Turning waste into resources and capturing the world’s imagination

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It’s often said one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Thanks to innovative partnerships in the Guelph-Wellington region made possible through the Circular Opportunity Innovation Launchpad (aka COIL), that “trash” might now be someone’s newest revenue stream.

Take the example of a local onion ring factory where the ends of onions are cut off and tossed in compost. Meanwhile, there’s no local supply for onion concentrate, commonly used for flavouring, and its being imported. Working with another factory, the onion ring maker’s waste is now being used to make onion concentrate, reducing food waste and creating millions of dollars in projected new value locally. That’s COIL in action.

COIL celebrates its one-year anniversary in October 2022. The initiative grew out of the City of Guelph and County of Wellington’s Smart Cities Office, with support from organizations like Innovation Guelph and 10C, and with funding from Federal Development Agency of Canada for Southern Ontario. COIL has already helped more than 60 businesses across southern Ontario create, test, and scale circular economy ideas and innovation in the food, construction, and environment sectors.

“Finding creative ways to capture and reuse waste materials to develop innovative new products and supply chains takes creativity that is accelerated through the power of partnership in the region,” explains David Messer, executive director of Guelph’s Smart Cities Office.

“Building off strong established relationships with the city government, community leaders, researchers, small businesses, and support organizations is the secret sauce, with everyone working toward a shared circular economy vision that delivers economic growth and environmental benefits,” says Messer.

That circular economy vision includes connecting local businesses, sharing data, and funding supply chain innovations to be more sustainable and resilient, with a focus on managing resources more effectively to help combat climate change and create opportunities. A hyper regional approach is important to understanding and identifying local resources, expertise, and opportunities, and to developing local-level solutions that can be scaled up across Canada and beyond.

There is keen interest in what COIL and its partners have been up to; their work has been featured by the World Economic Forum, and the COIL team has an invitation to present at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) later this fall. Cities across Canada and around the world are taking inspiration from their work, watching to learn how they can replicate Guelph-Wellington’s innovative, environmentally-minded and successful business ecosystem.