A world with zero waste where all used packaging can easily be returned for recycling – this is the vision that stimulated a team of the Geneva impACTs initiative to develop a concept for supply and consumption chain transparency.
Their idea is in sharp contrast with today’s consumption patterns that depend on single-use plastic.
Un-recyclable packaging is a global challenge: 300 million tons of plastic waste occurs per year. According to UNEP, that’s nearly the weight of the whole human population.
Global trade networks are highly dependent on functional packaging to keep products fresh and secure. Plastics in particular have become a very controversial packaging material, as they are among the most convenient and yet polluting materials. Every single day, we produce one million tons of plastic waste, half of which was used only once.
Packaging has a complex supply chain that goes a long way from its sources to the shelves of global retailers. By the time it reaches the consumer, packaging is often made up of an opaque cocktail of composite materials that is hard to process, even for the best recycling specialists. This means no individual stakeholder could single-handedly turn the packaging industry into a circular economy. Therefore, the experts are pushing for a highly collaborative digital platform with an ecosystem effect.
Need for an open recycling platform
All research and analysis tends to point towards the same direction: the world urgently needs an open packaging and recycling platform. More specifically, we need an online dictionary of the world’s most commonly used packaging, materials, and recycling techniques. At the product level, decentralized blockchain and Application Programmable Interface (API) technologies could enable a trusted means of declaring and searching packaging details and recycling instructions.
Material innovators could use it to gain a competitive advantage by showcasing and selling their recyclable materials. Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) producers and retail chains could target conscious consumers by promoting eco-friendly packaging along with localized recycling instructions. Besides having packaging information available online, printed labels are also critical for success. These must be redesigned to include packaging recyclability features, much like the nutrition facts we already accept as a global standard.
Packaging collection and recycling
Another important milestone towards a circular economy for packaging are in-store waste collection points. Existing infrastructure could be connected to the open recycling platform and updated to recognize and sort all recyclable products. Linking collection points to existing customer loyalty programs would also allow retailers to award bonus points, similar to the German deposit system. Being able to return all packaging at the point of sale, while being incentivized to do so will dramatically increase the collection rate and customer satisfaction.
Intelligent collection points will also allow forecasting material flow to nearby recycling centers. This is the best way to increase the domestic recycling rate and improve the productivity of recycling centers. With a steady and predictable flow of high-quality waste materials, these facilities can operate more efficiently. As a result, recycled materials could be sold back as raw materials to nearby manufacturers. This finally closes the recycling loop and packaging can become part of a circular economy.
Consumers around the world are demanding change towards a more sustainable future. It is time to act now, join forces, and return packaging waste as a valuable resource for future production. Together we can make it!
Potential for a high-impact business
The concept was awarded by an international Geneva impACTs jury as the most feasible and impactful business project from a group of three finalists.
Expert group for accelerated innovation
It all started at an online networking and design thinking session organized by Geneva impACTs.
Geneva impACTs (genevaimpacts.com), is an initiative of the Do Tank Geneva Macro Labs. It connects industry experts, impact investors, and start-ups with the intention to turn ideas into smart and actionable projects. The initiative aspires to make sustainability a reality. Convinced that now is the time to bring our combined knowledge and understanding to address global challenges, the Do Tank offers new, innovative ways of leveraging the expertise of a large and growing network. Thus, it combines sustainable development with solution-oriented concepts and fast tracks Sustainable Development Goals through impact projects developed by its community. Its mission is to make sustainability a standard in business, politics and our society in order to create a better future for all of us.