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Closing the plastic loop

How to phase out current plastic waste and prevent its creation

Photo of Vivek
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The idea aims to close the plastics loop by:

[1] collection and removal of plastic waste from the system

[2] prevent the creation of plastic waste by designing bio-degradable alternatives to plastic packaging 

Part 1

Collection and removal of plastic waste is largely a question of educating and motivating people. We achieved 100% success in this and ensured zero garbage in our community of about 300 families. This was possible due to large voluntary participation of community members in the initiatives as well as clear guidelines on waste disposal techniques. Currently all the waste generated is either composted or recycled. 

The low thermal conductivity of plastic should make it suitable for insulation requirements. By incorporating such waste into durable structures, we can reduce energy requirements for heating while taking plastic waste out of the system. Admittedly this only kicks the can further down the road, however it avoids the negative environmental and economic impacts of incineration or landfills.

Part II

Bioplastics are probably the only option currently available that can both meet current demands for packaging and also prevent environmental disasters from playing out. There are multiple options for bioplastics and we would like to undertake commercial development of such bio-degradable material. Options we are considering use cornstarch, vinegar, gelatin etc. which are 100% environment friendly.


Idea Title

Enabling a zero plastic world

Company / Organization Name

Reach Out Communications


Where are you / your team located?

Marol, Mumbai, India

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

The idea adopts a two-pronged approach. [1] To ensure 100% collection of all waste (including plastic waste) in a community. We have already achieved this within our community comprising about 300 families. ALL our waste is either composted or recycled. [2] Eliminate creation of plastic waste using bioplastics engineering by bringing together technologists, businesses and communities.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

It applies to all three cases

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

We intend to implement this hyperlocally i.e. within the area of Marol in Mumbai and replicate this across communities, villages/cities and then nationally and globally.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

We need to finalize bioplastic alternatives for current packaging and other small plastic items using the technology that is already available. The main challenge is commercial viability.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Piloting: You have started to implement your solution as a whole with a first set of real users. You may have started to develop a business model for your idea, including identifying key customer segments, relevant partnerships, go-to-market strategy, and draft financials.
  • Full-scale roll-out: You have developed a pilot, tested, and analyzed the impact of that pilot as it pertains to the problem scope. You are ready to expand the pilot significantly and begin to scale.

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

Our goal is to enable a plastic-free world. The key steps we would take are: [1] work with technologists such as the Indian Institute of Technology - Bombay and/or CTARA (IIT Bombay) and/or Industrial Design Centre (IIT Bombay) to develop commercially viable bioplastic packaging [2] work with manufacturers to adopt and promote bioplastic packaging [3] work with communities and municipalities to educate people (both vendors and buyers) about garbage collection, segregation and composting

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

Our community was recognized by ICICI Bank as a Swachch (Clean) Society last year & we have been working to ensure zero-garbage. We achieved this target 3 months ago & the local municipal corporation invited our community to educate people at an exhibition in Mumbai on 21-23 July 2017. Based on the success of this initiative, we feel it is time to take it a step further and ensure not just zero garbage but zero plastic as well and the OpenIDEO forum seems completely aligned with our objectives.

Tell us about your work experience

I am an entrepreneur (B. Tech - IIT Bombay), author of "Escape Your Illusions" (about social and environmental impact of consumerism). My wife has worked with NGOs for social and environmental causes.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Reach Out Communications is a partnership firm registered in Mumbai, India


Join the conversation:

Photo of Andrew

I good effort Vivek, I found the URLs you attached to be very interesting. I have read up on this issue, but they added something extra. I have a question if I may: it concerns a perfect recycling world where there are 1 million used PET drinking bottles in one pile and their polypropylene bottle caps in another pile. Basically two piles where all the items have exactly the same polymer characteristics. Could they only be recycled into low grade, single use, polymers? Or could they be recycled into high grade multi-use PET and polypropylene polymers, basically becoming the same materials they were before but in raw form?

Maybe this could only be answered by a material scientist. Is Kara Johnson still at IDEO, could she answer? (I have her book on my desk.)

I think it is a very important question concerning our plastics system. There is no point doing a load of work separating out polymers if they cannot be recycled back into high-grade, multi-use, form. I thought the only reason why polymers were recycled into low grade, single-use, was because they were mixed up at the initial sortation level.

Photo of Vivek

Thanks Andrew! Yes, the question you raised is the most critical one in the plastics system.
Plastics are assigned Resin Codes from 1-7 (the number within the 3 triangular arrows that you see on all plastic materials). The arrows have nothing to do with recycling and the numbers only indicate the chemicals used in the plastic.

PET is classified as a Code 1 material whereas polypropylene (PP) is assigned Code 5. To the best of my knowledge, in the current system only Code 1 and Code 2 materials are "down-cycled" (not recycled) into Code 3-7 materials.

The used Code 3-7 materials are either incinerated or sent to a landfill or worse, dumped in the oceans.

So, to answer your questions:
"Could they only be recycled into low grade, single use, polymers?"
Only the PET bottles will get recycled ("down-cycled" actually), into low grade single use plastics. Materials have to have the same Code to be treated together so the bottles (Code 1) and bottle-caps (Code 5) cannot be treated together. Even when materials with the same Code are treated together, internal variations (due to chemicals to change the color, texture etc. of the bottle) can create problems.

"Or could they be recycled into high grade multi-use PET and polypropylene polymers, basically becoming the same materials they were before but in raw form?"
No plastic ever gets recycled into its original form. After the first down-cycle, Code 1 and 2 materials become Code 3/4/5/6/7 materials.

The scope of this challenge is mainly to address these Code 3-7 materials as they have no utility at all after they are used. The main problem is that differently coded materials cannot be treated together due to their chemical differences. However all plastics share the property of low thermal conductivity irrespective of their Resin Code numbers. Hence it is possible to shred and reuse them as insulating material (especially in non-temperature critical situations -- i.e. where small temperature variations are not catastrophic -- such as housing and office spaces). This is nothing new and has been successfully used in low temperature locations such as Kathmandu. Not only does this get plastic out of the system and avoid energy consumption and toxic emissions of plastic incineration, it also reduces heating costs.

Additional links below;

Photo of Andrew

Thanks Vivek, a good explanation. The fact that no high grade polymers can, at present, be recycled into high grade polymers has terrible implications for the circular economy. I knew it was bad, but not that bad, the chemists/engineers who work in the industry will have to come up with something fast. In addition, I really wish that people would make this basic fact crystal clear (like you have). A lot of information from industry/government obfuscates this key point. Look at the Polymark project, there is no reference to this point there: