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Collaborations Continue to Fuel Solutions to Plastic Pollution

These days, we can’t go a week without the launch of another initiative, innovation or collaboration aimed at eradicating plastic waste around the world – which means we may actually have a fighting chance at doing it.

Circulate Capital, Ocean Conservancy publish investment guide for scalable solutions to the ocean plastic crisis

Last week at The Economist World Ocean Summit in Abu DhabiCirculate Capital — the investment management firm dedicated to incubating and financing companies and infrastructure that prevent ocean plastic in South and Southeast Asia (SSEA) — in partnership with Ocean Conservancy, released "Investing to Reduce Plastic Pollution in South and Southeast Asia: A handbook for action," a guide aimed at catalyzing investment around immediate solutions to SSEA's ocean plastic crisis.

Culminating more than a year of research and building on Ocean Conservancy's seminal Stemming the Tide report, the handbook is a first-of-its-kind, open-sourced guide to investment opportunities in SSEA's municipal waste management and recycling infrastructure sectors, the two sectors in the region identified by Circulate and Ocean Conservancy as having the most solutions ready to scale. It lays out a variety of factors impacting the entire plastics value chain to help investors evaluate opportunities and deploy assets in the region.

The handbook also provides valuable insight for the many other actors who will play critical roles in scaling these sectors and developing a circular economy in SSEA — including governments, NGOs, entrepreneurs and academic institutions.

"We've spent enough time pointing at the problem; now, we have to focus on the solution. The time to act is now," Rob Kaplan, founder and CEO of Circulate Capital, said at the World Ocean Summit. "We recognized we had to refocus the conversation on investible solutions that are ready for deployment today. Our goal with this handbook is to provide institutional investors with the knowledge and insights they need to catalyze investment and action in waste management and recycling infrastructure in South and Southeast Asia."

In October, Circulate Capital announced that it expects to receive US$100 million in funding for its investment strategy to combat ocean plastic from several of the world's leading consumer packaged goods and chemical companies. With funding and collaboration from public and private sources, the firm aims to remove capital barriers to the development of waste management and recycling infrastructure, and to support innovative solutions to ocean plastic issues. In parallel, The Incubator Network by Circulate Capital and SecondMuse, which receives philanthropic funding and strategic support, seeks to accelerate solutions to ocean plastic waste by partnering with existing incubators to build ecosystems of waste management and recycling innovators in SSEA.

"Circulate Capital's Investor Handbook provides a valuable blueprint for how institutional investors can play a more significant role in ending the ocean plastic crisis," said Christopher Botsford, Co-Founder and Chief Investment Officer at ADM Capital. "We recognize that to solve the ocean plastic crisis, it is essential to facilitate greater flows of institutional capital, but until now we have lacked the specific knowledge and insights to identify and evaluate investment opportunities that are ready for deployment today. We believe that this research provides the direction investors need to put more institutional capital to work in service of these goals."

Key findings from the handbook include:

  • Leveraging support from national governments and establishing an appropriate policy enabling environment while working at a very local level with cities and municipalities are both critical to success

  • There are larger investment opportunities downstream (processing and reuse) in the plastic value chain, with smaller early stage opportunities upstream (collection and sorting)

  • We need systematic investment within a specific wasteshed, as well as discrete investment approaches along the plastic value chain

  • India and Indonesia currently provide the most readily available investment opportunities in the region

  • Implementation challenges remain despite comprehensive national solid waste management legislation in several countries

"Thanks to scientific research and a lot of ambitious yet pragmatic thinking, we know that investing in waste management — making sure that every piece of discarded plastic is collected and, ideally, reused — is the key to solving the ocean plastic crisis," said Susan Ruffo, Managing Director of International Initiatives at Ocean Conservancy. "This handbook makes that key available to anyone who wants to be part of the solution. We are proud to be partnering with Circulate Capital to bring these new findings to the larger community. The end result is not only good for the ocean, but for the cities that surround it and the people that make their living in the sector."

Quantis convenes 18 member companies, orgs in Global Plastic Leak Project

Image credit: Medium

Leading environmental sustainability consultancy Quantis and ecodesign center EA have launched the Plastic Leak Project (PLP), a multi-stakeholder initiative to develop robust metrics to help shape operational solutions and effective actions to address the plastic and microplastic pollution crisis. Convened by Quantis and EA, and joined by 18 companies from an array of industries, this global initiative will take an in-depth look at the circular economy of plasticsassess existing knowledge gaps and develop a methodological guide that any company can use to locate, map and assess plastic leakage along their value chain.

The Plastic Leak Project (PLP) is co-founded by Quantis and EA and currently counts 18 members from diverse industries including AdidasArlaCotton IncorporatedCyclosDecathlonThe Dow Chemical CompanyEastman, Enel X, European Bioplastics, European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers’ AssociationMars Incorporated, McDonald’s CorporationPlasticsEurope and Sympatex Technologies; along with a strategic committee comprised of international organizations International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Life Cycle Initiative and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The PLP is still open for membership to interested and committed companies.

