Jan Jaap Folmer started Upp! because he saw a big opportunity to contribute to the ever-growing problem of plastic waste and set up his own business as well. Technologically we can process a lot of recycled plastic in new products, but this is mostly only done for the higher value mono-streams of recycled plastics (HDPE, PP, PET, etc).

Household waste is a mix of different plastics and more difficult to separate and is recycled but often ends up in the incinerators to be burned anyway. Only few companies make products from it. Jan Jaap Folmer decided this can be done better, if we close the loop locally.

Let us clean up our own waste and use products made out of it. Don’t ship plastic waste from Europe to Asia to be disposed of, don’t burn or landfill the plastic waste or worse, throw it in the environment or oceans but look for products and applications of recycled plastic waste in your own backyard. There are many possibilities, if you want to find them.

Because Jan Jaap was working for a company in recycled plastics in the Netherlands, he decided to focus first on where the need is highest: Southeast Asia. Jan Jaap has lived in Vietnam between 1994 and 2000, so this was the logical place for Upp! to get started.

In 2017 Jan Jaap set up a company in Vietnam together with Huy, an old friend from his early Vietnam days. Together, and later in the year with An and Phu joining the team, they conducted a lot of market research and tried to develop the market with imported planks & poles (mainly deck planks for terraces, vlonders, footpaths etc) from Europe. At the same we were looking for projects to start local production, using local plastic waste and supplying to local customers.

Developing the market with imported products from Europe turned out to be a step too far. The markets were all very price driven, this was a new product to Vietnam and most companies we targeted (hotels/resorts, construction companies, local governments) were not yet ready for a more sustainable and circular approach in their procurement of construction materials. So during 2017 the focus shifted towards closing the loop locally. We are now preparing 4 pilot projects where we use local plastic waste (a mix of PP, PE and plastic mix) to manufacture planks & poles to be used locally as well.

We signed an MoU with a local project developer to develop a project at EcoPark Hanoi to close the loop locally and we are working together with the city of Can Tho in the Mekong Delta to do exactly the same. Use local plastic to make products to be used locally. And after use we can take back the products for re-use (they are very durable so if in good shape can be used for many years) or we shred the products and add to the manufacturing process to make new planks, poles or panels. A true circular business.

Key to the success are the strategic partnerships we have to build to be able to close the loop locally. We can’t and don’t want to do everything on our own, so we have to work together with local governments, communities, private sector and universities and schools. In Vietnam (nor in Europe..) not everybody is ready for a sustainable and circular approach. Especially the government is quite bureaucratic and laws and regulations are often not fit for a circular business model. So the projects we are developing are moving forward very slowly. Awareness is still a big thing and people still have to get used to the idea we have to do something useful with our waste if we want to go to a sustainable and zero-waste future. So to answer the question of how we are going: slow but sure and step-by-step.

Our short term aim is to get 3-4 projects in Vietnam going in 2018 so we can show our business concept works. We have also requests to cooperate from Singapore, India, Cambodia and even Kenya (and we are active in the Netherlands as well with also 3-4 projects this year), so if we can show it can work, we can roll it out across the world.

References:

Feature image: ‘Old Henry Sustainability Comic Strip’ from Florida Sustainability

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