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Estonian GreenTech KIUD offers highly scalable alternative to cardboard

After a stellar 2023, the material technology innovator KIUD is on track to take on the deeply wasteful packaging supply chain in 2024.

In 2021, the EU generated 84 million tonnes of packaging waste, 40.3% of which was paper and cardboard. That’s roughly 76kg—a full human being’s worth—of paper and cardboard waste per EU inhabitant.

Cardboard, while accessible and inexpensive as a packaging material, comes with a hefty environmental price tag. Manufacturing it is thirsty work, devouring vast amounts of water, energy, and chemicals, and leading to deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution. To top it off, touted as biodegradable and recyclable, only 54% of discarded cardboard actually ends up becoming cardboard again.

Meanwhile, in the textile industry…

Out of a staggering 12.6 million tonnes of textile waste produced annually in the EU, only 22% is recycled into new products. The remainder, again, is mostly landfilled, incinerated, or exported to Africa.

What cardboard packaging and textile waste could possibly have to do with each other is the brainchild of two Estonian fashion industry veterans on a mission to make lasting change in textile waste management.

Generating value out of waste

Founded in 2022 by Estonians Liis Tiisvelt and Kaie Kaas-Ojavere, KIUD is repurposing abundant textile waste into a viable alternative to cardboard packaging.

“Between the two us, we have have contributed to producing 5.6 million units of clothing,” Tiisvelt recounts calculations she and Kaas-Ojavere once did based on their time in the fashion industry. “KIUD is our redemption, a way for us to make a positive change. We want to decrease the carbon footprint of this industry and upvalue an actually valuable material. In the coming years, the market value of recycled textile waste is said to be a billion euros in Europe alone. Unfortunately, consumption only drives waste generation, with a majority of fashion brands and municipalities now eagerly looking for solutions..”

Today, just a year into operations, KIUD is showing that their solution is one to watch. In late 2023, Deloitte recognised the company as one of their Impact Stars for linking a great product with a positive impact on the environment.

“We managed to get the manufacturing processes right from the beginning,” Tiisvelt says. “We’re manufacturing through our Estonian partners and when we did the maths, we saw what we expected to see: Our process produces 50% less carbon emissions compared to cardboard, plus we don’t use water or harmful chemicals.”

This early success laid the foundation for a year of proving that whatever the KIUD team set their mind to—it could be done. In 2023, KIUD already racked up 75,000 euros in sales within Estonia alone, and piloted a packaging rental system for e-commerce companies. “It’s a complex supply chain involving logistics, software, and warehouse management, and we’re happy that we managed to get it going,” Tiisvelt says.

The future of KIUD and sustainable materials

With their home market of Estonia showing solid results, KIUD is now heavily leaning towards export into Germany, Italy, France, and Sweden. Their main focus today—the luxury packaging sector—is currently worth around 2.5 billion euros in Europe and set to grow to 3.2 billion by 2030. “Luxury rigid boxes are almost impossible to recycle because there are so many other materials mixed in, from metal to plastic,” Tiisvelt says. What KIUD brings to the table is equally, if not more, luxurious-feeling reusable packaging that is also completely recyclable in the textile waste stream, aligning perfectly with the EU Green Deal and following the ever-spreading principles of the circular economy.

And even though KIUD is keeping their focus on the luxury industry for now, it’s impossible to ignore the interest their innovative material is garnering elsewhere.

“We get quite a lot of requests just for the material,” Tiisvelt says. “There are so many other opportunities in the furniture industry, interior design, or industrial packaging. This is something we want to look into—could our material achieve the properties needed for industrial packaging, for example?”

To make lasting change, you need more than just faith

It’s clear that the KIUD team has their work cut out for them. When asked how an impact startup founder keeps the faith in her company and product, Tiisvelt is pragmatic. “Faith is not the problem,” she says. “It’s about the synergy of the team that has to execute the plan. We are very mission-driven with Kaie and fortunately, we have gathered a team of experts around us who believe in our success. As packaging, textile is new. No one has ever considered highly compressed textile waste as a rigid packaging material to substitute cardboard. So we have to build a recycling supply chain for our product.”

It’s a challenge that requires people with the passion and drive to make a change in a behemoth industry shackled by infinitely complex supply chains. Having accepted that it’ll take more than two founders to make it happen, Tiisvelt and Kaas-Ojavere expanded the team to six people in 2023 and will start hiring salespeople in 2024. “I cannot stress enough how important the right team dynamic is,” says Kaas-Ojavere. “You need to test people’s values and work ethics before you agree to any long-term commitment.”

Moving into 2024 wiser and stronger, and actively working to raise a €500,000round of funding, KIUD is simply more proof, for those who still needed it, that the sustainability train is picking up speed. It’s not too late to get on board.

Ready to get on the sustainability train by investing in KIUD or other impact startups in Estonia? Get in touch via our e-Consulting form and learn all about the opportunities available to you!

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