The alternative plastic recycling system
Pitch us on your solution
Precious Plastic designs open source recycling machines, products, and online collaboration tools so that anyone can become part of our alternative plastic recycling ecosystem called the Precious Plastic Universe.
We create downloadable starter kits with all the information required for creating different types of organizations within the Universe, like small plastic recycling businesses for creating new products, machine fabrication shops to build our machines, Community Points to organize awareness campaigns and grow the local community, or Collection Points for gathering plastic waste from citizens to be recycled in the network.
Our 80,000 strong global community of independent businesses, organizations and people form a new value chain of plastic recycling that keeps material local and recycles it into new products like bricks for construction, sheets for furniture, household items like bowls or vases, and more. We provide over 60 educational tutorial videos and “how-to guides” for anyone to start recycling plastic waste.
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What is the problem you are solving?
Precious Plastic is solving three causes of low plastic recycling rates:
Traditional recycling machinery typically requires huge capital investment
Recycling technology is often patented and proprietary
Consumer culture and behavior continues to view plastic as cheap and disposable instead of valuable
Many communities, especially in the developing countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, do not have the capital available to invest in recycling machinery, which is why we lower the barrier of entry for entrepreneurs and develop low cost machinery made from widely available components and materials. While traditional recycling technology is patented and in the hands of large companies, everything we develop at Precious Plastic is open sourced and available online for free. Lastly, everything that’s done by Precious Plastic or our independent workspaces around the world includes education about behavior change for both the people donating their plastic waste and end consumers of recycled products - that plastic is not something that should be disposable after a single use, but is instead valuable. The amount of plastic waste generated is a huge untapped potential if only looked at from a new perspective - that plastic is precious.
Who are you serving?
Our primary target is the plastic waste entrepreneur who wants to start a business or organization to address the plastic waste problem. Whether that be someone who wants to focus on collecting, product design, production, machine building or educational workshops, we provide the machines, tools, business models and knowledge to get them started with their enterprise. Once we help them get started, we fully integrate them into our online community so they can continue to learn information from other Precious Plastic practitioners, as well as share their knowledge back to the community.
Our secondary targets are everyday people that make these organizations work - from washing their plastic waste and bringing it to a Precious Plastic collection point, to buying the recycled plastic product produced by a Precious Plastic workspace and utilizing it over the long term. These are the people that through their active participation in our network, can help change the culture and behavior around plastic and shift the perspective towards rejecting it as a single use material.
What is your solution?
Our solution is a whole “universe” of machines, tools, knowledge, online platforms, graphic material, techniques, and community that make up an alternative plastic recycling network.
We provide 7 open source machine blueprints for recycling plastic into new products, 15+ open source techniques to create products using our machines, an academy with 60+ instructional video tutorials and informational guides covering the whole process of starting and running a Precious Plastic workspace, an online community forum for people all over the world to discuss their learnings and iterate on our designs, a marketplace for people to independently buy and sell Precious Plastic machines, moulds, and products, a map to find and connect with Precious Plastic organizations and businesses around the world, and a software tool for any organization in our network to share step by step instructions on how to create a new machine, product, or technique they’ve developed.
Precious Plastic lowers the cost of starting a plastic recycling business or organization, opens up recycling technology so it can be replicated or improved, and changes behavior through encouraging everyday people to actively witness and participate in their waste being turned into valuable new products, locally.
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Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Eindhoven, Netherlands
Our solution's stage of development:
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Three things make Precious Plastic innovative: open source, online global collaboration, and small scale, local recycling of new products.
Providing open source machine designs, information, and products for free online is a significant departure from the norm. Instead of building and selling the machines we design ourselves, we empower others to build and sell them to start a business. Instead of producing the products we design ourselves, we share step by step instructions on how others can produce and sell them. This allows us to focus on development and community management, while the real recycling is done independently by local organizations around the world.
