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Feeding Sustainable Local Designs into Global Distribution Chains

Regional innovation programs to bridge the market divide between established companies and emerging technologies to reduce plastic waste.

Photo of Joanna Malaczynski

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Designs and technologies to replace disposable, small-format plastics already exist, but have not successfully been incorporated into our global supply chains.  One perceived challenge is that alternatives to plastic tend to be locally-sourced materials within limited supply / insufficient supply to scale globally.  Other challenges include the external economic and internal corporate challenges to market implementation (please see my research submission for reference about such challenges). 

I propose creating a network of regional sustainable innovation programs or institutes to bridge the market divide between established companies in the region and sustainable designs (aka emerging start-ups) in order to increase the adoption of sustainable technologies that replace disposable small-format plastics locally.  I am part of a group of sustainable innovation professionals in the Pacific Northwest who have discussed forming such a center in our region. 

We understand that established companies frequently fail to properly connect with start-up technologies to solve sustainability challenges.  Often times the established company does not really know what it is looking for and their tech scouts are insufficiently prepared to understand the needed technologies.  The burden is on start-up companies to conduct high-risk discovery into established industry to understand their potential customer’s needs and adapt appropriately.   Start-ups have very limited resources to do this and frequently do not have capacity to scale up to supply an established company.  As a result, many feasible technologies fail to be adequately integrated into established industries’ supply chains. 

In the Pacific Northwest, for example, we have asked the question of whether we can utilize spent grain from our bourgeoning brewing industry (e.g. Oregon Brewers Association) to make disposable plastic substitutes that feed into our regional supply chains through companies such as Whole Foods.  Our design case study is Saltwater Brewery’s edible six-pack ring, which is safe to and edible by marine life.

We anticipate that our program would engage in proactive matchmaking and facilitation between established companies and emerging designs/start-ups.  We would conduct discovery into the needs of established companies as part of that process, search for sufficiently financed/mature technologies and designs, present potential candidate technologies /start-ups to established companies, and provide the parties with a sustainable innovation workflow navigator or process to help them collaborate effectively to get to market implementation.

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

I, along with my fellow sustainable innovation professionals in the Pacific Northwest believe that we need facilitation between sustainable designs (aka emerging start-ups) and established companies in the global supply chain in order to get to actual market implementation. Sustainable design alternatives already exist, the challenge is to scale and incorporate them into the global market. Our idea is to focus on making this happen so that sustainable designs end up in the marketplace.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

This idea applies to all of the disposable, small-format plastics use cases presented in this challenge and targets all geographic regions, although our pilot study is in the Pacific Northwest.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

Our idea is focused on overcoming scale-ability challenges with regional sustainable innovation programs focusing on local resources, local markets, and local companies with global reach. We would engage in proactive matchmaking and facilitation between an established company and emerging design/start-up. We would conduct discovery into the needs of the established company as part of that process, help identify a suitable partner technology, and provide the parties with collaboration tools.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

Funding from this challenge would provide us with the resources to move forward and for me to dedicate my time to this project. Our pilot would be a project in the Pacific Northwest. We anticipate that we would engage in proactive matchmaking and facilitation between an established company and emerging design/start-up, as described above.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

This idea emerged jointly from my software development and consulting work targeted at greening consumer products at my start-up, EcoValuate (please refer to my prior research submission), as well as my work with other sustainable innovation professionals in the region to form a Sustainable Innovation program. I spent some time developing the sustainable innovation workflow navigator and critical project discussion questions & team roles as a student of IDEO U’s From Ideas to Action class.

Tell us about your work experience

My focus has been on helping companies and organizations navigate the sustainable innovation process through visual tools, rapid iteration, and multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

EcoValuate is an LLC. The pilot project is envisioned as organized around a non-profit or a program within an existing non-profit (e.g. Oregon BEST).


Join the conversation:

Photo of Joanna Malaczynski

Hi @Kate Rushton, I am interested in continuing to participate in the refinement phase of the circular design challenge, but not necessarily committed to a specific project. I'm more of a big picture thinker. Any chance to chat about the possibilities? Thanks! Joanna

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Joanna,

Have you seen Base Zero ? You might want to check it out and compare approaches,

Photo of Joanna Malaczynski

Just sent them a note--would be great to find opportunities to collaborate in some context.

