How one company is working to tackle the global plastic waste crisis


In the epic 1967 film The Graduate, the young main character Ben played by Dustin Hoffman receives advice on his future from Mr. McGuire – “One word. Plastics. Indeed, plastics have served a large number of functions in modern society. But especially when it comes to containers, packaging, bags and other “single-use items”, plastic is also a huge source of environmental impact through waste, microplastic contaminants, incineration and even ” Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. The visibility of ocean pollution issues has raised awareness of the issue and inspired things like a UN Global Plastics Treaty and the “Plastic Reality Project” involving 25 business leaders in India. Yet it is estimated that an investment of around $30 billion per year until 2040 would be needed to build the infrastructure needed to fully address this problem in all regions of the world.

The ideal solution would be a system that goes beyond a “circular economy” towards a “positive and restorative planet”. But the reality is that while recycling certainly takes place in countries that can afford to invest in waste treatment infrastructure, the sorting process is complicated and there is no secondary market for many plastics. Actual recycling is around 6 to 10% of the total. There is an excellent summary of this situation on the Dirt-To-Dinner site.

It is estimated that the United States exports 1 million tons of plastic waste to countries in the Global South each year. Similarly, other developed countries like the UK and the Netherlands export a substantial tonnage of waste. In the Global South, services such as curbside garbage collection are not available, and even drop-off sites are rare. Thus, plastic waste too often ends up being dumped in unregulated sites, incinerated or simply thrown into the environment.

There are many legitimate needs when it comes to plastic packaging. It can maintain product quality and safety, and is a relatively light material for transportation. Companies that use plastic in their supply chains or products may have good intentions about mitigating environmental impact, but their options have been limited – until now. Repurpose Global is a company founded in 2019 that seeks to solve this problem for companies that depend on plastics.

The company’s co-founders, Peter Wang Hjemdahl, Svanika Balasubramanian and Aditya Siroya have varied backgrounds. Peter grew up between Norway and China. Both Svanika and Aditya have roots in India, and all three were educated in the United States, where they met. Their experience has given them a unique perspective on the global issue of plastic pollution. One observation that motivated them was the “informal” recovery of plastics in India, where marginalized individuals sift through waste to recover any valuable plastic. One of their goals was to formalize these efforts with a supporting infrastructure.

In the four years since its inception, rePurpose Global has been focused on providing CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies with a tangible and verifiable way to take action on their global plastic footprint and combat global plastic pollution. What they offer is analogous to the carbon credits that companies can acquire to meet their greenhouse gas emissions targets. In this case, a company can take steps to link every pound of its plastic use to a plastic waste remediation pound. rePurpose pursues four “pillars” to achieve this:

  1. The measurement – a standard mantra of sustainability efforts is that “you can only manage what you can measure”. Plastics users can certainly measure their use and rePurpose Global can help companies assess how much plastic is in their supply chains.
  2. Reduction and re-design – the company works with its customers to find ways to reduce the amount of plastic needed throughout their supply chain and identify opportunities to use less plastic materials
  3. Plastic Credits – rePurpose offers a plastic credit which is a transferable certificate representing the collection of a specified weight (eg 1 kg or metric ton) of recovered or recycled plastic waste that would otherwise have ended up in the natural environment. They must be measurable, traceable and verifiable. The funding generated is used to finance solutions to the global problem of plastic pollution by building recovery and recycling infrastructure and to encourage the collection of nature-related plastics. Brands can use these credits as a way to take responsibility for the plastic they create while supporting waste workers and their communities.
  4. Certificates – brands can apply for “plastic neutral” or even “plastic negative” certifications if they fund the removal of their equivalent plastic footprint – or double in the case of “plastic negative” – from nature

One of the primary ways rePurpose is tackling the plastic waste crisis is by building infrastructure to sort, process and recycle plastics in areas where it currently does not exist. The company funds the development of on-the-ground impact projects where trained employees properly sort collected waste into specific plastic categories (recycled, compostable, low-value) – ensuring that all plastic that can be recycled ballast. What is unique about rePurpose Global, and where they add in terms of additionality, is that they encourage the collection of low-value plastics that are not worth collecting, sorting and transporting to be treated.

Even where low-value plastics are not recyclable, rePurpose Global does not allow landfill or incineration and funds innovations to make these plastics useful. An example is the transformation of multi-layered packaging (MLP) into “ecological wood” in their Sueño Azul project in Bogota, Colombia, creating a flexible and resistant building material which is then used for public services, such as benches of park and housing for waste. workers.

Plastic Credits funding is positively impacting the lives of over 10,000 marginalized waste workers and community members around the world by creating a crucial revenue stream and supporting social enterprises around the world, enabling them to grow in a sustainable way. rePurpose currently recovers over fourteen million pounds of plastic per year. 250 brands are now acting on plastic through their system. This is at least a good start towards the circularization of plastics and the environmental benefits that this entails.

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