According to the UNEP, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased around the world every minute, while 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In total, half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once — and then thrown away. The result? We’ve got a big plastic problem on our hands, and evidence of it is everywhere.
Can you think of the last time you were out in nature and didn’t see some form of plastic waste littering the landscape? Crumpled water bottles along a walking trail, plastic bags bobbing in the waves at the beach – it’s become so ubiquitous in the natural environment that it’s literally changing our climate.
In this post, we’re highlighting some of the social enterprises who are on the front lines of fighting plastic pollution for a cleaner and more sustainable planet, and who are part of our S-GRID accelerator program and broader global community. Continue reading to learn more about the innovative solutions developed by each, and how you can learn more and support their work!
Cleaning Up Our Oceans
The Seabin Project
Our oceans, harbors, and marinas are full of plastic trash. The Seabin Project, an Australian social enterprise dedicated to cleaner oceans, was born out of the simple question: if there are rubbish bins on land, why not also in the water? This led Founders Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski to design a “Seabin” that could be installed in bodies of water to collect trash, oil, fuel, and detergents. Over time, the scope of the project evolved into a comprehensive research, technology, and educational initiative driving behavioral and policy change on a global scale. In fact, one one of our Global Fellows was recently hired by the Seabin Project full-time as the Global Chief Operating Officer to help its solutions scale even further!
The Great Bubble Barrier
The Great Bubble Barrier is a social enterprise aiming to stop plastic pollution in rivers and canals before it reaches our oceans. Its bubble barrier system operates 24/7 to catch plastic over the full width and depth of rivers – all without interfering with regular river activities or marine life. The Great Bubble Barrier also monitors the amount of plastic in waterways to support policy development, ensures sustainable processing of the plastic it collects with its project partners, and uses its platform to drive awareness of the dangers of plastic pollution and prevent it.
Offering Alternatives to Single-Use Plastic Products
Single-use plastic bags are wasteful and costly to the environment. ECOBAGS is a B Corporation on a mission to change that by offering thoughtful, ethically and sustainably sourced, durable-reusable bags that inspire people to reduce, reuse, recycle, and re-imagine the world we live in. ECOBAGS prioritizes sustainability throughout its supply chain, and invests in the workers who manufacture its bags with competitive compensation, extended health coverage, retirement benefits, pension plans (under government programs), plus vacations and holidays. Offering everything from tote bags to lunch boxes to travel bags, ECOBAGS empower anyone to live more lightly on the earth while continuing to influence culture by responsibly making goods that invite conversation and inspire the change we want to see in the world.
World For Good
World For Good is a social enterprise that upcycles waste from the textile industry into reusable tote bags that are a sustainable alternative to single-use plastic bags. To make the bags, World For Good employs women from communities vulnerable to human trafficking at fair wages, creating opportunities for financial independence and security. Profits from the sale of the bags are then reinvested into scaling the solution further, creating more jobs while at the same time keeping more fabric out of the landfills.
Day Owl is a social enterprise working to build the first completely circular bag economy. It builds its products from recycled landfill-bound materials, repairs and refurbishes them to keep them in circulation for multiple owners, and when they’re used up, it makes sure they become input materials for new bags. A Day Owl product begins when a waste collector in the First Mile picks up a piece of plastic. Day Owl’s model helps formalize waste collection networks in low-income communities and bridges the gap for global brands to purchase from these responsible supply chains, while diverting plastic waste from our oceans and landfills.
The restaurant industry is another major source of single-use plastic pollution. Cropsticks is a Benefit Corporation on a mission to leave behind a greener environment for future generations by producing eco-friendly products for restaurants and retailers, like bamboo chopsticks. By carefully selecting materials that are helpful for the environment to upcycling used products, Cropsticks is committed to full-circle sustainability.
Driving a “Refill Revolution”
Urban Spring is a Hong Kong based social enterprise that brings together a suite of technology and applications for empowering deployment of smarter alternatives to single-use plastic bottled water for a sustainable urban lifestyle. Its network of award-winning smart water stations provide point-of-use drinking water serving hundreds and thousands of people commuting around Hong Kong and beyond.
Algramo is a Chilean social enterprise on a mission to reduce single-use plastic packaging. Its smart dispensing system allows consumers to buy the amount of product (like laundry detergent, rice, or pet food) they need and pay via an app, before refilling their containers either from an electric tricycle at their door or at an in-store vending machine. Algramo has worked with global consumer goods companies Unilever, Purina and Walmart to drive what they call the “refill revolution.”
Building More Sustainable Waste Management Value Chains
Noble Plastics is an eco-social initiative by the Catalyst Group that champions effective use of plastic waste, while promoting the well-being of people and the planet. Piloted in 2018, the core business of Noble Plastics is currently to collect used hangers from corporations in the apparel industry, repurpose or recycle the hangers, and sell them back to fashion companies. Noble Plastics has two operating sites in India, where the recycling and repurposing of hangers is done mainly by women and members of marginalized communities who are hired, trained and empowered to become financially independent as a result. Noble Plastics then reinvests its profits into its flagship primate healthcare program for the urban and rural poor, Invest for Wellness (i4we).
