Today I have the pleasure to host a post written by José Luis Gutiérrez-García. He has studied Sustainable Supply Chains and Environmental Sustainability in San Francisco and he has experiences in mining in the Arctic area. Back in 2012, he was one of the co-founders of UpGyres, a global community with the vision of developing new equipment, technology and methodology for transforming ocean pollution into resources. UpGyres informs industries, businesses, schools, governments, communities and individuals that plastic is too valuable to waste and that it does not belong in the ocean. One of the most important projects of UpGyres is named ZShips, a project that is changing the conversation to zero fossil fuel, zero emissions, 100% fuel cost savings for commercial vessels and fleets. Jose Gutiérrez-García’s writing on transforming marine plastic waste into revenue streams has been published in magazines such as Business Excellence, CleanTech Loops and Ship&Offshore (see more at the end of the post). His post is really challenging and I am sure it will inspire some very interesting discussions and debates. Enjoy it.
A new Operational System for Plastics is Realistic
“The rise of the Internet of Bins, Internet of Packaging, machine intelligence and user engagement through software and apps is upgrading the Old Operating System of “Plastic Waste Management” to the New Operating System of Plastic Resource Recovery.
The Old Plastic Waste Management Operating System -OPWMOS- for collection and sorting plastics is intricate and fragmented and it is the main driver for littering and for lack of recycling.
UpGyres proposes the New Plastic Resource Recovery Operating System -NP RROS- to implement Circular Economy design, engineering, barcoding, tracking, collection, sorting, separation, and transfer of all plastics to be reused, upcycled, recycled and recovered, leading to an optimal life-cycle. The NP RROS is one of the vehicles that engages plastic designers, producers, packaging industry, retail, resource haulers and recyclers and helps harmonize standards making the aims of the Global Plastics Protocol easier and faster to achieve.
Currently, bioplastics represent about one per cent of the approximately 300 million tonnes of plastic produced annually. But as bioplastics demand rises and with more sophisticated materials, applications, and products emerging, the market is already growing by about 20 to 100 per cent per year. According to the latest market data compiled by European Bioplastics, global production capacity of bioplastics is predicted to grow by 50 percent in the medium term, from around 4.2 million tonnes in 2016 to approximately 6.1 million tonnes in 2021. The biodegradable plastics market is projected to grow from more than USD 2.0 Billion in 2015 to USD 3.4 Billion by 2020.
With more biodegradable plastics, most of which are also recyclable, coming into the market and ending up in the waste stream every year, recovery of ALL PLASTICS represents an opportunity worth hundreds of millions in ALL WORLD currencies.
The PLASTIKA REPARABILIS Challenge is a 2 year, 30 million Canadian dollars global competition to incentivize the development of technologies, system(s), infrastructure and methodology to usher in the New Plastics Economy and the New Plastic Resource Recovery Operating System.
Because plastics are global; they are made, sold, transported, used and discarded in every corner of our planet, the NP RROS’ regulations, markets and innovations provide a stable, consistent way for users, resource haulers, Material Recovery Facilities, Compost Facilities, Compounders and brokers of plastics to be able and capable of disposing, recovering and profiting from the same material anywhere and everywhere; from Vancouver, to Cambridge Bay, New York, Leiper’s Fork, México City, Teotitlán, Quito, Amsterdam, Vadodara, Cairo, Phuket, Bali, Hong Kong, Brisbane, Abu Dhabi to Tuvalu.
The NP ROSS creates the hardware and software that harmonizes criteria and facilitates, encourages and rewards the individual’s active participation in a global standardized system for the collection of ALL plastics in ONE bin everywhere in the WORLD.
It’s time for the Internet of Packaging
Technology has a very important role to play in the NP RROS for implementing solutions to plastic pollution. Technologies like the internet of packaging which allows Brands to barcode and track their packaging.
Barcoding ALL packaging, Brand and No Name alike, with precise information about the exact ingredient(s) of each and every packaging type they use enables precise sorting according to polymer, resin and feedstock composition.
Tracking allows plastics convertors and processors as well as waste management companies, brands and the public -through transparency campaigns- to follow the journey of their packaging during its entire life-cycle; from cradle -to cradle- to grave, allowing plastics converters and brands greater and easier control over their Extended Producer Responsibility -EPR- and allowing waste management companies all over the world, not only in Europe, to measure recycling at the “input into final recycling” point where the materials are in effect recycled from recovered resources into products or into chemicals or fuels for other processes, or sent to landfill.
The barcoding and tracking of packaging shares information about where packaging is manufactured and where it is recovered; including its rescue by shore and ocean cleanup operations. Packaging barcoding and tracking shares information about where its discarded resources are recycled in a different country to where they have originated; and quantify plastic packaging & products to address directly where, how, and how much of a particular packaging gets littered and how much of it gets recycled.
The Internet of Packaging in the NP RROS makes the circular economy a priority for ALL plastics converters everywhere in the world to reduce the number of plastics in use to those that are least toxic and most recyclable.
