Dutch entrepreneur Willemijn Peeters is helping Morocco clean up its plastic waste and to improve its recycling infrastructure. Her company Searious Business specialises in helping producers and organisations ‘turn disaster into design’ by transforming production waste into high-end products. Peeters tells us what she’s been up to.
You’ve just started an initiative in Morocco. Can you tell us more about this?
‘Morocco generates more than one million tonnes of plastic every year. However, the current waste management system in Morocco is not fit for safe or efficient scrap collection, let alone recycling. As a result, more than a third of plastic waste is dumped in uncontrolled landfills. With our project ‘Moroccan Supermarkets tackling Single-Use Plastics’ (MOSSUP), we aim to reduce the amount of single-use plastic currently discarded in nature. The pilot was launched in Rabat, which is the country’s seventh largest city with an urban population of approximately 580 000.
We are helping to establish collaboration between three national supermarket chains and local recyclers to boost collection and recycling rates for plastics. The creation of a closed loop system and a reusable packaging scheme with retailers will also help reduce plastic leakage into the environment, preserving the Moroccan natural habitat and limiting exposure to hazardous waste.’
Do you want to start more recycling projects abroad?
‘Yes, absolutely. Searious Business is a company with big ambitions; our mission is zero plastic waste in the ocean. That’s why we help big brands and organisations to reduce their plastic footprint and shift towards circular plastic use. We also work on systemic change projects such as the Plastic Waste Free Islands project (PWFI). This involves six island groups taking action against plastic pollution. They are; Fiji, Vanuatu and Samoa in the South Pacific; and Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia and Grenada in the Caribbean
What are you working on closer to home, in Europe?
‘We are collaborating on a ground-breaking project which aims to improve the recyclability of flexible polyethylene (PET). The new consortium is called Vita Nova and an important partner is BOPET Films Europe. The project promotes the use of mono-PET flexible packaging because it is technically feasible for flexible PET to be a circular material (meaning it can be recycled without the quality being affected). The main issue is that current multi-material packaging design makes recycling difficult. The consortium is inviting interested parties to join and contribute to this important work. We welcome players from throughout the industry including producers, sorters, recyclers, machine manufacturers and brand owners.’
What is your biggest milestone so far?
‘In March 2021 we are celebrating our fifth birthday. We are very proud of this and that we’ve managed to double our impact year-on-year. Last year, we helped our clients avoid generating 1 668 tonnes of plastic waste and we made 17 353 tonnes of plastic recyclable. I also won the title “Plastics Recycling Ambassador of the Year” at the 2018 Plastics Recyclers Europe Show in Amsterdam.’
International Women’s Day is celebrated in March. What is it like for you to be a woman in the world of recycling and waste solutions?
‘Women are severely underrepresented in the plastics industry and waste management. This means that every time I encounter a woman, we already have a bond that sets us apart from the rest. Typically, the women I meet want to address challenges in sustainability so they are in it for all the right reasons. If more women worked in plastics, there would be more openness to change and to approach things differently throughout the plastics industry.’
Are there people that you look up to?
‘I really respect the marine biologist Sylvia Earle (85) and the work that she has done for National Geographic and many other magazines and organisations. I met her several times and she’s a really impressive lady.’
How do you try to make people care about recycling and ‘the fight against waste’?
‘I am an experienced international speaker and talk at numerous industry packaging and plastic events each year. We also provide in-house training for companies who want to improve their knowledge of circular design. I often talk about mind-shifting solutions for zero plastic waste because, in my experience, it is not technology that is holding us back. It’s behaviour and bad habits. We work at a business-to-business level because this is where I believe there is the catalyst for change. If brands make waste-free options and recyclable products available, then it makes the shift easier for consumers and society.’
Have you always wanted to be an advocate for the circular economy?
‘When I was a kid I knew I wanted to combine my passion for nature with a career. But I don’t remember thinking too much about how to go about it. So being a speaker on stage never really crossed my mind. I kind of grew into that role.’
How would you describe yourself as an entrepreneur?
‘I think I would have to say driven and I often get told that I’m inspirational because I talk with such passion. I am in a network for start-up companies and my buddies in this group call me “#unstoppable” because I am always looking for a way to get the job done.’
2020 was a rather turbulent year to say the least. Was your company impacted?
‘Like everyone else, we had to adapt to a new way of working and take precautions. Luckily, none of our people got sick and we were able to stay in operation. We even had three new people join the team last year which meant we had to work extra hard to keep in touch whilst working remotely. We noticed things slowed a bit during the first half of the year but growing awareness about plastic waste means that businesses are still pushing ahead with their plans in this area.’
How were you able to network in a time with practically no trade shows and conferences?
‘The lack of “live” industry events was indeed a big challenge for us in 2020. We managed to boost our exposure and pursue new opportunities by stepping up our game with online interactions mainly on LinkedIn while also participating in online webinars.’
Most of today’s news is about the coronavirus crisis. Have recycling-related issues slipped off the radar?
‘Not at all. Sustainability still counts as a big topic that is widely discussed both in the media and in boardrooms. Since January 2020, there has been an unprecedented amount of eco-design and waste reduction pledges. Last year, net zero carbon commitments came from Google, Microsoft, Unilever, Vodafone, L’Oreal, Ikea, Diageo, Coca-Cola and Ford, to name a few.’
What are your expectations and plans for 2021?
‘I am very positive about this year. We always plan to double our impact year-on-year, and 2021 is no exception. In fact, I am confident that the exciting projects I mentioned before (MOSSUP and PWFI) will enable us to realise this strong growth once again.’
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