Growing urgency and awareness around the plastic pollution crisis has driven companies and authorities to make bold commitments and explore innovative approaches to keep plastics out of the environment. Many want to take action on plastic leakage but lack the tools to ensure that their efforts have a meaningful impact, and there are limited ready solutions available to support organizations in their efforts to prevent plastics from becoming waste and to address microplastic pollution. Enter the Plastic Leakage Project.

“Today, policies, bans and decisions on plastic leakage are often based on passion and pressure rather than science. How can we navigate the buzz to find science-based solutions? We truly believe that businesses are effective at influencing change,” says Laura Peano, Senior Sustainability Consultant and project manager of the PLP. “We also know, from years of experience leading multi-stakeholder initiatives, that decisions are more effective if they are metric-based, and change comes faster and further with a collective approach. The Plastic Leak Project will be a catalyst for positive change in the growing plastic crisis.”

Many quick fixes largely focused at product end-of-life have been identified, such as banning single-use plastics and taxing plastic bags. These measures, while critical for reducing plastic waste, do not get to the root causes of plastic leakage. Depending on the industry, plastic leakage can take place during the use phase, the production process, or even further back along the supply chain. 

To effectively take action on plastic leakage, stakeholders must be able to detect the leaks within their own industry and supply chain. Clear and reliable data on plastic leakage hotspots is needed to ensure companies put their efforts towards the most important and effective actions to solve this problem at a systemic level.

The Plastic Leak Project will fill this important gap by delivering a metrics-driven methodology to assess plastic leakage in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and an industry-specific guidance that enables companies to locate and assess plastic leakage along their value chains — the results of a collaboration among Quantis and EA; industrial partners supported by IUCN, UNEP, the Life Cycle Initiative and WBCSD; and an advisory board comprised of international organizations and research centers. The project aims at working closely with the scientific community to define reliable plastic leakage inventory data for Life Cycle Assessments, which will allow companies to verify that impacts are not being transferred from one area to another.

Julien Boucher, director of EA and renowned plastics expert, says, “We are convinced that better metrics are needed to shape action towards fixing the problem of plastic leakage and recover clean oceans; we hope the PLP will significantly contribute in developing these metrics both to guide company strategies and product design.”

The initiative aims to release the guidance publicly early next year and interested organizations are encouraged to join.

Acumen and Unilever’s Social Innovation Challenge on Plastics seeking solutions for people living in poverty

Image credit: +Acumen

Meanwhile, nonprofit social venture fund Acumen has partnered with Unilever on its Social Innovation Challenge on Plastics, which includes an online incubator and innovation lab to catalyze new solutions to combat plastic pollution and improve the lives of people in poverty. The challenge — which will be run by +Acumen, Acumen’s online school for social change — invites innovators and entrepreneurs from around the world to participate for a chance to receive seed funding and coaching from Unilever experts.

“Working to create solutions to help low-income countries and populations manage ever-increasing amounts of plastic and other waste has become a core development issue,” said Yasmina Zaidman, Acumen’s Chief Partnerships Officer. “Treatment of waste is mentioned in three of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, but its impact extends well beyond, affecting the lives of millions living in poverty. At Acumen, our aim is to back new, inventive ways to tackle the world’s biggest problems, and we are excited to see the innovative solutions people bring to the table through this virtual challenge.”

The Acumen and Unilever Social Innovation Challenge on Plastics involves a two-part program that will allow participants to delve into the social and environmental issue of plastic pollution and learn how to build a business model dedicated to addressing this problem.

Part One: +Acumen kicked off the initiative on March 2, 2019 with a two-hour rapid innovation lab held on Slack. Participants from across the globe had the opportunity to help an India-based social enterprise generate new ideas for encouraging the proper segregation of plastic waste, which reduces the costs of recycling and ensures more plastic stays out of the environment.

Part Two: Next week, +Acumen will open an online incubator for innovators and entrepreneurs — March 19 through May 7 — to develop early-stage business models that address the problem of plastic waste. Participants will be given free access to +Acumen’s Business Models for Social Enterprise curriculum and live sessions with Unilever technical experts.

At the end of the seven-week online incubator, participants will submit their ideas and the winning teams will receive up to $25,000 each, for a total of $75,000, in seed funding and three months of coaching calls with technical experts from Unilever.

“We are committed to taking urgent action on the plastic waste issue, and in line with the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, enhancing the livelihoods of millions of people across our entire value chain,” said Rebecca Marmot, Global VP for Partnerships and Advocacy at Unilever. “We expect that this collaboration with Acumen will contribute innovative and inclusive solutions that can help lift people that depend on waste collection out of poverty, whilst addressing the critical challenge of plastic pollution.”