When a certain type of single use, disposable packaging is not recyclable, reusable or compostable in one country or municipality, and it is not desirable or economic to create infrastructure for its optimum, most valuable reutilization, the barcoding and tracking data provides predictive strategy for Brands and municipalities to ask the plastic processor for a formulation that has effective circular economy solution capabilities. If the manufacturer is not willing or able to adjust to the Brand and municipality’s requirements, they can then replace that supplier with another of paper or bio-plastic alternatives that are recyclable and/or bio-absorbable, or phase out unnecessary packaging completely; “Reduce” = eliminate that plastic packaging altogether, helping “consumers” change in behaviour to overcome our plastic reliance particularly on single use, disposable plastic items.
Through a combination of advanced sensor technology, next-generation robotics, the Cloud and machine learning, the internet of bins in the new Operating System of plastics works with “smart” resource recovery bins that automatically sort recyclable from unrecyclable, from biocompatible plastics by the types and amounts of material compositions that make up the discarded plastics; i.e. among others: PET, HDPE, PS, Starch, PLA, PHB, PA 11, PEF, CO2, Edibles, Chitosan, and fiber-based materials.
Through the Cloud, Smart Bins will:
- Categorize packaging from the information on the barcode; and in the absence of a readable barcode, by sensing the type, density, and value of the plastic’s compositions.
- Audit resource generation.
- Provide predictive analytics information to the hauling company about projected date and time when to empty and when to service them.
- Connect independent haulers in the immediate proximity to service a 90% full bin when other collectors are not available.
- Update wirelessly when there are changes in the recycling capability of, and new formulations or types of plastics in the community.
- Serve as WiFi hotspots and charge phones wirelessly acting as temporary social hubs empowering people to take proactive actions and encouraging them to be a part of the solution in reducing their reliance on oil and gas derived plastics.
- Pre-sort clean from contaminated streams and provide the information and data to haulers, Material Recovery Facilities -MRFs-, Compost Facilities and Compounders in real time.
- Lock themselves when they are full.
When the plastics arrive at the MRFs, further optical, mechanical, electrostatic, magnetic density and sensor sorting and separation of products and packaging by content type and content amount streamline and optimize the recovered resource supply, demand, distribution channels, and the sales of each high, medium and low value plastic stream through forward contracts.
At times of protective measures on national levels and during globalized administrations alike, the New Plastic Resource Recovery OS gives preference to processing locally; regional processing second, nationally third, and exporting discarded plastic resources to other countries as a last choice. This way, the NP RROS works advantageously to minimize transportation costs and emissions.
The NP RROS prioritizes selling and sending clean streams not only to the highest bidder, but to the right processor; be it an upcycler who extracts chemicals/polymers from discarded plastics by type to produce raw materials for new plastic production, or transforms the resources into value added products, or to a recycler who downcycles the plastics into reduced value products.
Contaminated petroleum plastic streams are sent in priority, first to processors who convert bales of mixed dirty discarded plastics from marine, agricultural and food packaging sources into building materials, and as fuel for cement kilns or waste-to-energy facilities in last options.
Contaminated biocompatible plastics that are not suitable for other recovery streams could be composted, or processed with emerging technologies such as Full Cycle, which converts organic waste into compostable and recyclable bioplastic.
User software and apps in the NP RR Operating System enable plastic user engagement. By scanning the packaging on the user’s phone prior to depositing it in the smart resource recovery bin, apps earn users points or rewards or reimburses their packaging deposit.
Apps provide the exact distance and location of the next closest available ALL plastics bin to the user’s phone, when smart bins are at capacity, gamifying the extra “effort” of getting to it as a geocaching experience that earns them additional points or rewards.
Because in the marketplace there are always new and more than one particular type of plastic composition derived from refined petroleum and natural gas, to plants, shellfish, agricultural waste, all the way up to plastics derived from captured greenhouse gas emissions; user apps of the New Plastic Resource Recovery Operating System take away the confusion about what is recyclable, reusable, compostable or biocompatible, and instead, include ALL plastic collection awareness campaigns on social media, reminders on plastic disposal etiquette and educate the plastic disposer for what kind of recycling or upcycling their item is suitable.
The UpGyres New Plastics Resource Recovery Operating System interfaces plastic disposers seamlessly in the transition from being consumers, to becoming user/suppliers of resources in the circular economy.”
Some very interesting writings from José Luis Gutiérrez-García:
Upcycling and its Advantages
Gutiérrez-García, JL. (September 22, 2013) Clean Tech Loops – available at:
Are we eating trash from your mine?
Gutiérrez-García, JL. (March 2013) Business Excellence Magazine. Americas Edition – available on Page 7 at:
Transforming marine plastic pollution into fuel
Gutiérrez-García, JL. (December 2012) Ship & Offshore No.8 –available on Page 20 at:
Fuel from the Oceans
Gutiérrez-García, JL. (May 2012) Business Excellence Magazine. Americas Edition – available on Page 11 at: