Planet 4 min
Working together to end waste pollution
Interview with Philippe Montagné, Regional Project Director EMEA (Europe, Africa and Middle East) for the AEPW.
Working together to end waste pollution
Working together to end waste pollution

“Working together offers the best path to a solution!”

The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) was founded to develop and deploy solutions to tackle plastic waste pollution. Recognising that no single player can tackle the problem by itself, the Alliance’s credo is to forge partnerships with all stakeholders.

Can you briefly introduce us to the Alliance to End Plastic Waste?

The Alliance was launched in 2019 with the primary aim of improving plastic waste collection and management systems, particularly in the least organised countries.

 

 

Our role is to select and support projects around the world, designed in partnership with local stakeholders. These projects must be economically viable, self-sustaining and, where possible, replicable. We like to think of ourselves as a “do tank” (as opposed to a “think tank”), acting as a catalyst for on-the-ground initiatives that promote the processing of plastic waste. I should add that collecting and sorting waste is not enough. In all the countries where we operate, this waste is then mechanically recycled and sold to processors. The aim is to close the loop locally, in other words, to promote the circular economy.

 

Why did you choose the word “Alliance”?

We call ourselves an “Alliance” because we are a grouping of 74 companies involved in the plastics value chain. We include the world’s leading polymer producers, converters, waste management professionals and some of the world’s leading consumer brands. We are so many because we believe that each of us has a small part to play in the solution to improving plastic waste management. By coming together, we are developing a form of collective intelligence, drawing on our respective expertise to solve a problem of our own making. Brainstorming with others can often lead to new solutions and even technological advances.

 

A woman sorting PET bottles in Abidjan in a Coliba Africa collection centre.

Of course, we participate in this exchange of ideas, but our primary role is to provide the resources for the projects that emerge. Ultimately, we act as a transmission belt between all the stakeholders, particularly the local waste management companies, the authorities and what we call the informal sector, the tens of thousands of waste pickers who collect anything that can be recycled from the streets or landfill sites.

 

How do you launch your projects?

The way we work has evolved since the Alliance was founded. In the early days, we would issue calls for projects in a target country. Analysing the merits of the proposals received, many of which were unrealistic, used to take a lot of time. Today, building on our experience, we proactively seek partnerships with local waste treatment or recycling professionals (when they exist), or we launch a project feasibility study by an experienced local player.  Since the Alliance’s inception, we have initiated some 75 projects around the world (see photos of the projects at section 3 of this article).

 

Coliba collection centre in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Do all your projects have equal importance?

We divide our projects into three categories:
–“Early Impact” projects, which have a visible impact in less than 18 months and for which we want to test an idea, a new concept or a new partner. We set them up in a matter of weeks and commit sums of around €200–300,000 to each.  

 

Plastic waste collectors on the beaches of Bazaruto National Park in Mozambique

 

–“Model solutions” whose deployment can take up to three years, with committed sums often in excess of a million euros (in the form of loans or donations). Examples include the construction of a flexible plastic waste recycling plant in Ghana, and the construction of a PET waste processing unit in Kenya.

 

 

At the ASASE LDPE recycling plant in Accra, Ghana.

–Finally, there are flagship projects: these are much more ambitious in scale, as they may involve a megacity or a province with several million inhabitants, and require the approval and support of local authorities and governments. They also take longer to set up and involve financial risks.  These projects cover a number of countries, such as Indonesia, where we are installing a system to collect all waste and several manual sorting centres in the province of Malang (population 2.5 million).

 

Washing unit at the Mr. Green Africa recycling plant in Nairobi, Kenya.

 

In Vietnam, we are organising the waste collection and recycling system in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Another example is South Africa, where we are working to collect and sort recyclable waste in Durban and Johannesburg with our local partners and in close cooperation with the municipal services of these two megacities.

 In line with our principles, each category of project (Early Impact, Model Solution or Flagship) must include a campaign to raise public awareness about the value of recyclable waste. This is why our partners almost always visit schools to raise children’s awareness of these issues, who in turn educate their parents. In many countries, schools become collection points for recyclables.

How do you finance your activities?

Each member of the Alliance takes part in its strategy and obviously contributes to its funding according to its turnover. Today, we have a budget of around 80 million dollars per year to develop and implement our projects around the world. In 2023, our actions enabled us to collect 79,000 tonnes of waste, compared to 30,000 tonnes in 2022 and “only” 10,000 tonnes in 2021, while reusing 86,000 tonnes. We hope to reach 120,000 tonnes in 2024.  This is starting to take shape and shows that solutions do exist.
There will always be people who criticise what we are doing: our ambition is to show that with a little money and organisation we can solve the problem of plastic waste through the circular economy with a successful business model. The problem is not plastics, but the management of their end-of-life.

 

AEPW 2023 figures

To know more:
https://endplasticwaste.org/en

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