How might we design useful products and viable business models from used plastic resources?
Plasticpreneur is an innovative social enterprise that values each person and planet Earth from our headquarters in Europe. Our mission is to empower people, communities and nature through plastic recycling and entrepreneurial tools. Although only a startup, our impact is large with products deployed in over 28 countries on 5 continents. As passionate designers, engineers and creators, we strive to close the loop and foster the transition from a linear (take-make-dispose) to a circular economy. We accomplish this by designing, manufacturing and providing user-friendly, mobile and easy to repair plastic upcycling machines and offering skills training. Plasticpreneur machines convert used plastic into products jumpstarting the careers of its social entrepreneurs while transforming perceptions of waste into a precious resource.
We aim to tackle two problems simultaneously. The first one is an environmental issue. Plastic is everywhere. Approximately only 9% gets recycled globally. Most plastic items are ‘single use’ or used only once before being discarded. Campaigns have promoted giving used plastic to our cities for recycling. We have been led to believe that this is acceptable as long as we place them in the right bin. However, just because the plastic lands in the recycling bin doesn’t mean it will find a new life in another product. While some is recycled and some is burnt for energy, much plastic trash lands in the Global South, particularly in Southeast Asia. Not only were these countries not prepared to receive them in such high volume but they were already struggling to properly handle their own solid waste. Often waste plastic is entering our ecosystems and food chain with untold consequences.
The second problem is a social issue. Over 600 million young people aged 15-24 don’t have access to adequate education and training for them to thrive. These youth will enter the labor market over the next ten years making this an issue that transcends short political cycles and thus the priorities of elected government leaders. As a result, a large number of them face a future of irregular employment and will need entrepreneurship skills to fill the gaps. Almost 90% of these young people live in developing economies in the Global South. For instance, every month until 2030, one million Indians will turn 18 years old (Sengupta 2016). These young people will need both education and jobs in a global economy that is most certainly going to feature more automation and fewer of the manufacturing jobs. Where will these ambitious and capable youth find opportunity?
With our user-friendly machines easily repaired with commonly found parts and tools, it is possible to create opportunity while transforming “waste” into a resource. This includes transforming plastic “waste” into new products and “wasted” youth into entrepreneurs. The key challenge is to identify and define the right products for local markets. Said differently: How might we design useful products and viable business models from used plastic resources? This requires rethinking how we use/reuse and conceive of plastics so that waste is turned into something valuable for local communities around the world. We challenge you to design a circular business model around recycled plastic products. What products can be produced and competitively sold on local markets? Your idea should be rooted in local community needs and consider the local business realities. Collaborate with InnoDays participants who are locals in the region where you want to launch your circular plastic venture. Help to empower them to become plasticpreneurs.
One critical requirement for the circular economy to work is community involvement. Community members can be seen as prosumers, where on one hand they provide the plastic resources and on the other side they consume the created products created. Active involvement in the transformation process generates learning. The spaces where the resource transformation occurs, can be used for educational purposes and become a hub for circular economy innovations. There various opportunities for spaces within cities or rural areas with different focus points which are connected, supported by local authorities, companies or citizens. Which spaces and models of public engagement are needed to ensure people buy into the recycled plastics solutions? An effective solution will requires an understanding for how the material flows are currently occurring, where does waste emerge and who are the players currently involved in the steps of the plastics value chain. Think about all the steps from design, creation, distribution, usage, until collection and disposal within a local community. What could encourage required partners to change their behavior? How can we encourage citizens to play an active role?
The real reward is driving meaningful social and environmental impact. The best ideas will get a chance to turn their ideas into real products. Therefore the best idea(s) will receive plasticpreneur machines and support from the team to prototype their ideas leading to local production. Team members who want to travel to help kickstart the project can get travel support from travel2change.