rePurpose Disrupts the Waste Cycle

by RaeAnne Marsh

“We believe in recycling as a solution for today, and reduction and redesign as solutions for tomorrow,” says rePurpose co-founder Svanika Balasubramanian. “At rePurpose, we are building a global movement of conscious consumers and businesses going #PlasticNeutral by supporting waste workers worldwide.”

The company was founded last year with a mission to provide simple, cost-effective and genuine opportunities for individuals, businesses and brands to create impact by strengthening plastic recovery and recycling infrastructure in developing countries, while simultaneously providing stable livelihoods for historically marginalized waste workers. Balasubramanian says she is guided in her efforts by advice from her grandfather, who was a social activist in South India. “As I was growing up, he would always say empowering one’s community was as important as empowering one’s self.”

Aiming to empower communities to take tangible action against the plastic crisis, she says, “The biggest challenge is boiling down the immense magnitude of the problem to something that seems more approachable.” For instance, she notes that 8 million tons of plastic finds its way into our oceans every year. “That is a scary number and might make the problem seem too big for any one person or organization to actually make a difference. The enormity and impersonal nature of the statistics can lead to apathy or inaction. We had to make this issue, and the solution, more approachable if we were to change human behavior.

“That’s why we designed a three-step model that helped each consumer or business take action for their unique plastic footprint. They can calculate their annual plastic consumption through the rePurpose platform and take responsibility for just that amount –– it’s a more personal way of encouraging impact creation.”

The Way It Works
There are three steps in rePurpose’s program to go #PlasticNeutral:

  1. Participants use rePurpose’s customized measurement tools that allow them to quantify and understand their unique plastic footprint.
  2. The company helps the participants take responsibility for their footprint by funding the recovery and recycling of an equivalent volume of plastic by vetted formal waste management enterprises.
  3. Each participating individual, employee or facility is then onboarded onto rePurpose’s ConsciousLiving platform, which helps them reduce their plastic consumption in a gamified manner with personalized tips and tools.

Inspired to Action
“My co-founders and I initially became involved in this space because we co-wrote our thesis on the strengths and weaknesses of the informal recycling sector in developing countries,” Balasubramanian relates. As part of their field research, they had the opportunity to visit Deonar, one of Asia’s largest landfills. “Walking through mountains of garbage, pinching our noses with one hand and swatting flies with the other, seeing the glittering skyline of the growing city of Mumbai rising in the horizon –– we just had this quiet moment of horror at how abysmally we had failed in managing our consumption.”

It was on the rickshaw ride back home that evening that the idea of rePurpose in its current form was born. “That’s when we realized that the only way to approach such a global problem was with a globally applicable unified solution,” says Balasubramanian.

Other advice she credits in inspiring her efforts was to be prepared for a lot of “no’s.” “Though I don’t think there’s really any preparing for all the setbacks you face when you’re trying to get a new startup off the ground, that advice has helped me remain resilient and come back swinging with more conviction every time.”

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