Digital Innovations for Transitioning to a Circular plastic Economy - (DITCh Plastic)

Lead Research Organisation: De Montfort University
Department Name: Institute of Energy and Sustainable Dev

Abstract

This proposal brings together a multisectoral collaborative network, aimed at utilising digital innovations (DIs) to manage and accelerate the transition to a circular plastic economy (CPE) in Africa. Plastic pollution is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. While plastics are an indispensable material due to an array of unique properties and wide-ranging benefits, they pose significant environmental and health problems which are becoming increasingly intractable. Poor infrastructure and inadequate waste management systems exacerbate this problem and the environmental impact of plastic waste in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs).
The rise in awareness of the circular economy is a crucial part of the sustainability discourse and has been tipped to play a significant role in the global shift to a more sustainable planet. Its key principles; reuse, recycle, redesign, remanufacture, reduce and recover, will make a significant impact in managing the high volumes of waste in the ecosystem. Therefore, creating a shift towards a circular plastic economy. This coupled with digital innovations, such as mobile applications, remote sensing and artificial intelligence; provide a game-changing approach, which could address the plastic waste challenge in Africa.
The project aims to characterise, cluster, synergise and optimise digital innovations that would support a transition to a circular plastic economy in Africa. It has the following specific objectives:
I. Identify and assess digital solutions and innovations that can support the transition to a circular plastic economy.
II. Characterise technical, political, gender, socio-economic and cultural factors that can influence the transition to a circular plastic economy.
III. Identify policy, research questions and capacity building opportunities for promoting digital tools and innovations.
IV. Promote digital tools and innovations for a circular plastic economy.

The objectives will be achieved through the following work packages:
WP1: Assessing state of the art of digital innovations for plastic waste management across Africa and forming a network for these innovative platforms.
WP2: Characterising Technical, Gender, Political, Socio-Economic and Cultural Factors that promote /hinder a transition to a circular plastic economy in the context of Africa.
WP3: Investigating opportunities for rethinking/optimising digital tools for a circular plastic economy (This will utilise results from WP1 and WP2).
WP4: Creating a Digital Aggregator Platform that brings together stakeholders, digital tools and innovations for a Circular Plastic Economy
WP5: Disseminating and engaging with key stakeholders and the wider public, on what/how digital tools can positively contribute to the transition to a circular plastic economy.

This project represents the first step in creating a multisectoral collaborative network, aimed at utilising digital innovations to manage and accelerate the transition to a CPE in Africa. Therefore, the primary outcome will be a strong multisectoral, interdisciplinary and international team who will identify gaps, opportunities, policy recommendations and research questions to support the transition. Specific outputs include:
- Project website with a digital aggregator platform that links various stakeholders of the CPE
- Robust timely and relevant research questions for stage 2
- Two international workshops, of about 30 participants each (Apr & Aug 2020)
- Documentation of existing DIs across the continent, detailing strengths and weaknesses
- Documentation of; technical, political, socio-economic, gender and cultural factors that affect DIs for a CPE
- Dissemination activities at Chatham House and CC-Hub
- A series of networking activities, with various stakeholders, in Kigali, Lagos and Windhoek
- A mini conference on DIs for the CPE with conference proceeding and journal special issue

