Recycling and recovery

SUEZ recycling and recovery UK and the University of the West of England (UWE) challenge young entrepreneurs to take on recycling challenge

As part of the 10 Year Anniversary of the Business Team Entrepreneurship programme, teams of young entrepreneurs at the University of the West of England (UWE) were tasked with researching and pitching ideas on innovative ways to recycle commonly difficult materials such as lino flooring, desks, and large furniture.

In 2023, SUEZ recycling and recovery UK was awarded the recycling and waste contract with UWE which, included several social value commitments to create lasting benefits for the community. Earlier this year, the UWE Entrepreneurship Team approached SUEZ to support a ‘hackathon’ style green skills project for a group of students. Representatives from SUEZ tasked the seven teams of students to research and pitch ideas on creative solutions for hard-to-recycle materials such as carpets, lino, desks and large furniture.

The teams had the opportunity to become immersed in the world of waste, resources, and recycling, learning valuable information about the circular economy and sustainable sales pitches. As part of the project, they even had the chance to engage with business leaders to see real-world examples of what is being done elsewhere in the UK and worldwide. After video recording their final pitches, the top teams were shortlisted by Team Entrepreneurship coaches and SUEZ, with the top three then going on to present their final pitches to their fellow students before the overall winners were crowned.

The skills, knowledge and competencies needed to drive the net zero transition, both in waste and recycling but also across all sectors, are imperative in the journey to a circular economy. This initiative is just one example of how collaborative and innovative projects can spark interest in the industry, while giving students valuable hands-on business experience.

The solutions pitched provided new and unique approaches to recycling waste carpet and methods for upcycling furniture, including converting old desks into blackboards, as well as removing the plastic and nylon from carpets to be repurposed as car footwell mats. SUEZ will support the top three shortlisted teams by guiding them as they turn their research projects into a reality and start to build relations with the specialist recycling companies they identified in their research. This initiative has strong links with the work SUEZ does and its commitment as a company to investing in green skills, which play a crucial role in the transition to a circular economy.

Sarah Ottaway, Sustainability and Social Value Lead at SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, commented: "SUEZ was delighted to partner with UWE on this exciting initiative to give students a platform to showcase their ideas and learn all about the waste and resources sector. We were really impressed by all the talented young entrepreneurs and enjoyed seeing their ideas go from the research stage to pitching in front of an audience in such a short space of time. At SUEZ we’re passionate about green skills and believe it is essential in supporting the development of a more circular economy. We hope that this process has encouraged the UWE students in their professional development, so they feel more equipped to explore green career pathways in the future either with SUEZ or supporting the circular economy. We look forward to working with the top three shortlisted teams as they see their innovative projects come to fruition."

Tom de Pentheny O’Kelly, Team Coach/lecturer in Entrepreneurship at UWE said: "Participating in real-world challenges alongside actual clients has been a transformative experience for the students in the Business Team Entrepreneurship programme at UWE. SUEZ presented a unique and dynamic project brief, leaving a lasting impression by raising awareness about waste management and highlighting potential opportunities within the sector. Observing an organisation like SUEZ adopt such an innovative approach to exploring ideas and strategies applicable to their industry is a testament to the company's values. This aligns seamlessly with UWE's sustainability agenda, emphasising a shared commitment to forward-thinking practices and environmental responsibility."

Marion Gillet, Programme Leader of Business Team Entrepreneurship at UWE also commented: "The SUEZ Hackathon provided a real-world situation that gave our cohort a broad platform to learn about a specialised industry in very little time. The Team Entrepreneurs raised their game and showed off their strengths in being curious, collaborative, and proactive. They are even more confident and some of them are now thinking differently about their future careers and aspirations. This demonstrates how enterprising skills can positively contribute large organisations in implementing solutions to address environmental issues that affect us all whilst energising our future business leaders and game changers. Most of our graduates do flourish in finding roles in large and small organisations and I’m sure that many will use what they have learnt through this in their future careers and ventures.

"I am really grateful that SUEZ trusted the process and engaged with our Team Entrepreneurs fully and generously and I am delighted that although there is a winning team, three project teams can continue to interact with SUEZ to progress with their solution. The old idea of having one winner and plenty of losers is wasteful, the world needs several solutions to win to tackle ‘wicked’ problems!"