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Waste Not
NextWave Focuses on Inclusive, Equitable Strategies to Turn Plastic Pollution Into a Resource

The cross-industry collaborative has reached 80% of its goal of diverting 25K MT of ocean-bound plastic by 2025. Now, it is working to ensure that the plastic is sourced with high ethical standards.

As work continues to draft a global treaty to end plastics pollution, the outcome of which is due later this year, business leaders are seeking to coalesce efforts to increase and diversify usage of post-consumer plastics in their products and packaging — particularly where these materials are at high risk of leaking into the ocean or escaping onto land as waste.

Co-designing a pathway that can eliminate plastic pollution is at the heart of NextWave Plastics — a collaborative, open-source initiative of multi-national technology and consumer brands founded by Lonely Whale and Dell Technologies in 2017. Through its member group — which also includes CPI Card Group, Humanscale, HP Inc, IKEA, Interface, Logitech, Polyvisions Inc, Prevented Ocean Plastic, Solgaard, #tide Ocean Material and Veritiv — NextWave is looking to develop commercially viable supply chains that enable non-virgin plastic material to be easily integrated into products and packaging.

It’s already making good progress — to date, members have collectively diverted 20,479 metric tonnes of plastic, the equivalent of 2.27 billion single-use plastic water bottles, from entering the waste stream. As a result, NextWave is now over 80 percent of its goal of diverting 25,000 metric tons by 2025.

As founding member Oliver Campbell — director and distinguished engineer of sustainable packaging at Dell — explains, members are united by a shared aim to scale the use of what otherwise would be ocean-bound plastic: “In the process, we have built a model that demonstrates how environmental impact can be reduced across industries at a commercial scale,” he told Sustainable Brands® (SB).

An engineer by trade, Campbell is a passionate advocate when it comes to safeguarding ocean health; and Dell is known for taking leadership on the issue. In 2017, Dell committed to keep plastic waste out of the ocean, but realized a key market barrier needed to be addressed — the absence of operational, ocean-bound plastic supply chains. This in essence is what led the electronics giant to partner with Lonely Whale to form NextWave — which takes an interventionist approach by intercepting plastics before they enter the water.

“Technically, since plastics start to degrade in water, an interception strategy makes the most sense — as the material is more readily recyclable and hasn’t yet done harm to the ocean. We also learned that once plastic is in the ocean, the supply chain economics become prohibitively expensive,” Campbell explained.

Michael Sadowski, executive director of The Circulate Initiative and convener of NextWave Plastics, points out that member companies need clean streams of ocean-bound plastic materials for use in their packaging and products. “Contamination negatively impacts material and product quality,” he told SB.

So, the Circulate Initiative is working with NextWave to ensure that this plastic is sourced with high ethical standards. A key outcome of this is has been the development of a social responsibility framework — outlining a roadmap for creating ocean-bound plastic supply chains that also work to help protect people such as those who earn their living as informal waste collectors.

“We’ve discovered that core to the success of the NextWave partnership is the development and investment in a supply chain that is equitable and socially responsible,” Campbell says. He adds that NextWave members also have the opportunity to engage in The Circulate Initiative’s Responsible Sourcing project, which helps brands and manufacturers create circular supply chains that provide social protections for all workers through the point of collection.

Going forward, increasing and diversifying usage of material types is also a focus area. The latest New Plastics Economy Global Commitment (NPEGC) progress report — produced by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the UN Environment Programme — notes for example that flexible plastic packaging poses a significant problem; and that the difficulty of recycling it is a key reason why most NPEGC signatories will miss their target of using only reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic packaging by 2025.

“Today, PET and HDPE are generally being collected because there are markets for them; but hard-to-recycle plastics — like multilayer packaging and film — can still end up in the ocean, because they’re not as valuable,” Sadowski says, adding that NextWave members are designing a collaborative project to help solve this issue. “Right now, multilayered packaging can be turned into many things; and pathways exist to clean it and turn it into boards for construction, concrete and more. The power of NextWave comes out when you bring credit card companies, furniture companies, bicycle companies, tech companies and more to talk about what to do with these materials; create a market for it, and incentivize its collection.”

This is being reflected by the level of product innovation members are able to demonstrate — from Humanscale’s Path chair comprising over 20 pounds of recycled content, almost half of which was plastic rescued from the ocean such as abandoned fishing nets; to Solgaard’s Shoreline Watch collection, made from a durable material called Shore-Plast that utilizes recycled marine plastic.

Solgaard CEO and founder Adrian Solgaard told SB that the learnings and collaborations through NextWave have enabled his company to gain deeper insight into the world of ocean-bound plastic and prevent “millions of pounds of plastic waste, which would otherwise harm our precious ocean and its inhabitants.”

Jane Abernethy, chief sustainability officer at Humanscale, echoes this. As she told SB: “In a lot of ways, the work and collaboration we’ve found as a member of NextWave has helped us to accelerate and streamline our problem-solving as we create new and sustainable solutions.”

The NextWave network now spans 21 countries — including Chile, Denmark, Haiti, Indonesia and the Philippines — and convened 15 member companies. Near-term priorities include expanding and diversifying membership reach, and achieving the collaborative’s goal to divert 25,000 metric tons of plastic — the equivalent of more than 2.7 billion single-use plastic water bottles — from entering waterways by the end of 2025.

“That is our priority. At Dell, we’ve incorporated recycled ocean-bound plastics into our packaging and products to support the achievement of our own goal to make 100 percent of our packaging and 50 percent of our products from recycled or renewable materials by 2030,” Campbell says, adding: “Post-2025, we will again raise the bar — as the oceans will continue to need our help.”