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Closed Loop Water and Recycling System

Ours is a community based supply chain system that provides fresh water and plastic recycling to reduce poverty and clean up the environment

Photo of Jack Buffington
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Our system is the world's first closed loop system for fresh water and plastic recycling built for the developing world. Because there is a vicious cycle between poverty and the environment, these challenges perpetuate one another in poor developing nations, and our system is intended to break this dependency. First, our system is able to purify brackish and other types of non-potable water for the benefit of the community, both in bulk and in single serve plastic bottles. Our packaging line micro-solution can profitably purify and bottle water within a community based supply chain cheaper than a commercial operation, therefore providing the benefit back to the community for re-investment. Finally, we have a chemical recycling process for the plastic that is also profitable, therefore, reducing waste and providing jobs and investment back to the community. Through technological and supply chain innovation, our system is the first in the world to provide these synergistic benefits at a local level, therefore, being able to provide the greatest benefit at the location where it is needed the most. Beyond the economic and ecological benefits, our system is intended to provide entrepreneurship and self reliance to local communities, being able to sell bottled water and commercial grade monomers while at the same time, providing municipal benefits such as bulk water for the people. Our solution is an enterprise partnership between the University of Denver in the US and Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico. We have developed a comprehensive business case to provide the details and all of the technologies mentioned have been tested and implemented in practice.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries are those within any local community, most notably the poorest communities in the developing and developed world. We have modeled our solution to work in one of the poorest slums in Africa, the Katutura Township in Namibia, and also a inner city in the U.S. Because these solutions are self-funding, we believe these micro-supply chain operations can be deployed anywhere in the world, and without significant technical acumen. This system will assist all in the community because it will be providing bulk fresh water, but most notably, our goal is to assist the waste pickers in these slums, who are the most marginalized of all. In Katutura,these waste pickers earn less than $1 a day, well below the U.N. poverty rate of almost $2 a day. Beneficiaries will also be focused on women and children who are often the ones to bear these undignified roles in society.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Our idea is unique because it has yet to be deployed anywhere in the world, and especially in a profitable manner back to the community, as we are proposing. While some of the technology has been deployed both commercially and in research laboratories, there is no system in the world that is able to bring it all together synergistically within a local supply chain system. Our method of plastic bottle recycling is patented in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe, and is especially well suited for our community based approach. In general, our approach is unique because we have flipped the problem of poverty, lack of clean water, and environmental waste inside out to solve it in a different manner than others, and we have a detailed plan that validates this. We have been recognized in international competitions that provides validity to our idea.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Ours is a research partnership between the University of Denver (U.S.) and Universidad Iberoamericana (Mexico City).

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • No, but we are a formal initiative through a university.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

The principal investigator (Jack Buffington, University of Denver) has been an executive in supply chain for decades, and gave a speech at a private university regarding the problems of plastic waste and recycling. While in Mexico City, Jack saw the pilot operation of PET plastic recycling, and worked with his Mexican counterparts to develop this unique combination and technical and supply chain innovation.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Poor slums have been impacted by a lack of clean water, employment, self-reliance, community empowerment, environmental waste, and a lack of human dignity. Unfortunately, these variables are exacerbated to one another, impact the peace, prosperity, and planet of not just that community, but the entire world. So instead of supply chain systems driving performance at the benefit of some areas at the expense of others, why not use them to drive focus into the most difficult areas and to reverse the trends? Not only is this possible, but it should be mandatory, and this project is an example of how it can happen.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Beyond the university partnership, we have one commercial partner, local entrepreneurs, government officials, and commercial retail operations willing to participate. Engagement will bring us together for the benefit of the community, and there are a significant number of NGOs, and commercial organizations who will be interested in participating for its benefit. Both universities have examples of how they have assisted their local communities, and this is an example of how two universities from different nations wish to partner on behalf of those around the world.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

In the developing world, there are a significant number of young who are unemployed and underemployed who wish to help their communities. We also believe this is the case in the inner cities of developing nations, such as the U.S.

Geographic Focus

Africa, Asia, Latin America, U.S.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

We believe we can implement the first site in 12 to 18 months, given the proof of the technology and the level of detail in the business case.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Morgan C

Hi Jack,
Great initiative. Did I read correctly that this will be the first "real world" installation of this machinery? If so, what capacity building/training will you be providing to help local engineers maintain the system, and will spare parts be readily available? Super exciting, and I love the combination of fresh water and plastic recycling, and if this can be made economically sustainable, you could have huge impact on the planet. Best wishes!

Photo of Jack Buffington

Thank you for the response, Morgan. To answer your questions:

1) No, the components of this solution have been installed either commercially, or in a pilot setting.

2) As a part of this solution, and factored into the financial proposition is ongoing technical and leadership support to ensure its success. We will essentially license the solution to the local entrepreneur at a low cost to ensure its success.

3) Spare parts are a critical element of this solution.

You raise some critical questions. Note that the scale of this solution is "community based" meaning that we have factored into our solution of what can be managed or not for a local operator in an area without a high degree of experience in water purification/bottling/recycling. In comparison, today's bottled water and recycling factories/centers are built at such a large scale nobody would ever place them in a community that needs this the most. This is what differentiates our solutions from others.

By building this local scaled operation, it is manageable with all of the benefits remaining local. Thanks for your questions and comments.


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