How geospatial helps in monitoring and eradicating plastic waste?

California-based start-up, Kamilo, Inc. provides real-time global supply chain tracking with blockchain and Esri GIS-based chain of custody solutions to keep plastic out of the environment, verify sustainability and support a circular economy.

Kamilo, a Public Benefit Corporation with a novel accountability system that tracks the journey of plastic from waste to next life, creates a verifiable link between plastic recoveries and re-use and attaches GHG emissions and other ESG data directly to the flow of materials.

In 2021, Kamilo became a member of the Esri Partner Network Startup Program, a coveted partnership that helps emerging businesses build solutions and bring new and innovative products to Esri customers.

Kamilo partners with businesses that put plastic waste back to work by providing them with 3rd Party geospatial verification of provenance and successful recovery, and an Esri-based geospatial dashboard for supply chain monitoring, management, and analysis.

Geospatial monitoring
Anna Marie Cook, Co-founder and CEO, Kamilo

Before starting Kamilo, Anna Marie Cook, Co-founder and CEO, Kamilo and Bill Robberson, Co-founder, Kamilo worked as engineers in the Environmental Emergency Response (ER) program at the U.S. EPA in San Francisco. There they studied the impacts of ocean and microplastic pollution on the ecosystem, food chain and humans.

Founded in November 2019, Kamilo, Inc. got its name from the visit, Cook and Robberson took to Kamilo Point on the Big Island of Hawaii back in 2013, where they walked knee-deep in plastic and watched plastic confetti washing into the tidepools.

“Faced with the mind-bending amounts of plastic waste washing up on desolate, uninhabited Kamilo Point, we realized that the culmination of all scientific research would simply point to the critical need to stop the source of plastic pollution. This epiphany formed the foundation of our commitment to transform plastic from a discarded waste to a valued, trackable resource, supporting a circular economy, and provided the impetus to form Kamilo, Inc.,” said Cook in an interview with Geospatial World.

She expressed that working for EPA felt like a calling – the Agency’s mission of protecting human health and the environment spoke to her.  She worked in the emergency response branch, alongside Robberson on larger emergencies such as the California wildfires and on emergency preparedness-related work in the Pacific Islands of Guam, American Samoa, Saipan and Hawaii including the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Last year, Kamilo was awarded a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract by EPA’s Office of Research and Development. The SBIR enabled them to develop, deploy and validate their innovative Kamilo technology in several pilot tests to help the US recycling system.

Technology in tracking the journey of plastic

The plastic waste crisis has reached a perfect storm: corporate and government commitments, goals and mandates call for greater use of recycled content in plastic products by the year 2025.

Ocean Plastics map | sri ArcGIS

Kamilo’s novel technology platform and mobile-App enables continuous tracking and accounting of plastic waste as it moves through the supply chain from collection to processing to manufacturing into new product.

“We’ve incorporated the use of unique digital identifiers to track the movement of loads of plastic, enabling the creation of a digital twin of connected physical events and the ability to prove and display circular traceability within supply chains. Our data instantly uploads to a secure low-energy version of a blockchain-based ledger, which stores an immutable, cryptographically verifiable chain-of-custody,” explained Cook.

They calculate:

1. The net environmental benefits of greenhouse gases avoided by using recycled plastic feedstock in place of virgin

2. Plastic pollution prevented

3. Landfill space saved

“We then connect these metrics it to the flow of materials and the analytics available in clients’ geospatial dashboards so they can tell and illustrate their story with confidence that their waste plastic supply chain is real, sustainably managed and they are reducing feedstock carbon emissions by at least two-thirds compared to the use of virgin plastic,” added Cook. “Plastic recycling has a direct positive impact on climate action: using recycled plastic in products produces approximately 1/3 the amount of greenhouse gases compared to using virgin plastic.”

Robust measurement and geospatial tracking of waste plastic resources are essential to illustrate and prove that recycling works, as well as to raise the value of plastic waste as a reusable commodity and build trust in and improve the recycling system.

The data collected by the Kamilo technology on the movement of recycled plastic materials in the waste supply chain are at a level of granularity and authentication that has been, until now, unavailable.

Steps to reduce global plastic pollution

Cook said, “We believe that we will contribute to raising the value of waste plastic by using geospatial technology to verify and celebrate the recycling of plastic waste by those organizations doing the hard work to give plastic another life.”

“Making the needed significant impact requires many cross-linked efforts and a recognition that what may work in one place may not work elsewhere.”

Cook points out necessary steps that can be taken to reduce plastic pollution at a global level are:

1. Reduction in the production of plastics for single-use.

2. Increase incentives for recycling of plastic.

3. Expand recycling infrastructure and systems

Role of geospatial and location technologies in monitoring plastic pollution

In 2018, Robberson, Cook and their long-time EPA colleague Harry Allen created a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the Charles Stark Draper Lab, an innovative engineering company based in Cambridge, MA, to design and develop a sensor that was capable of detecting and instantly identifying microplastic particles in water.

“Our project objectives included the use of geospatial location intelligence and mapping to locate “hot spots” of plastic particle contamination in the world’s oceans, modelled after the air quality index maps which display air particulate levels and are used extensively during wildfire events. Time Magazine selected our microplastic sensor concept design as one of their top best inventions in 2019, although the concept has still to come to practical fruition,” said Cook.

She added that there are almost limitless opportunities for geospatial tools and analytics, coupled with drone imagery and scientifically sound water monitoring programs, to help visualize and focus on areas that have the highest plastic contributions to rivers and oceans and to measure improvements resulting from plastic pollution prevention and mitigation measures.

How can government organizations and environmental agencies can help?

Mandatory Management and Recycling of Solid Plastic Waste: Almost half of the US does not have access to curb side recycling and providing such access should be a focus area for infrastructure improvement and expansion at the State and Federal level.

Establishing new collection and recycling facilities and supporting increased and improved collection and processing systems that can capture material waste from communities is a step that state and local governments can and must take.

Standardized Plastic Packaging: Beyond the initial step of reducing the use of plastic packaging, when possible, another crucial step needing government support relates to standardizing, simplifying and streamlining plastic packaging.

ASTM would be helpful in providing standards to reduce the variation between packaged items, decrease the contamination in recycling streams, and helping to make it easier for the consumer, the recovery facilities and the processors to be part of the recycling solution.

Government-Mandated 3rd Party Verification of Plastic Waste Outcomes: Recently, municipality staff in the San Francisco Bay Area conducted a study to find out where their recyclables are going.

They found that approximately 39% stayed in the US and approximately 61% were being exported internationally to India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and other countries.

Recycling brokers wouldn’t identify downstream participants because they considered this “confidential info about markets”, and that they themselves didn’t know where they were going. Therefore, the staff concluded that it was not possible to determine whether the materials are being recycled properly or not.

Plastic waste outcomes need to be verifiably measured:  Continuous unfraudable, auditable 3rd party tracking and verification that wastes from collection/recovery facilities actually go into processing facilities for conversion to recycled feedstock rather than to a landfill or mismanaged and released into the environment somewhere in the world must be a requirement.

Policy and legislation from both the US and international governments requiring 3rd party verification of claims around plastic recycling using technologies such as that offered by Kamilo would be a potential game-changer for the plastics industry and for the management of plastic waste.

Kamilo’s active partners include Esri, Innovate, Inc., the US Environmental Protection Agency and they are engaged in discussions with multiple global organizations who see the need for 3rd party verified traceability of waste plastics.

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