Planned Impact

This project brings together a multisectoral, international, interdisciplinary network, aimed at utilising digital innovations to accelerate the transition to a circular plastic economy in Africa. Together, the team will be well positioned to make a significant contribution to accelerating the transition to a circular plastic economy across sub - Saharan Africa. The beneficiaries of the proposed research would include the following:
I. Informal waste collectors: The DITCh plastic network will be exploring how digital innovations could improve outcomes for waste collectors in the informal waste economy. For example, fairer wages, improved productivity and capacity building. Therefore, the project is going to be of significant benefit to these collectors, who are some of the poorest in society.
II. Waste management organisations in Africa: The project will be highlighting how digital innovations could transform and optimise plastic waste management and will therefore be beneficial to waste management organisations. Organisations who already use digital innovations will still benefit as the project also focuses on optimising digital innovations for the African market. Furthermore, we will be conducting a detailed Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis on existing digital innovations for plastic management, which will be beneficial for improving their performance. A further benefit is the digital aggregator platform, which will facilitate and foster collaboration, synergy and knowledge exchange.
III. Academia: The activities of this network will identify key research questions that support the transition to a Circular Plastic Economy, thus shaping future research direction in this field. The mini conference, conference proceedings and proposed special issue will be an opportunity to connect researches and collate academic publications focussed on the digital innovations for the circular plastic economy.
IV. Policymakers, Regulators, International and Environmental Agencies: This group are major stakeholders, whose actions can result in significant change. This group includes organisations such as UNEP, Government ministries, DFID, GIZ, World Bank and African Development Bank. The outcomes and outputs of this project will be disseminated with them through our activities, as well as via the digital aggregator platform.
V. Partners of the DITCh plastic Network: The multi-sectoral, interdisciplinary and international nature of the team will create vast opportunities for knowledge exchange and capacity building in this timely area of sustainably managing plastic waste. This project will facilitate 2-way knowledge and skills transfer between academia and innovation hubs, as well as between academics in UK and academics in Africa.
VI. General Public: This project contributes to sustainably tackling plastic waste, which is a major global challenge. Therefore, the outcome of this Network will be beneficial to the public.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The project analysed the transition from a linear plastics system to a digitally enabled circular plastics system. Drawing from a cross-sectional engagement with over 151 circular economy stakeholders and over 1500 households, the project resulted in unique insights on the circular plastic economy in Africa.
With a rapidly evolving digital ecosystem across sub-Saharan Africa, there are several opportunities for digital innovations (various digital technologies and applications by social entrepreneurs) to significantly accelerate the transition to a circular plastic economy in Africa. However, some of the most pressing external pressures from the exogenous landscape that need to be addressed include.
• Strengthening the regulatory landscape in terms of implementing/enforcing policies that support digital innovations
• Providing innovative funding mechanisms to support digital innovations to be financially viable in a slim profit margin environment.
• Using incentives to drive a culture change as well as address issues such as level of literacy, environmental awareness, and digitisation acceptance
• Identifying skills gaps in the transition and developing local skills to fill these gaps
• Implementing robust systems and/or technologies for capturing and tracking data on waste.
• Developing systems, platforms, and fora for collaboration between all stakeholders
Africa's transition to a digitally enabled circular plastics system is significant, as waste management infrastructure is mainly inadequate across the continent. Therefore, these digital innovations will fill the gap by offering smart solutions for waste management such as optimising the collection, promoting transparency, tracking waste flows, remote sensing, thus contributing to achieving a smart community
Exploitation Route The outcomes have been disseminated to relevant stakeholders who will be taking it forward. For example, various digital innovations that could accelerate the transition to a circular Plastic economy, as well as how they could be used via different stakeholders were identified. Similarly, research questions and policy recommendations were made.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

URL http://ditch-plastic.org/
 
Description Innovation for African Universities
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2021 
End 09/2022
 
Description The Sustainable Manufacturing and Environmental Pollution (SMEP) programme
Amount £1,500,000 (GBP)
Organisation Government of the UK 
Department Department for International Development (DfID)
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2022 
End 10/2024
 
Description Circular Plastic Economy Innovation Hub 
Organisation Ahmadu Bello University
Country Nigeria 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration was instituted to address some of the challenges identified in the DITCh plastic network project.
Collaborator Contribution Partners are contributing their expertise and network
Impact A multidisciplinary collaboration including Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Computing
Start Year 2021
 
Description Circular Plastic Economy Innovation Hub 
Organisation De Montfort University
Department Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration was instituted to address some of the challenges identified in the DITCh plastic network project.
Collaborator Contribution Partners are contributing their expertise and network
Impact A multidisciplinary collaboration including Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Computing
Start Year 2021
 
Description Circular Plastic Economy Innovation Hub 
Organisation University of Lagos
Country Nigeria 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration was instituted to address some of the challenges identified in the DITCh plastic network project.
Collaborator Contribution Partners are contributing their expertise and network
Impact A multidisciplinary collaboration including Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Computing
Start Year 2021
 
Description Circular Plastic Economy Innovation Hub 
Organisation University of Nigeria
Country Nigeria 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration was instituted to address some of the challenges identified in the DITCh plastic network project.
Collaborator Contribution Partners are contributing their expertise and network
Impact A multidisciplinary collaboration including Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Computing
Start Year 2021
 
Description Garbage In Value Out 
Organisation Chatham House
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The Collaboration is a direct ouctome of the DITCh Plastic project as majority of the partners were identified during the project. Therefore the research team has contributed expertise, intellectual input and access to data
Collaborator Contribution The collaborators have built on our findings from the DITCh plastic project
Impact Multi disciplinary collaboration, including Engineering, Computing and Social sciences
Start Year 2021
 
Description Garbage In Value Out 
Organisation De Montfort University
Department Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The Collaboration is a direct ouctome of the DITCh Plastic project as majority of the partners were identified during the project. Therefore the research team has contributed expertise, intellectual input and access to data
Collaborator Contribution The collaborators have built on our findings from the DITCh plastic project
Impact Multi disciplinary collaboration, including Engineering, Computing and Social sciences
Start Year 2021
 
Description Garbage In Value Out 
Organisation University of Warwick
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The Collaboration is a direct ouctome of the DITCh Plastic project as majority of the partners were identified during the project. Therefore the research team has contributed expertise, intellectual input and access to data
Collaborator Contribution The collaborators have built on our findings from the DITCh plastic project
Impact Multi disciplinary collaboration, including Engineering, Computing and Social sciences
Start Year 2021
 
