IBM Develops Cloud Platform to Track and Analyze Plastic Pollution

By Romero Halloway



The Alliance to End Plastic Waste has partnered with IBM on a technological initiative to track and eliminate plastic waste. As a new and more environmentally minded administration takes office, it is encouraging that technology companies in the private sector are also marshaling their capabilities to address this persistent and pernicious problem. As with most endeavors, the follow through matters.

A recent press release details the platform developed by IBM is called Plastics Recovery Insight and Steering Model ("PRISM") and provides data for other companies and nonprofit organizations looking to analyze where and how plastics enter the environment.

Plastic pollution is a complex problem and involves several different components, including how and where plastic is produced and consumed, where it is leaking into the environment, and where it ends up after it enters ecosystems.

The newly developed platform will be able to track and analyze these data points along with analyzing waste management systems and recycling efforts in different geographies.

"A very significant obstacle we face in combating the plastic waste challenge is how to bring together the multitude of data that exists in a way that's verifiable, flexible and actionable," said Nick Kolesch, Vice President for Projects at Alliance to End Plastic Waste. "We are pleased that IBM has joined our efforts, and look forward to their contribution of solutions, advanced technologies and capabilities in pursuit of our mission."

IBM says the platform is part of a suite of products that the company has developed to help customers operate more sustainably while helping various organizations meet their environmental goals. 

"By harnessing the power of cloud and artificial intelligence we can bring together valuable and disparate pieces of data in a secured and flexible environment where everyone from Alliance members to governments and regulators can collaborate to address this global challenge," said Manish Chawla of IBM in the release.

While the commitment of both IBM and the Alliance are welcome, there is reason for skepticism. The Alliance to End Plastic Waste is a Singapore-based nonprofit comprised of some of the largest oil and chemical manufacturers in the world, most of which have an enormous vested interest in sustaining and increasing production of the very plastics that end up in oceans, littered on beaches and throughout the landscape.

Rob Buurman, the director of the European-based Recycling Netwerk, said recently, “These kind of actions want to cure the image of plastic. But plastics don’t have an image problem – the exaggerated use of it in products with a short lifespan is a problem in itself.”

Well-heeled companies should use the power of the free market to solve seemingly intractable environmental problems, but such effort must amount to more than a greenwashing of their own contributions to those problems.

Furthermore, researchers like Jenna Jambeck, a professor at the University of Georgia, have also developed sophisticated tools to analyze the production of plastic and its presence in the ecosystem.

IBM should make its data analytics widely available to those in the research fields and the nonprofit sectors as well. The private sector can effect positive change, but the results of their efforts should be subject to validation. Too often, as in the case of the Alliance’s partnership with Renew Oceans, past promises failed to materialize into actual results.

We here at Littorary are harnessing the power of innovation in the private sector to address the scourge of plastic pollution across the globe (and welcome scrutiny).

Our team is committed to making durable and sophisticated products that rival the convenience of plastics without the environmental burden. We believe technology and design innovations can revolutionize how Americans and the world consume products in a more environmentally responsible manner. Please stay tuned to our website, blog, and upcoming Kickstarter page as we unveil a product fully capable of providing the experience and sustainability that will consign the concept of disposable plastics to the garbage heap of history.

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