In this guest blog, Doug Woodring of Ocean Recovery Alliance, shares news of an exciting new pledge to help keep plastic lids out of the ocean.

Hong Kong’s new Lids For Good program is the first of its type for the recovery of plastic coffee lids for recycling. The initaitive, created by Ocean Recovery Alliance – an organisation known for implementing innovative programs that bring together companies, governments and the community in order to initiate solutions that can be scaled and replicated across markets – aims to improve recycling on a product that rarely gets sorted for resource recovery. 

One of the biggest challenges to overcome with recycling is to achieve economies of scale in material collection. Why? So that recyclers – all operating with very tight margins (partly because there is often not enough charged for waste removal, and also because previously unused or unprocessed materials are often subsidised in a variety of ways) – can run their equipment and technologies in an efficient manner.

In this case, the problem is opposite to that of which the telecom industry faced, when they had to connect people to their households or handsets with broadband and the internet in the “final mile”. 

With recycling, the missing link is in effective resource recovery, and the “first mile” is getting the material from many different locations and putting it back into an infrastructure system which can handle it. With the telecom industry, investment was made because they knew that they could charge for service connection. With waste removal and resource collection, there is very little similar investment being made, meaning that the easiest and cheapest way to get rid of “waste” is just to have the waste collector gather it and move it to landfill or other locations, or incinerate it – which may or may not be environmentally sound.

Waste is a resource, and the model of “minimal recovery of materials” is now outdated, due to the advent of many types of sorting, processing and re-use technologies that exist today.  

The Lids For Good program helps to challenge the business model norms, by incentivising customers to return to the store and bring their lids back for recycling, while being rewarded in some way for doing so. In this case, the reward is a donation to the ocean, and the work of Ocean Recovery Alliance. 

For every 10 lids collected, US$1 will be donated. Lids are placed in a designated tube so that they can be stacked properly in order to save space.

Whether there is a donation made, or credits earned for a free coffee for example, the aim is for the bring-back program to encourage customers back to the store.

Proven to work in every case when applied to bottles or other materials in the form of deposits or rebates, the program allows customers to feel good for doing good, – and helps to aggregate material for recycling.     

Even better, the Lids For Good program can be replicated for many types of products, materials or packaging – all result in consumer engagement with corporate leadership, new models, and solutions which communities are proud of.

It can help spur on thinking around how the reverse supply chain can be activated for positive results – primarily by focusing on resource and material recovery – helping consumers save money from waste fees, while bringing them a service that they can feel good about. 

Reverse supply chains, or bring-back programs, can be deployed to recover many materials that those consumers would normally throw away, without the appropriate recycling systems readily available in their communities today. They also help solve the “first mile” issue, while bringing the potential for economies of scale that are much needed in order to create the tipping point for demand of materials that today, we just call “trash.”

Have you come across any other schemes working to help keep the ocean clean? We’d love to hear about them below.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

About Ocean Recovery Alliance – a Hong Kong registered charity, bringing together new ways of thinking, technologies, creativity and collaborations in order to help to improve our ocean environment. It has two projects with the Clinton Global Initiative focused on the reduction of plastic pollution, and is one of the only NGOs in the world to be working with both the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Oceans. One of the programs is the Plastic Disclosure Project, which is much like that of carbon or water reporting, while the other is called Global Alert, which is a global mapping platform using community reporting of trash hot-spots in our waterways and coastlines. The group also organises Kids Ocean Day, the Hong Kong Ocean in Motion Film Festival, and the Plasticity Forum which focuses on the future of plastic, without the waste footprint, to be held June 8th and 9th in Portugal this year.  

About Pacific CoffeeIn 1992, the founder of Pacific Coffee arrived in Hong Kong from Seattle.  He was touched by the hardworking Hong Kongers and set out to provide a sanctuary for these busy people, using coffee to boost their spirits. The first Pacific Coffee was opened in the Bank of America Building in Central. 

At Pacific Coffee, we have a passion for coffee and are committed to making our coffeehouses an urban oasis that promotes a slower pace of life. We strive to provide customers with great quality coffee and beverages, a really comfortable place to hang out and plenty of complementary food choices. 

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