ReForm Plastic is a rising inspiring social business that is transforming waste into value by upcycling all plastics into durable, versatile products through a full, inclusive approach. With their hard works, tons of waste, once considered to be worthless, are now being brought back into value chains, ultimately creating a circular resource.
Trâm Anh: Could you share with us the story behind ReForm Plastic? Why did you choose to invest in this challenging sector in Vietnam?
Kasia: ReForm Plastic was born out of necessity after tracking different waste streams from inception to destination and realizing that the majority of plastic waste is completely ignored by the existing collection and recycling industry. In 2016, Evergreen Labs started our community engagement through beach clean-ups. When we were doing these beach clean-ups for large groups, up to 300 people at that time. During these events, we realized that all waste collected would ultimately end up in the landfill, which wasn’t really an optimal solution. After searching for solutions we realized that there wasn't an actual process to bring this waste back to life again. We contemplated the true sustainability of such activities knowing that collection without adequate treatment is just addressing only one part of the underlying problem. Therefore, we started to think about how we can use this type of waste as a resource. We managed to devise an innovative way to convert this valueless waste into durable, high-quality products. We set out to find a fully inclusive and circular solution to solving the low-grade plastic waste challenge. It took nearly three years of research and development to create material compositions, a suitable base product and machinery that would allow us for a viable business model at scale. Starting in a small pilot facility based in a shipping container in Da Nang, we proved the effectiveness in transforming mismanaged plastic to versatile boards through heat compression molding technology. In early 2020 permits were approved for our first full-size facility in Hoi An, Vietnam.
Vietnam was ranked fourth in the top five countries that discharged the most plastic waste into the ocean. Around 1.8 million tons of mismanaged plastic waste are disposed annually, plastic problems and environmental challenges are becoming one of the major barriers to the economic development of Vietnam. ReForm Plastic aims to solve these core problems with an innovative approach to transform waste into a circular value chain, which can accelerate the process of sustainable development in all aspects. Our process is value-added, replicable and cost-effective that processes all types of plastic discarded such as single-use items, wrappers, multilayers, flexibles, styrofoam to convert it into a tradeable, commodity board product. These end-products are durable, waterproof which can be used as wood replacement for furniture (including desk, table, waste bins and more). The approach is fully circular, we can take back old products and process them again as the endless products. We are dramatically changing the way we view the resource we call 'trash' and are shifting towards a circular economy system.
Trâm Anh: What is the biggest driver for change of ReForm Plastic? How have you managed to embed sustainable thinking within your company?
Kasia: ReForm Plastic is transforming the way we view waste altogether and we envision a world where waste doesn’t exist and instead is viewed as a local resource. Pioneering in this sector provides great opportunities for us to build a better, cleaner future. We aim to address the core issues across the value chain fully integrating into existing systems with the informal waste collectors, infrastructure and programs and replicating our model through collaboration and social franchise approach. We are not only creating products bringing strong social and environmental benefits but also changing the way people view waste altogether.
Besides processing we also are building city-wide collection programs to initiate source separation, raise awareness in communities and divert as much waste-to-landfill as possible with governments. We work across the value chain with a holistic approach implementing collection schemes with schools, businesses and partners. Our social enterprise emphasizes the future effect of policy and company culture on ecology, natural resources and humans. We integrate informal waste collectors into the entire value chain, empowers their work through stable employment or increased income from collection. The transformation not only focuses on addressing plastic problems, but also brings more opportunities for transforming local collectors’ lives through direct employment and increased income streams.
Trâm Anh: Could you share with us some achievements so far that ReForm Plastic has proudly made?
Kasia: ReForm Plastic as a technology, material and process innovator has built a long standing reputation among partners and collaborators throughout the region over the past 6 years. We have been continuously researching and developing technology and solutions as well as multiplying the value of the model in the region. Currently, ReForm Plastic has 6 factories operating in 4 countries across Asia through an innovative social franchising model. To date we have:
Processed over 140,000kg of low-value plastics across our factories and over 90,000kg of plastic waste at Hoi An factory
Produced over 1000 sqm of boards
Built 5 collection points across Hoi An City
The newest factory was established in partnership with Thanh Tung 2 in Dong Nai, an industrial waste processor with over 30 tons of plastic waste per day. Our technology helps them utilize low-grade plastic material instead of burning it through incineration. ReForm Plastic currently has its next factories underway within and outside of Vietnam with partners in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, India and extending outside of Asia into Africa including Ghana and Mozambique. ReForm Plastic will continue to spread its technology and create more impact across Asia and beyond with plans to develop new technologies to transform other types of waste into something valuable, ultimately creating resources and a world without waste.
Trâm Anh: What is your biggest concern about Reform Plastic's ability to create a more sustainable future?
Kasia: Our biggest concern regarding ReForm Plastic is the lack of separated waste streams. Currently, waste segregation at source has not been effectively implemented synchronously so that the amount of waste collected was inadequate for factories to produce a larger stock of boards. Despite the fact that people's attitudes on waste classification remain hesitant, ReForm Plastic continues to strive for driving a sustainable movement and education. Tackling this problem step-by-step, we collaborated with local authorities, businesses and schools to install some mini MRFs (Material Recovery Facilities) and separating trash bins and to provide knowledge for sorting, recycling and carrying waste to MRFs. Recently, we've planned hands-on events and discussed with the small traders in the local market to help them better access the benefits of plastic recycling and proactively make recycling habits. The journey to change people’s mindset about waste as a resource will be an ambitious road we want to achieve and engage individuals, organizations.
Trâm Anh: What is the one piece of advice you would offer to others seeking to create change in sustainability?
Kasia: One advice I would give other changemakers is to persevere and ensure your business model is sustainable. Sometimes social entrepreneurs can get distracted by the impact of their product/services and forget to successfully implement a business model that can continually create the impact long-term. Lastly, connect with other, like minded individuals to support you on your journey. The journey can sometimes be challenging and isolating so building to surround yourself with can help with your impact journey.
Trâm Anh: Which unsustainable behaviour are you most embarrassed about?
Kasia: There are many responses I could have here and I guess I can make it specific from my experiences in Vietnam. Some of the most unsustainable behaviors I have witnessed in Vietnam have to be the burying of waste on beaches, excessive use of single-use plastics (especially for food delivery) and burning of trash. While many of these practices stem from traditional behavior when plastics didn’t exist, now these types of behaviors need to be urgently changed as they are much more damaging to the environment and people’s health with plastics involved.
Address: 26 Ngo Huy Dien, Hoa Xuan, Cam Le, Da Nang