A Danish accelerator programme implemented by the UN Development Program in 2018 and 2019 offered a challenge to SMEs to come up with solutions to the plastic pollution crisis.
These solutions, however, were required to be sustainably impactful on the one hand, and commercially viable on the other. The challenge yielded ideas from various companies that proved worth pursuing.
One applicant, called Plastix, was developing a model for sourcing plastic waste from the municipal waste collection system. Plastix would process the recyclable fraction into new material; the non-recyclable fraction would be used by a biodiesel production company. The partnership included a municipal waste handling company – a prerequisite to make the business model fly.
Another company, Desmi EnviRo- Clean, tweaked technology originally developed to handle oils spills, applying this to filter out plastic waste from rivers. The main contributors to the marine debris problem are a limited number of ‘super-polluting’ rivers.
A third SME, Pack Tech, uses ocean plastic to produce packaging. The company developed a model where it hires fishermen in Indonesia to supplement their income from fishing with removing plastic from the ocean. The plastic is then sorted and reprocessed into new material.
The company is seeking to ‘intensify the replacement of virgin plastic in our product portfolio (mostly packaging for beauty products such as shampoo and skincare as well as pharmaceuticals)’, says Christian Jensen, CEO Pack Tech & ReSea Project.
PackTech now has around 80 fishermen involved in fishing for waste plastic which the company turns into attractive packaging material for companies with environmentally conscious consumers.
“The change has also been considerable for the vulnerable and disenfranchised fishing community we work with. The extra income has helped improve living conditions and the fishermen tell us that the removal of plastic from the ocean also makes actual fishing much more lucrative,” says Jensen.
PackTeck has now come up with a novel approach to upscale these operations – one allowing businesses using virgin plastic to also become part of the solution.
“We have launched a novel company called ReSea Project, where companies can essentially finance the removal of X tons of plastic from the ocean,” Jensen explains. A company producing or using virgin plastic, for example, could bankroll the removal of one (or ten) tons of plastic to compensate for what it uses or produces.
“As with CO2 offsetting this should not be seen as an excuse to not make every possible attempt at reducing the usage of virgin plastic. It does, however, offer an opportunity to at least ensure that as new plastic is introduced into the world, a substantial amount is reclaimed and reused,” Jensen says.
To date, PackTech, and the ReSea project, have removed 1900 tons of plastic from the Indonesian waters in just two years.
“We now hope that many more companies will finance the removal and reuse of the plastic – also if they don’t themselves need it in their production. The approach is simple – they pay 4 euros per kilo of plastic we collect, sort and prepare for recycling of which ReSea Project keeps one fifth for administration, marketing and operations,” said Jensen.
“We transfer almost all of the collected plastic (a small percentage will always be too contaminated to use) to companies using it for new products including, for example, Pack Tech where we use it in our packaging solutions.”
As ReSea Project runs the collection program, it ensures traceability from each boatful collected to the batch of plastic being used in new products. In the interests of transparency, the company is currently in the process of ensuring that this process is being certified and inspected by an independent quality assurance agency.