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Meet the 2024 Circular Plastics Challenge Finalists

Meet the 2024 Circular Plastics Challenge Finalists


In its second year, the 2024 Circular Plastics Challenge reflected the same goal from its inaugural year: engage emerging leaders in the Net Impact community to find innovative solutions to address plastic waste. This year’s prompt, inspired by the September 2023 McKinsey & Company article “Filling the gap: Boosting supply of recycled materials for packing,” prompted professionals, undergraduates, and graduate students to ponder: How might we increase the supply of rPET to create a more circular economy for plastics? 


Net Impact, Hillenbrand, and The Coca-Cola Company are delighted to announce this year’s Top 5 finalist teams, who exhibited well-researched, innovative, and feasible solutions to increasing rPET supply to support a more circular economy for plastics. Finalist teams’ solutions included a variety of approaches spanning from Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) frameworks, deposit-return schemes, consumer incentives, and technological innovation. Read on for a high-level overview of this year’s teams, listed in random order. 


Project ReVend | Columbia, South Carolina, USA (University of South Carolina Hybrid Net Impact Chapter) 

Project ReVend aims to boost recycling rates by alleviating sortation challenges with a subliminal label design. It also seeks to incentivize consumers to recycle through strategically located reverse vending machines that are integrated with the user's preferred payment account. Spearheaded by Addison Vaughn and Anastasia Chalmers, Project ReVend offers a dynamic solution to drive sustainability within the business realm. Both seniors at the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, the duo's journey began when they crossed paths and discovered a mutual passion for creating a more sustainable future in business. Their collaboration blossomed after enrolling in a Sustainable Operations class, where they were inspired to leverage their majors in Operations and Supply Chain Management to propel the transition toward a circular economy.

Project ReVend Team Addison Vaughn and Anastasia Chalmers


rMarket | San Anselmo, California, USA (Presidio Graduate School Graduate Net Impact Chapter)

rMarket is a full-service platform offering any retail chain the option of becoming a Certified Recycling Center while supporting logistics for reclaimers, processors, and co-packers manufacturing rPET. The goal of rMarket is to provide the equipment, marketplace, and industry expertise to transform a retail store into a centralized collection point for communities underserved by municipal recycling programs. The rMarkets team is led by Carissa Tasto and Jennifer Larkin, both recent MBA graduates from Presidio Graduate School, who share a passion for making circular solutions a reality for consumers and clients. Jennifer has a background in natural resource preservation and consumer packaged goods, while Carissa has a background in scientific research and food and beverage.  



EcoTrace | Kannur, Kerala & Nagpur, Maharashtra, India 

EcoTrace uses fluorescent-based markers in PET plastic manufacturing coupled with Tracer-Based Sorting (TBS) technology to improve the material's recyclability and downstream applications. The zero-waste process is designed to minimize tonnage loss, conserving valuable resources and reducing the carbon footprint associated with plastic production and recycling. The Team EcoTrace is led by Aadhithya Sujith and Sowmya Singh. Aadhithya is an innovator with degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Bangalore Institute of Technology, an MBA in operations management from IGNOU, and a micro masters in Managing Technology and Innovation from RWTH University, Germany. Aadhithya brings over 15 years of experience in crowdsourcing and innovation and has won over 60 global innovation awards to date through the cross-pollination of technologies across industries, solving technical challenges for companies around the world. Sowmya has a BE in Electrical & Electronics engineering from Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University. She currently serves as a Senior Business Intelligence Consultant with over 9 years of experience in the IT Industry. She has worked in various domains like healthcare, media, real estate, finance, HR analytics, and sustainability.  

Team EcoTrace with Aadhithya Sujith and Sowmya Singh


Strong Bottle | Boise, Idaho, USA 

Many lightweight PET bottles are landfilled because they are easily flattened and then mistaken for paper during the recycling process in Material Recovery Facilities. Strong Bottle proposes a new disposable water bottle shape to prevent flattening during sorting for recycling, which could result in a significant increase in the PET collected during the recycling process. Strong Bottle is a collaboration between Terra Miller-Cassman, Aaron Smith, PhD and Taylor Fackrell. Terra is a materials scientist with a background in environmental science and consulting. In 2019, she redirected her career to advance technologies and solutions to address plastic waste. She currently develops new recycling processes and sustainable materials as a Ph.D. candidate in Materials Science & Engineering. Taylor Fackrell and Dr. Aaron Smith deliver the engineering and design expertise for Strong Bottle. Taylor is a systems assembly technician completing a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering. Aaron is a professor in Mechanical Engineering with a background in product development. He transitioned from industry to academia to teach design courses, which include curriculum on designing for sustainability and the circular economy. The team is based out of Boise State University in Idaho. Terra, Taylor, and Aaron share a passion for innovation to solve societal challenges, having founded separate startup businesses in recycled plastic products (Terra), marketing (Taylor), and medical technologies (Aaron). 

Team Strong Bottle


Bottle Bot | Red Hook, New York, USA (Bard College Graduate Net Impact Chapter) 

BottleBot is a deposit return scheme that collects PET bottles and distributes rewards for consumers through an interactive reverse vending machine co-sponsored by large brands with established recycled content goals. It incorporates AI scanning that reduces contamination and blockchain technology that allows retailers to track and manage PET supply throughout the plastics value chain. BottleBot is led by Nicole Restani Kolbeck, Sebastian Weeks, and Nate Kolbeck. Nicole and Sebastian are MBA in Sustainability candidates at Bard's Graduate Program in Sustainability. They both focus their studies on circular value chains in business. Nate is the co-founder of 3D Brooklyn, a local fabrication, modern product design, and prototyping studio.


Ahead of the May 8th Final Showcase, which will be broadcast live at NPE2024, the largest plastics trade show in the Americas, the Top 5 finalist teams will be introduced to a subject matter expert mentor to refine and improve their solution and pitch presentation. At the Final Showcase, the finalists will present their solutions to the Final Judging Panel, composed of executives from The Coca-Cola Company, Hillenbrand, Inc., and The Recycling Partnership. The first, second and third-place teams will be announced publicly shortly after the Showcase. Read more about the partnership here.