This year, we are working with a platform called Pinwheel to support four critical marine based projects. Empower is one of the verified non-profits to benefit from this new sustainability initiative. A global leader in traceability technology, an Empower Product Passport establishes and verifies the positive environmental story behind the products consumers buy.  Chief product officer Lennard Hulsbos, formerly of Iris Worldwide, explains why the traceability of plastic waste is important in creating an authentic circular economy.

By Lennard Hulsbos

We are tracing plastic because, from a physical perspective, it is currently the biggest pollution issue in the world.

As a result of the use and throw culture (an idea from the 40s and 50s which has since permeated society), we estimate that 8.300 million metric tons (Mt) of virgin plastics have been produced to date (source: Production, use and fate of all plastics ever made).

  • Just 9% of that has been recycled.
  • 12% has been incinerated.
  • The rest is “out there” – 79% is either in landfills or the natural environment.

The unfortunate reality is that for the last 70 years, policy in the global North can be summarised as ‘Dump now, clean later.’ This is slowly changing, however we at Empower believe that later is now.

Giving plastic waste a value

We are using blockchain technology to incentivise plastic collection by giving plastic waste a value. Our work has three real benefits.

  1. Efforts around the cleanup of waste plastic are transparent and immutable;
  2. We provide companies with the opportunity to start offsetting their total plastic footprint through plastic credits;
  3. We can help companies source material and provide material traceability throughout the product lifecycle.

Plastic credits are a mechanism to build a sustainable waste management infrastructure while significantly increasing the clean-up of “orphaned” litter. Our mission is that by using plastic credits we will be adding material back into the material economy as recycled feedstock.

The mid-term vision is to play into the regulations that are coming in over the next two years around the recycling of plastic packaging. After all, if the world has a minimum requirement for recycled content in materials, there will be a massive uplift in demand for recycled plastic.

Product passports, which show the origin and journey of materials via our platform, will create a disruptive level of trust and transparency between brands and consumers.

These provide companies with validated “chains of custody” (the process that tracks the movement of evidence through its collection, safeguarding and analysis lifecycle by documenting each person who handled the evidence, the date/time it was collected or transferred and the purpose for the transfer) so that they can source and bring recycled plastic back into their supply chain.

Utilising plastic credits, our system enables companies to select a geography, collect waste material such as PET, HDPE and LDPE (all recyclable plastics) which the Empower platform can earmark for them and bring it back into their supply chain.

Providing a chain of evidence

We are the only organisation in the world to showcase blockchain data around clean-ups.  Most clean-up organisations will have a chain of evidence in proving what came from where and what happened. However that evidence is not immutable and that is the whole reasoning around blockchain technology.

Our product helps clean-up organisations, waste management businesses and governments as well as large scale plastic users (i.e. brands) increase transparency around their material streams (be they plastic or otherwise) and provide immutable data around their sustainability claims.

Currently we have more than 700 waste collection organisations registered on our platform in 53 countries. The focal points are markets such as Egypt, Indonesia, Vietnam, Nigeria and Thailand because historically a lot of the waste has been shipped to these countries.

Our largest current project is in Argentina where we are working on an extended producer responsibility scheme to improve waste management in Buenos Aires. Our technology is a crucial step towards addressing low recycling rates and capacity issues at landfills in Argentina and helps to develop the transition to a circular economy in the region.

Why Ocean partners should choose to support Empower

Plastic is a spider in the web of pollution. Today, every one of us has five milligrams of plastics coursing through our body. That’s a really depressing stat. Plastic pollution impacts a number of key environmental concerns such as clean water and people’s general health. The work we are doing is reducing the amount of virgin materials being produced and put into the economy in the first place.

What more should we be doing?

The Empower platform is a cornerstone of the circular economy[1] through ready-to-deploy digital Deposit Return Schemes and the cost-efficient sourcing of traceable and certified recyclables in required volumes and qualities. This gives the necessary visibility to both stakeholders and consumers.

For the consumer, it can be overwhelming which is why gathering the traceability data is the right way to go in terms of tackling other problems like “greenwashing”.

We help businesses monitor how much of their baseline material is recycled. Jeans, for example, often use polyester which comes from recycled PET bottles. So a jeans brand can add a QR code to each pair and at the end of the item’s lifecycle, the customer can go back into the store, scan it and receive a discount on their next purchase. The material goes back into the value chain and we can supply and log all the data to validate sustainability claims.

Righting the wrongs of the past

Companies have a collective responsibility regarding the materials they put into our economy. There is not one single solution. What is important is the way we deal with those materials. If we can start mapping the material impact, we can start thinking about the best solution to right all the wrongs of the past.

Being transparent about your supply chain gives you a competitive advantage. And at the end of the day, that’s where the money is.

To find out more visit https://www.empower.eco/

For further information about Ocean’s four Pinwheel projects, visit our Pinwheel page.

[1] In a circular economy, products and materials are kept in circulation through processes like maintenance, reuse, refurbishment, remanufacture, recycling and composting.