Company that fights industrial waste finds new mission in COVID-19 pandemic hand sanitiser

By Chris Welsch

When the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping through France, some essential supplies started running short. One of them was alcohol-based hand sanitiser. INex Circular knew it could step up to help.

“It started by chance because someone from the government had heard of us and just asked the question: Could you use your technology to help find the ingredients for hand gel?” says Olivier Gambari, chief executive officer of the French company. “And we said, yes, of course.”

INex Circular, which Olivier founded with Pierre Beuret, promotes a circular economy by organising vast amounts of data about industrial waste. Since one company’s waste is often someone else’s fuel, iNex reduces waste and pollution by matching the needs of different parties.

Better data on hand gel

In the course of a week, iNex recruited 60 volunteers to create a database that could track down the gel’s ingredients and began providing information to government agencies. Some companies offered to donate or sell raw materials, and some the capacity to make the gel. INex Circular had shut down because of the pandemic, so the company was happy to be donating its labour and expertise as well to the national cause.

“We saw a lot of other companies trying to help and that was very motivating for us,” Olivier says.

In the sixth week of the lockdown, the iNex gel database had grown to 18,000 companies, and gel was being manufactured to meet the expanding need. “We are working with pharmaceutical companies, cosmetic firms, and even distillers, who were making whisky, or eau de vie as we say in France; they can’t do that now, so they’re providing or making ethanol for the gel,” Olivier says.

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INex recruited 60 volunteers to create a database that could track down the ingredients to make hand gel ©Getty Images

INex Circular is one of the past winners of the European Investment Bank Institute’s annual Social Innovation Tournament. The tournament supports entrepreneurs who are making an impact on social, ethical or environmental issues in their communities.

The company opened three years ago with the goal of finding ways to reduce CO2 and pollution, and to support the idea of a circular economy that reuses products rather than throwing them away. Its main clients are industrial plants and recyclers, and its focus has been in France, where the use of biogas has been growing rapidly.

Startling efficiencies

The company helps create efficiencies that can be startling. Olivier cited the example of a plant in the Netherlands that had been transporting bio-waste from the south of France; iNex Circular found a local source within 50 kilometres. The iNex database for this type of waste has information from more than two million companies in total, and 800,000 in France alone.

Until now, the company hasn’t asked for money for the gel project, but Olivier would like to expand the database to the rest of Europe and will need help to make that happen.

INex’s team of eight is proud to be providing assistance during the pandemic.

“We did this because we wanted to help and there is a big need,” Olivier says. “We did it to help France.”