Instead of sending a simple email newsletter, we build and maintain an online software platform and forums so that our community can discuss and collaborate with one another directly. This helps us accelerate solutions for the plastic waste problem, because the problem is too big for one organization to do it alone.
And lastly, our model of small scale recycling of local waste into local products is a complete shift from the traditional recycling system that ships plastic across the world to be recycled into products which most likely never make it back to the communities that produced the plastic waste. The consumer never sees the product, thus lowering trust in the recycling system.
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
Most recycling solutions continue to rely on large scale recycling infrastructure, which has many environmental, economic, and social challenges. China’s plastic ban showed Europe and the US that they cannot continue to rely on dumping their recyclables on developing countries. Precious Plastic takes a different approach - keep material local through empowering people connected globally.
The benefit of the Precious Plastic Universe is that as lessons are learned and new practices are developed in one part of the world, the rest of our community benefits through the open sharing of information. Under traditional circumstances, gained knowledge is utilized only by the organization that discovered it, which slows the pace of development and adoption around the world. Precious Plastic’s model of open source technology and knowledge linked by an online community of practitioners is already providing a significant impact to the plastic waste problem globally.
Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
We currently have 350 known, registered workspaces (plastic recycling businesses or community projects) that are using our machines and solutions. Because our solutions are open source, there are probably additional hundreds that we don’t know about. Each workspace has an average of 5 people working on it, which is a total of 1750 people involved in workspaces. We have around 1000 machine builders (people who have built or are willing to build Precious Plastic machines) registered with us. Another 12,000 people registered on our map saying that they would like to offer their skills and start collaborating with others in their local area. This is a total of around 15,000 people that we are directly serving. Our online community forums consists of 80,000 people who have registered to discuss and collaborate with others on the plastic waste problem. Considering the amount of people that we reach indirectly through each one of Precious Plastic independent workspaces and members, our website and videos, and other projects inspired by Precious Plastic, the number served is in the hundreds of thousands if not millions.
We’re aiming to have 700 Workspaces, 1,400 Machine Shops, 300 Collection Points, and 15,000 members registered on our (new) Map within one year. This means it will be a number of around 20,000 people who will be directly affected, plus the thousands of people who will be indirectly impacted by those organizations.
In 5 years this number will reach 50,000 people directly impacted or profiting from Precious Plastic solutions, and 5 million indirectly impacted.
How do you measure your solution’s positive impact? If available, what measurable impact have you had in the last three years?
We can most easily measure our impact through online integration with our platforms. Our impacts to date are 350 registered recycling workspaces around the world, 1000 machine builders registered saying they have built or can build Precious plastic machines, 12,000 people registering on our map saying they want to get started, 80,000 people registered on our online forums, 250 sellers registered on our online marketplace (Precious Plastic Bazar), 200,000 euros in transaction volume on the Bazar in 2019, 18% average month over month growth rate in transaction volume, 65,000 average monthly visitors to PreciousPlastic.com, 41,000 followers on facebook, and 42,000 followers on instagram.
One drawback of an open source project is the difficulty of measuring impact. In 2020 we are commissioning an impact assessment study to quantify more of the impact from our community. Here are sections we will be targeting.
Environmental: we want to know how much plastic each one of the Precious Plastic workspaces around the globe are collecting and recycling into new products.
Social: we want to know the total number of people employed and/or volunteering at Precious Plastic workspaces and organizations around the world.
Economic: we want to know the total economic revenue taken in by the Precious Plastic workspaces around the world.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
For the majority of the last 6 years Precious Plastic was funded through a variety of small grants and donations, but remained primarily a volunteer project. However in 2018 we received a 300,000 euro award from Famae foundation that allowed us to significantly scale the number of people contributing to development over the last year and a half. We are now looking to maintain that momentum by establishing our foundation as revenue generating and offering services related to Precious Plastic. Our first goal for this year is to become financially sustainable and pay our core team of five people and an additional 3-5 independent contractors. This team we will be maintaining our online marketplace and community software platform, testing machines and knowledge we released in January 2020 by partnering with international organizations to set up new Precious Plastic workspaces, and growing access to recycling infrastructure by encouraging the adoption of Precious Plastic machines and methodology.