Arqlite is a social enterprise that collaborates with environmentally responsible brands to design customized and scalable solutions for everyday environmental problems, including the problem of plastic waste. Its proprietary technology is capable of upcycling the up-to-now unrecyclable plastics that otherwise would have ended up in dumps, landfills, incinerators or even worse: water courses, polluting our environment for thousands of years. One of its signature products, Arqlite Gravel, is a durable, safe, and eco-friendly alternative to traditional gravel that directly helps reduce plastic pollution in our oceans, lakes, and landfills.
Ashaya is a social enterprise that aims to increase the value of waste through technological and scientific innovations in recycling and then fairly redistribute that value to stakeholders in the supply chain, especially those who are the poorest: waste-pickers. Currently, it is developing recycling processes to treat three different types of plastic waste: multi-layered plastic (MLP), polycotton textiles and coloured polyethylene terephthalate (PET). MLP and polycotton are generally considered to be low-value plastic waste while coloured PET is notoriously difficult to recycle. The team is currently working on converting this waste into high-quality material (like 3D printing filament) which will then be monetized to turn a profit that can be reinvested into further scaling its solutions.
Hasiru Dala, which means Green Force, is a social impact organisation that works with waste pickers and other waste workers to ensure a life with dignity. The group was founded to organize waste pickers city-wide and provide a platform for them to be recognised for their economic contribution and as environmentalists. For centuries, waste pickers have been part of an invisible economy without recognition or rights. Many times waste pickers are women without access to basic social security like housing, education, or healthcare. Hasiru Dala works for waste pickers and informal waste collectors, and has been working for the betterment of lives and livelihood of waste pickers. Hasiru Dala works to bridge the gap between waste workers and other stakeholders, like the local governments, policy makers, and citizens.
Mr. Green Africa
Mr. Green Africa is a social enterprise working to change the future of plastic recycling in emerging markets. Mr. Green Africa, the first recycling company to be a Certified B Corporation on the African continent, leverages business as a force for good to realize sustainable, long-term social, environmental and economic impact through the collection, conversion and selling of post consumer plastic waste. Its technology driven plastics collection model enables waste collection at the source, integrating informal waste workers, micro-entrepreneurs and consumers into its formal value chain, increasing the amount of post-consumer plastic waste Mr. Green Africa collects and providing stakeholders the chance to earn a fair, predictable and transparent income and benefits.
Wecyclers is a social enterprise powering social and environmental change by allowing people in low-income communities to capture value from their waste, while providing a reliable supply of materials to the local recycling industry. Its low-cost recyclable waste management infrastructure uses technology to raise general awareness about the importance of recycling for environmental sustainability and social welfare gained from reduction in pollution and diseases like malaria, and its best in class performance tracking system measures and reports on recyclables collection in real time.
Plastic Bank is a social enterprise “turning plastic into gold” by revolutionizing the world’s recycling systems to create a regenerative, inclusive, and circular plastic economy. Plastic Bank builds ethical recycling ecosystems in coastal communities, and reprocess the materials for reintroduction into the global manufacturing supply chain. Collectors receive a premium for the materials they collect to better help them provide basic family necessities such as groceries, school tuition, and health insurance. Collected material is then reborn as Social Plastic® which is reintegrated into products and packaging. This creates a closed-loop supply chain while helping those who collect it. Its proprietary blockchain platform secures the entire transaction and provides real-time data visualization: allowing for transparency, traceability, and rapid scalability.
EcoPost is a social enterprise that addresses the challenges of urban waste management (plastic pollution), chronic youth unemployment, deforestation and climate change. EcoPost recycle waste plastic to manufacture into Eco-friendly plastic lumber profiles with applications in numerous industries, from fencing to road signage to outdoor furniture. By employing existing technology and local labor and resources, EcoPost uses 100% recycled plastics to make aesthetic, durable and environmentally friendly plastic lumber that create fair wage jobs and more sustainable communities.
Tridi Oasis Group
Tridi Oasis is a homegrown Indonesian recycling company aiming to turn problems in waste management into opportunities through recycling locally-sourced plastic waste into high quality raw materials. Indonesia is the second largest contributor of ocean plastics in the world, and its existing waste management systems are not adequate to handle the volume of waste being produced alongside economic and population growth. To address that gap, Tridi Oasis focuses on recycling PET (polyethylene terephthalate) such as plastic bottles into a wide-range of high-quality recycled PET flakes, which can be transformed into sustainable packaging and textiles, while at the same time creating sustainable jobs for the communities along the waste management value chain.
Does your organization have an innovative social or environmental solution that you are trying to scale? Apply to SGRID for help building connections to corporations looking to find partners for their supply chains.