Photo of Kate Rushton

It would be interesting to understand the perspective of material scientists on this. I am tagging a few people who might be able to give some feedback - Richard Lombard Brandon Reynante Shimolee Nahar surya konijeti @DeletedUser 

Photo of Joanna Malaczynski

Thanks Kate Rushton . I look forward to their input! Joanna

Photo of Giok P CHUA

The key to consumer behaviour change is how to make biodegradable packaging cheaper than plastic and same or superior benefits. To be able to jump over the "great wall", we need to have ample stock of agri-waste in the 3rd World to create value add by the BoP for jobs & equality. We are starting a  50Acres SuperOrganic  farm on repurpose off grid deforested barren hilly land to implement the Verti3D Space Farming for exponential 1000X yield of bio-produce per acre in Malaysia, 60 minutes north of Singapore. We will startup by 4th Qtr 2017 if we can arrange the funding
With exponential yield, each cattle do not need 4-10 acres to feed. We can drink Fresh Milk like good old days again in glass bottles.......ZERO PLASTIC CAP......So more land for other uses
We hope to green the desert-off shore-aerofarming cities so that everyone can eat fresh without packaging
The abundance waste has infinite possibilities to be use for bioplastic or circular upsize to alternative proteins for animals -fish feed
We aim to roll out to 1MILLION ecoKIBBUTZ Collaborative located 2 hrs from Big City or Town so that there is no more talks of last mile pains to transform 4Billion ( still counting...)  up the social ladder for 4P's Peace Prosperity People Planet.
AgSMART 4.0 is here NOW

Photo of Joanna Malaczynski

Hi Giok P CHUA , you should keep in mind that plastics are made from the waste by-product of petroleum refining. That means that they are virtually free to produce. Government regulation, industry-self regulation, consumer demand, and changes in cultural expectations can change market dynamics sufficiently to make biodegradeable packaging more desirable than plastics. Best of luck! Joanna

Photo of Giok P CHUA

Yes it is a great waste of usefulness from petroleum since the 1970's for many aspect of our quality of life. Except the convenient disposal which no one did a risk analysis then ( sic ). I should know as I was in GE !!!.So how do we turn back the clock to pre 1970 so that the small plastics don't get into the environment?. The best "shock" treatment is an environmental tax of USD$1 per disposal for cleanup cost. Will some social re-engineering experts advise if the plastic disposal issues will per lick in 1000 days?  No worry of scalability!!!! Or what the next best way to walk the talk? Thank you for the conversation

Photo of Oriol Segarra

Joanna Malaczynski scalability is always the problem with these kind of ideas, we also need to think about how sustainable it is to use all bamboo fields to make straws...

Here I link you with a spanish company making edible and compostable straws:

Photo of Joanna Malaczynski

Hi Oriol Segarra , thanks for your comment! If you think about it, straws are not necessary at all, so reducing use is step #1. Some municipalities are already looking to ban them under certain contexts. If someone does want the luxury of a straw, making it out of a waste by product of another industry -- eg bamboo furniture industry could be the way to go, especially if the straw could be durable enough to be reusable -- let's say by the restaurant serving the straw. I like the Sorbos straw for the to-go cup. But I don't personally think we need straws and it is my observation that they are culturally shoved down our throats for various reasons.

Photo of Ravish Majithia

Joanna Malaczynski I second this approach. One thing i would add are regional differences in Materials Recovery Facilities and curbside programs. For example: Colored butter tubs are not accepted everywhere in the US. The differences in curbside programs stem from differences in capabilities of local MRFs which in turn are a direct function of capex. So we need variations in solutions (even if based on any one packaging technology) as it relates to waste capture and retrieval.

I'd be interested to hear your opinion on our concept Magnetizable labels for plastic packaging 

PS: Great to see an Oregonian here. I lived in PDX myself for a while and truly miss the city.

Photo of Joanna Malaczynski

Hi Kate Rushton , Christel Tardif , and Angel Landeros Feeding Sustainable Local Designs into Global Distribution Chains :

Thanks so much for your comments. Yes, I am thinking of a process model that could be replicated locally/regionally based on the resources and packaging being used there. Packaging does vary regionally, even if it is for a product sold by a multi-national company in various parts of the globe.
Kate -- Your questions raise a number of questions back at you, which I incorporate into my responses. Let me start with use cases. There are a number of use cases identified in this challenge that could be tackled by the spent grain (Clif Bar single-use energy sachet, tear-offs on Whole Foods brand products, straws used by craft brewing industry bars/restaurants), and a few others very common to the West Coast of the US that do not appear to be covered (e.g. all plastic lids on plastic tubs such as yogurt and hummus do not recycle at all in our region).

Would you guys consider posting photos of the types of products in your use cases? For example, in the tear offs, I wonder whether you are including all of the plastic-lined aluminum foil tear-offs common to single-serving yogurt containers in our region. In any event, I think with the tear-off example, I was least-certain what was encompassed by the challenge.

Our target use case would be driven by a conversation with our prospective established company / companies and what would most appeal to them, and your approval. We'd probably want to do a couple of prototypes to see what would work best.

