4 teams. 4 challenges. 1 winner. Four months ago, 20 ambitious pioneers faced the challenge of a lifetime- they were grouped into teams and asked to find a solution for the plastic waste streams of the City of Rotterdam, the Port of Rotterdam, PwC Nederland and Sodexo Nederland. On the 8th of March 2019, the teams revealed their solutions during the Grand Finale of this year’s Plastic Design Challenge.
Each team got exactly five minutes to pitch their idea, whereafter a jury fired them with questions. The team who did this most successfully was team Plastic Playgrounds, who were assigned the challenge presented by the Port of Rotterdam. They were rewarded with not only a marvelous trophy but also a working space in BlueCity and BlueCity Lab to continue working on their business case.
The challenge – the Port of Rotterdam
The Port of Rotterdam is the biggest port in Europe- every year, approximately 30.000 sea-going vessels and 105.000 inland vessels pass through the waters of Rotterdam. With great size, comes great responsibility, and the Port of Rotterdam acknowledges that. They’ve been working towards sustainability goals through various initiatives, of which one being the Fishing for Litter program.
The Fishing for Litter program is an initiative to clean up our oceans. Participating fishermen pick up waste in their nets that has previously been dumped by others and bring it back to land, where it’s then collected and processed in the Port of Rotterdam. A large part of this incoming waste stream consists of HDPE (high density polyethylene) fishing nets: a water resistant, rigid plastic.
As we speak, there are 300 tonnes of these fishing nets stored in the Port of Rotterdam and there is no room for more. No new fishing nets may be brought in until a processing method for them has been found. This led the Port of Rotterdam to form the following challenge: create a processing technology for the HDPE fishing nets and design a product that on the one hand processes as many fishing nets as possible and on the other hand has a high economic value.
The solution – Plastic Playgrounds
A difficult challenge, but it didn’t scare Valéry Bosch, Tim de Rooij, Luca Loli, Manon Willems and Martin Wodon. Together they formed a varied and successful team and came up with not one, but multiple ideas to recycle and repurpose the fishing nets.
First of all, they recognized that some of the discarded fishing nets are still in good shape and can be remade into new products like football goals, volleyball nets and beach chairs. Because the original heritage as fishing nets is still visible in these designs, the products can serve an educational function too and raise awareness.
For the fishing nets that can’t be repurposed, the team developed a cleaning, shredding and melting processing technology. After going through this process, the fishing nets can be used to create children’s playgrounds, hence the team’s name Plastic Playgrounds. For example playground gear and tiles to cover the ground.
In order to win, the teams had to convince the jury of their idea. Not an easy task, as our jury consisted of five extremely knowledgeable individuals. Chairwoman Marieke Blom (head of economics at ING), Maya van der Steenhoven (director Warmte Koude Zuid-Holland), Antoine Heideveld (director Het Groene Brein), Peter Troxler (research professor Hogeschool Rotterdam) and Wouter Veer (founder ifund and financial director BlueCity) had their questions ready after every team’s pitch.
This year, the judges were not only looking for the strength and originality of the idea, but also for the size of impact it can have on our world. Chairwoman Marieke, for example, focussed on the scalability of the idea, asking the teams the question if it is possible to create a big market for their product. And Wouter wanted to know whether the solution could create impact in multiple ways- so not only by fixing the problem they were given but also by adding, for example, a social or educational aspect.
According to the jury, team Plastic Playgrounds ticked all the boxes. But you don’t júst win. You need competition to win. Team Plastic Playgrounds had to outshine three other clever teams fighting for the title. First and foremost the runner up. Team PwC started a consulting service agency, Plastic Rebound, that helps companies to achieve zero plastic waste goals and snatched second place with this idea.
The team working with the City of Rotterdam came up with the idea to set up a gym that uses human generated power to power a plastic sorting process that they came up with themselves. And last but not least, team Sodexo created a plastic waste free catering service by using all the plastic waste generated in catering to create products that can be used in the same catering service again.
Special thanks to
The host of the evening, Rindert de Groot, the judges Marieke Blom, Maya van der Steenhoven, Antoine Heideveld, Peter Troxler, Wouter Veer, the participating companies PwC Nederland, Sodexo Nederland, the Port of Rotterdam, the City of Rotterdam and Rik Winsemius and Pieter De Stefano, who guided the teams throughout the challenge.
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Tekst: Manon Dijkhuizen, beeld: Sophie de Vos