OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

The Plastic Footprint System

The concept of a plastic footprint addresses today's challenges by transforming all aspects of plastics from design through disposal.

Photo of Jack Buffington
5 1

Written by

The Plastic Footprint System (trademark and patent pending) is the first to complete an end to end economic and ecological assessment of a product in order to develop a gap plan to fix the systematic problem.  Today, the problem with plastic is not in its design, procurement, manufacture, use, or disposal, but rather all of the factors collectively.  I have developed a detailed, integrated process to develop new designs, production, forms, uses and supply chain systems for plastic.

The problem with these small-format plastic products is more than a design problem, but an end to end supply chain challenge; for example, the problem of the bottle cap, tear offs, straws, lids, and sachets isn't in its material design, per se, but rather the overall design of how it is sourced, manufactured, distributed, used, and disposed.  For example, it wouldn't be viable to redesign a bottle cap without understanding the bottled water supply chain, or a ketchup packet without the quick service restaurant model.  Therefore, re-designing the material product by itself won't solve the problem in a mass production/consumption model.  

We have conducted assessments of various materials/products to validate how our tool can achieve economic and ecological success in comparison to more conventional methods; in these cases, for example, we have found that a product design for use in Northern Europe has a different plastic footprint than the same item in Southeast Asia.  As a result, this is the value of our tool: to develop an end to end assessment and mitigation tool so that all plastic materials can be economically and ecologically successful in a specific use/environment.


Idea Title

Solve small format plastic through transforming the end to end supply chain system, not incrementally redesigning the material.

Company / Organization Name

University of Denver, Daniel's School of Business


Where are you / your team located?

I am located in Denver, Colorado, in the United States

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

Looking at the overall supply chain, the problem of small-format plastic waste is much larger than largely understood, particularly in fast growing developing nations. As a result, it won't be possible to fix this systemic problem through simply a material or design change. The entire supply chain system needs to be addressed in voluminous detail; the answer is simple, but not easy. Our goal is not to develop incremental, but rather transformational solutions, especially in poorer areas.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

Use Cases 1, 2, and 3. I have studied Use Case #2 the most, given my research in PET recycling.

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

This idea can be implemented in any geographical region of the world, but is most pressing in Southeast Asia where small-format plastic waste is the greatest economic and ecological challenge.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

The Plastic Footprint System is a relatively simple tool, but not a very easy process. It will require submersing a team into every detail of the supply chain process related to a product, such as a plastic cap as a function of an overall bottled water supply chain. The system can be introduced, for example, embedded into Manila and its production, distribution, consumption, and waste management system to define transformation. The obstacle is a reluctance to embrace this commitment.

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.

I would like to partner with the New Plastics Economy Accelerator to tackle one of the most challenging supply chains in the world, such as plastic bottle caps in Manila or Mexico City to validate this approach as solving the problem more successfully than a more conventional approach of simply changing the material design. If successful in these poorer populated regions, it will succeed anywhere. Prior to doing so, I can take your organization through a more basic design review of the model

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

This concept originated through my research as a Research Professor in Sweden and the U.S., collaboration with a university in Mexico City (Universidad Iberoamericana), and conversations with a top global chemical manufacturer (AkzoNobel) as a finalist in their Imagine Chemistry competition.

Tell us about your work experience

I have been a supply chain executive for a large Fortune 500 company in the consumer products industry, and am now transitioning to a Professor at the University of Denver.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

This research is structured within the University of Denver.


Join the conversation:

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congratulations on being today's Featured Contribution!

View all comments