Turning a problem into value

The case of plastic reaching the ocean

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Abstract

Economies are rapidly growing. Production and consumption rates are higher than ever before. And the disposal rates are increasing with it, with the absence of any waste infrastructure that can suffice. Global pollution has turned into one of today’s biggest threats for the environment, wild life, and humans. This thesis is specifically focussed on the case of plastic reaching the oceans, and how to turn this problem into value. A methodology has been developed to quantify the feasibility and effectiveness of plastic recovery solutions from oceans, rivers and waterways. It was quickly found that no source has been able to capture the totality of the problem of ocean pollution yet. When looking into feasible and effective solutions, the connection between today’s status of the problem, the potential barriers, and an investigation of its impact proved to be absolutely crucial. For this specific purpose, several models were developed, including a bow-tie model, the Strategic Solution Space (a summary of essential qualitative factors when designing for high impact), and a trajectory study as a foundation for research. These all combined supported the development of a methodology for assessing plastic recovery solutions; incorporated in this approach are a high level technology screening, a qualitative judgement of benefits, and two case studies of the most favourable concepts. Eventually, turning the problem into value is embodied by guidance in design of recovery solutions, identification of the most important parameters and its relations, a description of the willingness-to-pay, and lastly, recommending the greatest needs in scientific research. Altogether, the combined value presents the ultimate incentive to act.