Next steps: the next steps would be to talk with all of the stakeholders to get preliminary buy-in on the use cases. My next question to you is--at what point during this process do you expect me to be doing that sort of due diligence? I assumed that would be after top idea selection / with funding, but maybe you are expecting more earlier? Maybe there is a link that explains the process involved in your design challenges a bit more that you could share with me? I am new to your process.

To answer Christel Tardif 's note: Thanks for the input; would love to hear more about France's approach to connecting established companies to start-ups. Yes, established companies are customers to start-ups and we view that relationship as subject to the customer discovery, prototype design, and product implementation process. We also have organizations in the region that connect local start-ups to potential global customers. We do not have, however, a model that connects established local companies in need of a sustainable redesign with emerging start-ups / appropriate technologies. Although we anticipate utilizing established infrastructure in the region related to start-ups to move forward.

To comment on Angel Landeros : thanks for sharing some of these challenges; they are real and common to all of us. I think you summed it up well regarding the preference for the status quo or legacy technology. That is true in every sector and where I think this challenge comes in. Many of the natural resources I mentioned such as spent grain can be plasticized into PLA, which is a good one-on-one substitute for existing plastic designs but there is no infrastructure to recycle that. This challenge does not anticipate a redesign of the recycling/composting/waste-collection system, so it seems to me that it is better to work with the less processed version of the raw materials. Most of these inputs can be waterproofed and made durable with food-grade coatings and "baking" processes, but it does mean some packaging redesign in most cases.

As to your reference to Amazon, I understand they just bought Whole Foods, so another reason to talk to Whole Foods. I have done some volunteer work through the Surfrider Foundation on getting companies to change their practices (e.g. getting bars/restaurants to eliminate plastic straws). I found that you get most traction with companies who are already entertaining sustainable alternatives or really want to create a sustainable brand. That is why I identify Clif Bar, Whole Foods, and artisan brewers as target customers.

Many thanks! Let me know if I didn't address anything that you mentioned. Looking forward to hearing from you further!


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Congratulations on being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Joanna,

It is great to see you in the challenge. Really interesting idea!

Am I right in thinking the aim is for a closed loop reuse/recycling solution based on a process/model that could be replicated and then adapted to other geographies?

For the North West, thinking of the use cases, - - what would you use spent grain for? What are other competing uses of spent grain?

What are the next steps to progress your idea? Are there certain individuals/groups of people you would like to get their perspective from?

I am tagging Angel Landeros who might have an opinion from an FMCG perspective. I am tagging Paricha Duangtaweesub and Christel Tardif for their perspective on this model for two different markets (Thailand and France)

Photo of Christel Tardif

Hello Kate Rushton thanks for tagging me here.
Hi Joanna Malaczynski in your model, what are "established companies" to startups if not customers? If you could give a specific example that would help understand what you want to achieve.
Here in France, we have a lot of organisms connecting startups to established companies, for diverse purposes: partnering, early adoption, integration, etc.
Established companies, the kind you are mentioning (brewing, textile, aerospace) do face a lot of norms regarding solvent. There is still an unsustainable use of plastic there: logistics - when products arrive and are shipped, plastic packaging is used a lot...

Photo of Angel Landeros

From a FMCG perspective it is a complex issue to tackle. There are several factors that go into the selection and development of packaging materials which normally push large corporations to use equally large packaging vendors or to use specs that can be readily manufactured at each region. Here are some of the considerations that go into it:
1. Global Brands can share a global image (Same artwork, package, formula, etc). You can create a more sustainable proposal, but it normally is a different product to the main product. It is used to test the waters or attract a different crowd, but it doesn't really do much to change the foundation of how the main product packages are manufactured ( and
2. A lot of time and money goes into testing product compatibility and stability with packaging. Large companies are normally in the spotlight for any product defect, major user complaint, or recall. The process to test compatibility of a package with each formula at varying ambient conditions is time/resource/money intensive which normally makes decision makers shy away from new or local options.
3. Sometimes low prices are negotiated with global agreements or volumes, so a change in one part of the world might affect the price at other parts. Everyone's price for a globally negotiated raw material or package stays low as long as everyone meets their part of the volume. As most FMCG products are commoditized, most customers are primarily price sensitive (as sustainability and other factors acquire more importance, this is shifting).
4. Long term investments: Most FMCG companies are heavily invested in legacy technology that is not compatible with new alternatives. IT is very difficult to have them let go of this legacy technology and invest in systems or materials that have not proven that they will be around 10 years from now.

Having said all this, it is important to start creating those connections and start pushing the issue or change will never happen. Change is coming forced by companies like Amazon, Dollar Shave Club, etc. I would envision that linking your efforts to the likes of Amazon or other "smaller" yet very visible players will help change consumer expectations and preferences and nudge larger FMCG in the more sustainable direction.