Kitchener, Ont.-based Circulr is a reuse program that helps CPG brands recapture and reuse packaging to reduce waste, while rewarding consumers for returning packaging and keeping it in circulation longer. Founded in 2020 by university graduates Tyler De Sousa and Charles Binks-Collier, Circulr works with a growing roster of brands including Funky Ferments, Beck’s Broth and Alchemy Pickle Company, and offers private-label reuse programs for grocery retailers. In this Q&A, De Sousa talks about the thinking behind Circulr, how it works and what comes next.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you came to co-found Circulr
My co-founder Charles and I both graduated with business degrees from Wilfrid Laurier University in the middle of the pandemic. After graduating, I founded a company that helped customers support local businesses during the pandemic… Following that, I was accepted into Next 36, which is a 10-month entrepreneurship program for Canada’s top young entrepreneurs. There, I reconnected with Charles, who was in the program to work on his idea for Circulr, and it just grew from there. We spent about a year in the Next 36 program developing the business, which we registered in late 2020 and launched the following year.
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What attracted you to the whole idea of a circular economy?
It’s a solution I think a lot of people have been waiting for… To me, a circular economy is an environmental solution that is more holistic, rather than a band-aid solution. It’s less about taking garbage out of the ocean and more about making sure it doesn’t end up there in the first place.
How does Circulr work?
We like to use the analogy of The Beer Store in Ontario [which takes back empties for reuse]. From a high-level systems perspective, Circulr runs the back-end infrastructure for the reuse of product packaging in grocery. We currently work with brands that have products in glass jars, such as pickles, peanut butter, pasta sauces, soups, spreads and soaps. So, customers can purchase a brand’s products like they normally would. When the consumer is done with the product, they just rinse out any residue in the jar and drop it off in a Circulr bin at one of 23 collection sites [located in grocery stores] across Toronto and the Waterloo/Wellington region. They can track their return through the Circulr mobile app and get their deposit back. [Deposits range from 10 cents to $1.25]. On the retailer front, we help grocers reuse packaging for some of their private-label products. The Stone Store in Guelph, for example, has their own private-label jarred products and we provide the infrastructure for the store to collect jars and reuse them.