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By Naomi Larsson for The Guardian Labs
“Plastics are everywhere around us and demand for them is expected to double in the next 20 years,” says Sander Defruyt, new plastics economy lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity that works towards achieving a less resource-intensive economy. “Yet our plastics system is broken. Only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling, resulting in a loss of $80-120bn a year to the global economy. If nothing changes, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.”
Moller agrees: “For us, it’s absurd that we have to pay for something that we’re going to throw, and also now it’s contaminating our oceans.” So, five years ago he and his colleagues came up with the idea forAlgramo, a startup that promotes reusable plastic containers as an alternative to single-use packaging. “The double mission of Algramo is social and environmental,” he says.
Algramo sells food and hygiene products through vending machines that dispense goods such as lentils, rice and cleaning supplies into reusable containers. Customers first have to purchase the reusable container (about 17p, Moller says), and then with the container they can buy directly from the self-service machines that can be found in 1,600 stores in the Chilean capital. Once the containers have reached the end of their life they can be traded in for a discount on a new one, and will be recycled into new plastic feedstock.
Algramo estimates they already have made an impact on 250,000 people, and by the end of the year they hope to have dispensing machines in 2,300 stores.
Algramo’s environmental focus reflects a change in attitudes towards plastic waste in Chile. At the end of May, Chile’s congress approved a bill
to ban single-use plastic bags – the first country in the Americas to do so. It follows the announcement of a ban of single-use plastic bags
in Chile’s coastal towns and villages. The country uses more than 3.4bn plastic bags each year – roughly 200 for each person. And 97% of those
will end up in landfills or oceans (Chile has one of the longest coastlines in the world).
“Our fish are dying from plastics ingestion or strangulation – it’s a task in which everyone must collaborate,” Chilean president Michelle Bachelet
said in a speech last October.
The ban is a positive and bold step, but Moller also notes that, aside from plastic bags, there’s still so much plastic in everyday product packaging.
“The problem is not just the bag, it’s all the packaging we’re consuming. That’s why Algramo is trying to offer a solution that’s not more
expensive than other products.”