In the next five years, our goal is to increase the global recycling rate by 5% above the current baseline. In terms of our organization, we aim to have 20-30 full time employees and annual revenues exceeding 3-8 million euros.
The impact from Precious Plastic is only limited by our organizational capacity to support our online platforms and disseminate information. Because our primary deliverable is information we give away to anyone with an internet connection, the potential impact is truly not only millions, but billions.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
The primary barrier for our ability to accomplish our goals is funding. We need funding to pay our staff to maintain and develop our online platforms, as well as to lead development of our machines and methodologies. Without our core team leading the Precious Plastic community, our growth will be stymied. We also need funding to cover our office and facility costs.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
Our plan to overcome our funding barrier is to expand our revenue generating service offerings, including our online marketplace (we take a 5% fee on all transactions), helping other organizations to start workspaces in their local area (we receive machine building and consulting fees), and providing event workshops (a highly demanded service from us). In 2020 we expect to create 250,000 to 300,000 euros in revenue, which in combination with grants and awards, will allow us to continue maintaining and expanding our operations.
Please select one.
If you selected “My solution is already being implemented in Latin America and the Caribbean,” please provide an overview of your current activities in the region
We currently have 58 workspaces, hundreds of machine builders, and thousands of people who want to get started in Latin America and the Caribbean. You can see the impact on our old map. We also have 34 organizations selling on our online marketplace located in Latin America or in the Caribbean.
Latin America and the Caribbean contain two focus areas for Precious Plastic - developing countries and island nations. Developing countries often don’t have the capital to invest in big traditional recycling infrastructure, which is why we develop low cost recycling technologies and increase access. Island nations often have the biggest trouble with traditional recycling systems because they don’t produce the volume to justify building their own, or transportation costs to bigger nations with recycling facilities often make recycling economically non - viable.
As for hands on experience in Latin America, in 2018 the Precious Plastic core team setup a workspace in Chile in partnership with Karun. This project focused on Women and their employment to create beautiful recycled plastic crafts.
You can read more about that here.
If you selected “I am planning to expand my solution to Latin America and the Caribbean,” please provide an overview of your expansion plans. What is the market opportunity for your business or product in Latin America and the Caribbean?
We have an existing footprint in Latin America and the Caribbean that we plan on greatly expanding in the next 1-3 years. We have a huge interest from our online community in places like Chile, Brazil, and Argentina that have recently seen a rapidly growing awareness around the plastic waste problem and sustainability in general. Our strategy is centered around supporting and expanding the places that we have existing workspaces and networks - Santiago, Brazilia, Rio, Còrdoba, among others, and encourage them to upgrade their facilities with our recently released semi industrial machines. It is then through these existing bases of operations that we can help build Precious Plastic networks that include all aspects of the Universe - collection, machine shops, design, new product production, etc.
What type of organization is your solution team?
How many people work on your solution team?
In 2019 we had 2 paid staff and around 112 volunteers. You can read more here.
In 2020 we will have 5 full time employees who work on various areas of day to day operations(design, engineering, management, community, sales and marketing ) with an additional 3 contractors who work on project specific tasks. We will have around 10-15 volunteers also in our main office. In addition, around 20-30 people from all around the world voluntarily contribute their time and effort to developing Precious Plastic machines, knowledge, and platforms remotely.
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team best placed to deliver this solution?