Title DITCh Plastic digital aggregator platform which links various stakeholders of the CPE 
Description This is a beta version of a digital aggregator platform which provide details of digital innovators across the continent. It will evolve into a platform that links various stakeholders of the the circular plastic economy in Africa. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2022 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Platform recently released so impact yet to be measured 
URL https://ditch-plastic.org/aggregator
 
Description Focus group Discussion with Digital Innovators and Start-ups 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Focus group discussions were held with Digital Innovators and CEO of Start-ups who use digital technology for managing plastic waste .Four (4) different groups held - West Africa, East Africa and 2 in Southern Africa. These discussions identified challenges and opportunities in the sector. Participants committed to joining the DITCh plastic network and working together to tackle the challenges.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://ditch-plastic.org/events.html
 
Description Webinar on Digital Innovations for transitioning to a Circular Economy in Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A webinar with speakers from the African Development Bank, the Global Environmental Facility and field practitioners. The event highlighted the state of Circular Plastic Economy in Africa, identifying opportunities and challenges. Particular emphasis was on opportunities for digital tools/innovations to manage and accelerate the transition to a circular plastic economy (CPE) in Africa. Over 600 people registered for this event and participation was from across Sub Sahara Africa via various platforms (zoom, facebook live, and YouTube live)
The DITCh plastic network was launched at this event, which currently has over 200 members.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://ditch-plastic.org/events.html
 
Description Chatham House event - Circular economy solutions to plastic pollution in Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This Chatham House event was held to disseminate the findings of the projects to representatives from the consulates of the 5 countries, where project activities were held.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Circular Plastic Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 2 workshops each with about 25 participants, were held in Nigeria, ( University of Lagos and Pan African University). Primary focus of the workshop was to disseminate findings from the projects as well as inspire local buy in.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description DITCh Plastic Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A full day conference was held in April 2021, which brought together interdisciplinary, multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder perspectives on challenges and opportunities for utilising digital innovations for the circular plastic economy in Africa. The conference featured paper presentations from scholars to illuminate technical, economic and social issues associated with circular plastic economy; country case studies that explore challenges and opportunities for networking and diffusion of digital innovations; and practitioner and policy insights from multilateral, national and industry contexts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://ditch-plastic.org/events.html
 
Description Design Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A design workshop was held with 9key stakeholders from across Africa, The session was to utilize the Human-Centered Design (HCD) methodology in identifying challenges within the Circular Plastic sector, and co-create ideas on how the Network could address those challenges. This was a stimulating session that resulted in co creating conceptual design for a platform to tackle some of the issues
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://ditch-plastic.org/events.html
 
Description Focus Group Discussion with Academia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Focus group discussions were held with Academics/Researchers working in the circular economy space. Three (3) different groups held - West Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa. These discussions resulted in identifying gaps in knowledge in the sector. Participants committed to joining the DITCh plastic network and working together to tackle the challenges.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://ditch-plastic.org/events.html
 
Description Focus Group Discussion with Civil Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Focus group discussions were held with representatives from third sector organisations .Three (3)different groups held - West Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa. These discussions identified challenges and opportunities in the sector. Participants committed to joining the DITCh plastic network and working together to tackle the challenges.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://ditch-plastic.org/events.html
 
Description Focus Group Discussion with Government and Policy makers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Focus group discussions were held with representatives from government authorities/parastatals and policy makers .Three (3)different groups held . These discussions were around policy enforcements/formulation and successes/barriers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://ditch-plastic.org/events.html
 
Description Focus Group Discussion with Investors/Funders 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact Focus group discussions were held with representatives from organisations who fund or invest in Environmental businesses. The engagement highlighted the need for good business cases to be made as well as the need to for adequate support to be provided to the organisations operating in the Digital innovations sector
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://ditch-plastic.org/events.html
 
Description Focus Group Discussion with Waste Management Organisations 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Focus group discussions were held with professionals in the waste management sector. Three (3) different groups held - West Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa. These discussions sparked a lot of debate and identified challenges and potential solutions. The group of experts reiterated the need for more platforms like the focus group to foster collaboration
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://ditch-plastic.org/events.html
 
Description Press Release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact A press release was sent to over 70 media houses across Africa to announce the launch of the project as well as give details about the project. Similar press releases were done by De Montfort University and University of Lagos.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://cchubnigeria.com/ditchplasticnetwork-tackle-plastic-pollution/
 
Description Project Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A website giving details about the project, which has recorded over 1500 users and 2200 sessions, with an average session being more than 1 minute . This has resulted in increased enquiries for joining the network
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021,2022
URL https://ditch-plastic.org/
 
Description Social Media Engagement 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Regular engagement on our social media channels (Twitter and Facebook) targeted and informing the general public about the project, highlighting the challenge and updating on progress in the sector. Our posts on twitter in the last 3 months have reached over 37,500 , with a post reaching up to 4,000 people . On average, we have 200 people engagement per post. This has resulted in more requests to engage in the network activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
URL https://twitter.com/DITChPlasticAf