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Reimagining the Plastic Value Chain: Global teams innovate to keep plastic out of the environment

Reimagining the Plastic Value Chain: Global teams innovate to keep plastic out of the environment

2023 Circular Plastics Challenge

The 2023 Circular Plastics Case Competition challenged participants to create innovative solutions to promote sustainability within the plastics value chain. In partnership with Hillenbrand and Coca-Cola, the inaugural program posed the question: How might we rethink the plastics value chain to improve material circularity to keep plastics in the economy and out of the environment? 

‘Plastic leakage’ is an industry term to describe all plastic materials that are not kept in a circular loop or properly managed at the end-of-life, and therefore leak into the environment. The opposite of plastic leakage is material circulation. In this process, materials are continually kept in a loop, eliminating waste from going into the landfill.

"To create a circular plastics economy, it’s critical that all stakeholders, including the next generation of talent, come together to develop solutions,” said Tory Flynn, Chief Sustainability Officer of Hillenbrand. “This is far too pressing of an issue for the next generation to sit on the sidelines and pass judgment on the plastic industry. Durable plastics have a role to play in our world, but plastic leakage does not. I am incredibly encouraged by the global response to this competition to help shape what matters for tomorrow.”

Students and professionals from around the world proposed over 50 creative solutions that divert plastic from the waste stream and aid in the responsible management of the lifecycle of plastic. Of these solutions, five teams were selected as finalists and presented their solutions to a panel of industry experts for a chance to win the $10,000 grand prize. All finalist teams had an exclusive opportunity to connect with sustainability professionals in the plastics industry. At the event, finalists learned more about how people and organizations are working towards circularity in the plastics industry. 

“We believe developing a circular economy is the most impactful path to address the environmental issues created by packaging. That’s why we established World Without Waste, our ambitious global sustainable packaging initiative,” said Kurt Ritter, VP of Sustainability, The Coca-Cola Company North America. “The creativity and ingenuity of the submissions and the people behind them are exemplary of what our society needs to continue to nurture and promote in order to make a truly circular economy a reality.”

Take a look at our finalists:

1st Place: Ashaya - India

One of the hardest forms of plastic to recycle is metalized multi-layered plastic packaging, which is used with products such as chip packets and candy wrappers. Ashaya has developed (patent-pending) technology that extracts materials from this waste and converts it into premium products like sunglasses, their first proof of concept. What makes them different? They partner with local waste pickers to collect the specific plastic, which provides wages for often low-income community members while removing plastic from the environment. A portion of the proceeds is used to provide schooling for the children of their waste pickers. Learn more about Ashaya here.