Enabling circular business model innovation for plastic waste solutions: collaboration between incumbents and startups
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The role of plastics in the circular economy has recently gained attention amongst policymakers, industry and scholars as a result of increased public awareness for the plastic waste issue. Incumbents in the fast moving consumer goods sector are recognized as major contributors to this issue through the production of plastic packaging. Startups are seen as a source of radical innovation and the two parties are often investigated separately, or as competitors in the CE transition. This thesis set out to rather take their dynamics into account in assessing the barriers and enablers for circular business models for plastics in the fast moving consumer goods industry. Semi-structured interviews with circular startups were done to develop a coding framework that was used to assess CSR reports from incumbents. Insights were enriched by expert interviews on the dynamics between startups and incumbents. Results showed that technical barriers are of high importance for both startups and incumbents, which appears to be a specific characteristic of plastic. Collaboration was identified as main enabler and can be divided in the following categories: internal collaboration, supply chain collaboration and facilitated collaboration. Strategic partnerships along the value chain enable innovation and provides opportunity for startups to provide technical solutions for challenges faced by startups. Also, standards for circular use of plastics and metrics and systems for impact measurement could be established through collaboration. Furthermore, collaboration between startups and incumbents could enable collaborative learning . This creates understanding of what each other’s contribution is to the CE transition, it enables mutual sense making and can have a positive effect on the introduction of new beliefs and values with incumbents and it build mutual trust. It is therefore argued that startups-incumbent collaboration is a self-reinforcing mechanism and accelerator of the transition to a CE for plastic. Further research to validate this hypothesis is recommended.