Generation Plastics: youth challenges companies with radical new solutions

Sustainable Development Goal(s): 3. Good health6. Clean water and sanitation13. Climate action15. Life on land17. Partnerships for the goals

Priorities for change: Circular EconomyResources
Generation Plastics: youth challenges companies with radical new solutions

Worrying news reports regularly highlight the "plastic soup" gathering in our oceans, or the world's rapidly growing plastic waste mountain. Europe alone throws away more than 25 million tonnes of plastic each year. Many of our members are alarmed by this problem. That is why we launched Generation Plastics: eight young innovators trying to find solutions to the problem, together with companies from our network.

Through Generation Plastics, The Shift wants to stimulate the development of radically innovative alternatives. To do so, we're calling on the bright minds of Generation T, the joint initiative of The Shift and the youth organisation Act4Change. Jan-Hendrik Serty of The Shift: "With Generation T, we want to put the new generation of corporate-sector disrupters and civil society into contact with the market's big players. Our success formula is the 'CEO challenge', in which the next generation challenges companies to rethink their sustainability policies. Issues they're working on include food waste, the circular economy and plastic use."

Mind shift

Eight young innovators constitute the driving force behind Generation Plastics. Together with Sodexo, Carrefour and Delhaize, they are looking for solutions to the companies' plastic problem. Elias De Keyser: "We all have a special affinity with the issue. My fellow Generation T'er Sophie Boucquey, for example, designs lamps from plastic waste from the clothing industry. Her company is called Plastivor. Together with some friends, I've set up Plastic Free Plux. We try to convince the bars on Brussels' Luxembourg Square to use reusable rather than disposable cups. In Café Luxembourg, they're already serving drinks from our cups. When The Shift offered me the opportunity to challenge a major retailer, I said yes on the spot."

Elias and Sophie work with Carrefour. "The project was launched in October last year. We were given a tour of one of the stores by none other than Pascal Léglise, CSR Professional of the Year. Together with him, we uncovered bottlenecks for which Sophie and I are now devising solutions. We're aiming for a total shift of mind, both for the retailer and its consumers. Plastic is having its moment these days – we need to strike while the iron is hot. Who knows: this could be the turning point that makes the entire chain of production and consumption more sustainable.

Elias en Sophie werken samen met Carrefour. “In oktober vorig jaar werd het project afgetrapt. We kregen toen een rondleiding in een van de winkels, door niemand minder dan CSR Professional of the Year Pascal Léglise. Samen met hem legden we de knelpunten bloot, waarvoor Sophie en ik momenteel oplossingen uitwerken. We gaan voor een complete mind shift bij de retailer én de consument. Er is nu een momentum rond plastic en we moeten het ijzer smeden als het heet is. Misschien is dit wel het vuur aan de lont om de hele productie- en consumptieketen te verduurzamen.”

No one-size-fits-all solution

Sodexo is already eagerly anticipating the ideas Generation Plastics will come up with. Jonathan Martens, Sodexo's CSR manager: "Our goal is to replace all disposable plastic with reusable or recyclable solutions by 2020. But switching to these alternatives is not that straightforward. Plastic is found in almost everything, and consumers too need to be willing to make the switch. But we're not letting these challenges stop us. We want to be a frontrunner in the mass catering sector, and we're working with start-ups to find innovative, circular solutions. As we need to take different types of kitchens and consumer habits into account, we're working on a range of alternatives. For us, there's no one-size-fits-all solution."

Sodexo's expectations of the trajectory? "We want to find out whether we're on the right track. Does Generation Plastics think we're using the right materials, approaching the issue in the right way? We're also interested in discovering new technologies or nudging strategies. Basically, we're open to any and all feedback."

Olympic Games

Generation Plastics recently organised a workshop at the World Resources Forum in Antwerp. Jan-Hendrik Serty: "The WRF is like the Olympic Games of material usage. We're proud to have taken part. The audience was very impressed by the innovative projects of Generation T members Elias De Keyser, Jasper Bloemen, Hélène Grandjean and Viktoriya Trutayeva. They also took part in a live debate with representatives from Carrefour and Sodexo, really lighting a fire under the retailers with a barrage of relevant questions. On top of that, we also attended the international colloquium 'Which sustainable future for plastic?' in Mons. A truly enlightening experience for our young innovators."