UPenn | Wharton
rePurpose is a global community of conscious businesses and consumers going Plastic Neutral. As the world’s first Plastic Credit Platform, they help companies take effortless and impactful climate action by financing the removal of ocean-bound plastic while greening their product experience to engage and retain purposeful consumers. I spent some time with Co-Founder Aditya Siroya to learn more about their vision for combating global plastic waste.
Folks, We Have a Problem Here:
Over a million plastic bottles are sold per minute
91% of plastic is not recycled
12.7 million tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic entering the ocean every minute
And our plastic consumption is expected to increase 40% over the next decade
Plastic pollution has become a vexing problem. Our desire for convenience has led to a throw-away culture where single-use plastics account for 40% of plastic produced today. Many of these single-use plastics have a lifespan of a couple of minutes yet take hundreds of years to biodegrade in the environment. Not only is our plastic pollution destroying the environment and ecosystems, it has consequences to our health – the average person ingests 70,000 microplastics per year.
rePurpose is here to help. Building on the old age carbon credit model, rePurpose has developed the world’s first plastic credit platform to help both businesses and individuals measure and offset their plastic footprints. Put simply, for every dollar contributed by a polluter, a certain amount of plastic waste is intercepted from the environment on the polluter’s behalf, thereby reducing their plastic footprint.
The rePurpose team started rePurpose with a dream of creating a brighter future for our planet. The team is led by three former and current Wharton students: Peter Wang Hjemdahl, Svanika Balasubramian, and Aditya Siroya. Their idea started after applying for the Hult Prize, a $1 million social entrepreneurship competition to solve the question: “How can we double the income of 10 million people living in extreme poverty in urban slums across the world?” Through their research, they discovered that waste picking among bottom of the pyramid populations was the second highest form of employment. With their learnings, they set foot on a mission to formalize the waste picking industry to help these workers and at the same time, help corporations and consumers offset their plastic footprints.
Good for the Business, Good for the Planet
Today, consumers across the world expect businesses to operate responsibly and deliver for all stakeholders involved. 81% of consumers worldwide feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment, and 66% of consumers are even willing to pay more for sustainable brands. The investor community has adopted this view as well. In 2018, Larry Fink (CEO of the world’s largest investment firm) penned a letter to CEOs saying “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.” With this evolution in consumer and investor sentiment, it is time for businesses to act.
Here’s how it works: rePurpose partners with responsible businesses on a consultancy basis to assess and calculate the organization’s plastic footprint. The organization then funds the removal of an equivalent amount of plastic from the environment ($.25 = 1 pound of plastic waste removed) while at the same time, working with rePurpose to build a waste reduction roadmap. Once plastic neutral, rePurpose then gives these organizations their seal of approval, thereby allowing consumers to make informed and socially responsible purchasing decisions.
As rePurpose’s customers grow and do well, rePurpose should flourish too. rePurpose collects 25% of proceeds from customers to fund corporate overhead, marketing initiatives, and future growth of the company, leading to a very attractive recurring and asset light business model.
The rePurpose ecosystem
rePurpose Isn’t Just Going After the Low-Hanging [Plastic]
Low-value plastic like to-go containers, wrappers, and plastic bags clutter our streets, beaches, and landfills. These materials are classified as low-value because they are difficult to recycle. In developing nations around the world, large informal recycling industries exist and employ millions of workers who form the crux of the local waste management infrastructure. Unlike the high-value materials with an established recycling supply chain, low-value plastic is not even collected by these workers because it doesn’t have any inherent financial value. Therefore, low-value plastic has become the most commonly found item degrading in our environment.
The founding team at rePurpose recognized this issue and purposefully decided to go after the low-value category – the plastic that would otherwise never have been recycled. Offsetting through the recycling of high-value plastics is simply not as impactful: by nature of their high value, these materials would have likely been picked up and recycled anyway by workers in the informal industry. Instead, rePurpose puts a price on low-value plastic and pays informal workers to intercept it before it reaches the oceans or landfills, adding a crucial income stream for these marginalized workers. After the plastic is collected, they either use it to make bricks and roads or co-process it through pyrolysis, a practice that uses low-value plastics as an energy source in industries that typically burn coal to meet their high energy demands.
Traction and Future Growth
The rePurpose team has gained significant traction since their launch. They are currently piloting with leading beverage companies, e-commerce companies, and financial institutions to help them understand their impact on the environment and help offset their plastic footprints. They also already have 10 partner recycling institutions on the ground across the world – from India to Kenya to Colombia – helping corporations offset their plastic footprint. When speaking with the founding team, their mission is to be a “shaper in the international global standard of plastic waste.”
How Can I as an Individual go #PlasticNeutral?
It’s as easy as 1 2 3 – rePurpose also has consumer platform!
Complete a survey about plastic consuming habits to measure personal plastic footprint
Based on individual’s inputs, given personalized strategies to reduce plastic footprint
Individual offsets plastic footprint by contributing a certain amount of money that will allow a waste worker to collect and recycle the associated amount of waste
I took the quiz on rePurpose’s website to measure my plastic footprint and the results were not pretty. My footprint is 79% above the average American, 184% above the average European, and 1,269% above the average Indian. It’s crazy how every little decision you make on a daily basis adds up. I have a long way to go to drastically bring my plastic footprint down, but in the meantime (while I learn how to cook), I’ll be contributing my monthly dues of $6.28 to rePurpose to keep my plastic footprint neutral and pay my debt to the environment.