Our full time team of 5 consists of Dave Hakkens (Product Designer), Mattia Bernini (Web Designer), Joseph Klatt (Business Manager), Rory Dickens (Project Manager), and Katharina Elleke (Communication and Community Manager). Dave is the original inventor of the machines and developed the concept for Precious Plastic. Mattia Bernini is a designer and expert in clear and beautifully crafted communication of our material. Joseph has 6 years experience in the waste industry and a masters sustainable development. Rory, an architect by training, has a career history of managing projects in post disaster zones in South America and Asia. He also started his own Precious Plastic workspace in the Caribbean (Dominica).
Within our larger community network we are also able to pull in professionals from all over the world. To develop our latest iteration of machines, we utilized over 100 volunteers ranging from website coders to mechanical engineers. A similar project could be easily implemented in The Caribbean and Latin America.
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
We currently have three partner organizations - Grameen Telecom (Bangladesh), Famae Foundation (France), and Parley for the Oceans(USA/Maldives). Grameen Telecom, a sister organization to the nobel prize winning and micro finance pioneering Grameen bank, partnered with us to create a social enterprise near Dhaka Bangladesh to help clean up plastic waste and turn it into new products, as well as create stable sustainable employment. Four of our team helped kick start their operations in December and are returning to Bangladesh in March to further develop the workspace. Famae foundation awarded Precious Plastic a 300,000 euro award to fund our operations in 2018-19, and continue to play an advisory role to our foundation. Parley for the Oceans and Precious Plastic partnered to setup a workspace on the island nation of the Maldives to research ocean plastic waste and develop alternative uses.
What is your business model?
Our social value proposition is to provide low cost, open source, and easily accessible plastic recycling machinery, knowledge, and digital tools to help solve the plastic waste problem.
Our value proposition for paying customers is our thorough understanding of the Precious Plastic machines and methodology.
Our beneficiaries are the people and organizations that use the information and knowledge that we provide, as well as all the indirect beneficiaries that those people and organizations reach through their implementations.
Our customers on the Bazar are businesses that sell machines, moulds, raw materials, or products through the marketplace. Our customers for new workspace projects are social impact organizations that hire us for our expertise in deploying the machines and our methods.
Our channels are primarily digital - we reach people through social media, our website, and media coverage.
Our key activities are maintaining our digital platforms, sharing information through engagement channels (social media), and iterative development of our machines and methods.
Our key resources are our staff, office, and online platforms.
Our key stakeholders are all the workspaces around the world we support, the municipality of Eindhoven (subsidizes our office), and Famae Foundation that advises our foundation.
Our revenue sources have two sides - commercial and non-commercial. Our commercial sources are management of our online marketplace, where we take 5% of each transaction, consulting fees when we partner with an organization to setup a new workspace, and workshop fees when we give workshops at events. Our non-commercial revenues are grants, awards, and donations.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
Our path to financial sustainability is through a combination of sustained donations and grants, as well as commercial service offerings. We have an existing group of around 468 people that support us on a monthly basis to continue our project (using a service called Patreon), and we often apply for grants. However, we have a very ambitious project with high overhead, so this is not enough to ensure financial sustainability. That is why in 2020 we are focusing on our commercial services of the Precious Plastic Bazar, consulting organizations on setting up new workspaces, and offering event workshops.
Why are you applying to the Rethink Plastics Challenge?
We are applying to the Rethink Plastics Challenge because we have a proven solution for dealing with waste plastic that recently had a major overhaul (Precious Plastic version 4 released in January 2020). This version included a whole new set of machines that are semi industrial and laser focused on equipping a whole new generation of small business owners with the tools and knowledge to create financially sustainable plastic waste recycling enterprizes. Now we need funding and support from an organization like IDB, which has a huge existing network of partners and relationships that can help spread Precious Plastic machines and methodology across latin America and the Caribbean.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
We are specifically interested in partnering with IDB, the World Bank, and UN Environment to create grant programs to vet and fund new small businesses that want to get started in Latin America with Precious Plastic. We believe this funding, in tandem with their economic development and business expertise, can radically accelerate dealing with the plastic waste problem while concurrently creating economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable jobs across the region.