all of this as the circular economy, as opposed to the linear economy that advocates the idea of ​​using a product and then disposing of it to acquire a new one. Today, an increasing number of companies are seeking to be more energy-efficient, produce less waste and turn to recycled fibers to minimize the use of virgin raw materials. In the Gipuzkoan company EKOMODO, they have taken the step to close the loop completely. 

Born in the Spanish autonomous community of the Basque Country, between the Cantabrian mountains and the wild coast of the Atlantic Ocean, EKOMODO was originally an innovation initiative that emerged within the pioneering recycling company Eko-REC. “At the beginning, back in 2018, it was just an experiment,” Judit Astigarraga, EKOMODO’s communications manager, reveals. This young professional immediately agreed to give me this interview for Staiy Edit after a short talk some weeks ago, and each of her words denotes the passion she feels for the project. “We are very proud to be operating now as an independent company, to continue gaining social recognition and growing month by month.”

Since 2012, Eko-REC has been recycling bottles and other PET plastic containers in its production center in Andoain. There, they not only process this material so that it can be reused, but also transform it directly into various industrial products, such as textile fibers. Shortly after the R&D department was created in 2016, a line of research and development of 100% recycled and recyclable textile was launched by a small team of sustainability enthusiasts. 

Judit explains how it didn’t take long for them to see the potential of that project to turn into something bigger. “In 2018 we started producing laptop sleeves with more design in mind, and it took just over a year to validate our business model and go from making our first sales to establishing the foundation of an independent company,” she proudly shares. “Last January we finally moved from the Eko-REC facilities to new office space in the capital of the region, San Sebastian.”

Asked about the way in which they manufacture what they sell, Judit emphasizes the care they take to ensure that each step of the supply chain is ethical. “We strive to boost the local economy in our region, working with suppliers from around here and carrying out the manufacturing process in workshops that employ people at risk of social exclusion,” she inspiringly states. “We want that whoever buys one of our products can acquire something of quality, carefully designed, and 100% sustainable.”

EKOMODO currently offers a wide variety of products, including reusable water bottles, backpacks, laptop sleeves, tote bags, notebooks, pens and other office supplies. Its figures also reflect the growing interest of Spanish society in ethically-produced goods with less environmental impact. In 2020 alone, EKOMODO had a turnover of almost 100,000 euros and recycled more than 67,000 PET bottles (about 586 kg of plastic), avoiding the emission of more than 700 kg of CO2. Their products can be found in more than 25 points of sale nationwide and they have earned more than 35,000 followers on social media. “And this is just the beginning,” Judit confidently declares. 

She lets me know right away that last year, the company was awarded at the Go! ODS Awards and the European Environmental Awards, as well as at the event ‘101 Business Initiatives’ organized by Spanish environmental organization #PorElClima. “From the very beginning, we have had the support of the Gipuzkoa Regional Council, since right now entrepreneurship focused on the circular economy is being greatly promoted in the Basque Country,” Judit admits. “In addition, we work closely with various sustainable fashion and recycling clusters, which are giving us a lot of publicity in the media.”

Looking ahead, the EKOMODO communications manager indicates that the company’s priority is to continue expanding and launching new products. “We have recently got in touch with some designers to develop sweatshirts, as well as home décor and storage products. We would also like to continue growing in international markets and strengthen our partnerships with other companies,” she adds. “Right now, we have a project underway with L’Oréal to train its employees in sustainability and circular economy, in addition to providing them with recycled office supplies.”

Our conversation draws to a close as I chat about such topics with her and praise what a team of 6 young people under 30 is achieving thanks to hard work, their clear vision of how to approach the circular economy and the support of an increasingly eco-conscious society. “All we want is to continue turning waste into valuable products, products that are good for our customers, for society and for the planet,” Judit exclaims before we say goodbye.

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