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The proverb “out of sight, out of mind” is one that can certainly be applied when it comes to the habitual routine of recycling. As consumers, we invest great trust in the blue paper bin, or the green organic waste container, standing outside our homes, waiting to be taken by the local council. This engrained ritual of waste disposal begs the question: how much of our separated waste can actually be recycled, and are the current systems in place truly working?

aware_ sat down with Matthieu de Gaudemar, co-founder of the recycling network Kudoti (the East Zulu word for ‘in the trash’), to find out how we can incentivise companies to move away from the incineration of waste, and instead discover the economic advantages of recycling. 

The Birth of Kudoti

Working as a reporter in South East Asia for a year after finishing his studies, de Gaudemar was alerted to the mismanagement of waste in local communities there: “it’s very visible in Cambodia, and SouthEast Asia in general, there is trash everywhere”, de Gaudemar recounts. Subsequent to his observations, de Gaudemar travelled to South Africa to explore ways to improve the existing infrastructure for waste disposal. In 2019, after meeting his future co-founders Gift Lubele and Prasenjit Sinha, a research phase began, which ultimately led to the founding of Kudoti: a leading circular economy technology company. “We knew what we wanted to solve”, de Gaudemar tells aware_, “using technology, we are building layers, across multiple levels, which turn into supply chains to meet specific goals that companies have: either materials which they need or materials which the company needs to dispose of”. Kudoti’s primary goal was to use waste to strengthen the supply chain, allowing the material to flow seamlessly from production, to consumption, back into production. 

Challenges Over the Last Year

As is the case with every start-up, Kudoti has been confronted with significant challenges since it was founded, the most confronting of which de Gaudemar highlights in his conversation with aware_: “the biggest challenge of this project thus far is persuading companies that waste can be used as a material and resource, a commodity almost”. It is vital that a company is able to realise the benefits from treating its waste more responsibly, as Kudoti “needs to identify the opportunity before we are able to work with them”, de Gaudemar adds.

Plans for the Future

Despite currently focusing on the recycling aspect of the circular economy, building infrastructure to encourage the re-use of resources within a company is another branch of sustainability Kudoti is enthusiastic to explore. “Recycling is the last resort when it comes to a circular economy, you want to push a company to re-use first before moving to recycle,” de Gaudemar tells aware_, “the complexity will come when Kudoti goes into companies, teaching them how to re-use and disrupts a company’s way of operating”. Although this is an initial reaction de Gaudemar predicts, far from complicating the inner workings of individual businesses, in the long-term “Kudoti strives to provide clarity in the decision-making of what makes sense to re-use”, de Gaudemar explains.  

Employment of Technology

Kudoti employs technology to collect data on waste inventories, thus connecting businesses that wouldn’t otherwise be connected, “we need to move in the direction of technology to start the very complex process of connecting the inputs and the outputs”, de Gaudemar tells aware_. De Gaudemar explains: “take a book manufacturer that needs recycled paper to print their books. Kudoti uses its platform to connect the manufacturer with paper recyclers. The technology collects data on who has paper and who requires it, linking the two aspects of the supply chain”. Feeding Kudoti’s process is an increasing demand for recycled materials, which cannot be met currently due to the lack of existing infrastructure. “This is really the issue we want to tackle”, de Gaudemar tells aware_, “in essence to create a digital infrastructure for a circular economy”.

Types of Waste

Post-consumer waste is one of the primary sources that Kudoti includes in its list of materials: plastics, paper, metals, and electronic waste, all feature within the supply chain. Each of the materials Kudoti tackles comes with its own range of challenges. Taking the example of book production, de Gaudemar explains, “the complexity comes when the paper needs to be treated, it needs to be prepared for the book manufacturer”.

Looking to the future, Kudoti is looking to include the processing of organic waste, “it has a lot of uses and applications; for example, we want to look at using it to create energy”. Unsurprisingly, this does not come without its own set of obstacles: “you have to make the connection between a very specialised facility and the suppliers that would have the organic waste”, de Gaudemar admits. Despite the complexities that come with tackling increasingly complex materials, such as industrial waste, Kudoti’s core model of operation is malleable even within the most challenging of environments: “the aforementioned process of linking output with an input can be applied on a very wide basis”, de Gaudemar explains, “in essence, it’s about bringing visibility to and strengthening existing supply chains through finding new suppliers of waste materials”. 

Going Global

Looking at the bigger picture, Kudoti hopes to localise the global waste trade:

“The waste trade is a global business, it doesn’t behave like a commodity yet, but it is really treated like a commodity on a global scale. This is problematic of course in terms of emissions, by building the supply chain you can think about localising production. We’ve seen evidence of this working in South Africa”. 

– Matthieu de Gaudemar

Kudoti’s journey began in South Africa but de Gaudemar knows this is just the beginning: “the urgency is in the emerging economies rather than within more developed ones, but eventually we hope to show all countries the benefits of extracting resources from its waste stream”. In the last year, Kudoti has expanded to working with projects in South Africa, India and Zambia.

As de Gaudemar voices his final thoughts it’s clear that the environmental benefits of the programme are undeniable, “In the short term, recycling is the fastest way to start stemming the flow of that waste” he summarises. By creating synergies between companies within the supply chain, Kudoti will be able to use the data it collects to unearth existing inefficiencies or gaps, and ultimately make efforts to protect the earth from further waste damage.  

 by Eliza Edwards