Circular Plastics Challenge finalists announced

May 6, 2024
Winners of the competition, which is hosted by Hillenbrand Inc., Net Impact and Coca-Cola, will be announced at NPE.

The host companies of the 2024 Circular Plastics Challenge competition have announced five finalists. The competition, which was established to promote sustainability within the plastics value chain and encourage ideas from next-generation innovators on ways to help keep plastics in the economy and out of the environment, is hosted by Hillenbrand Inc., Net Impact and The Coca-Cola Co.

Participants were tasked with designing forward-thinking solutions to increase the supply of rPET. The second-annual global challenge generated 65 applications from 18 countries. The finalists include:

  • Project ReVend, led by Addison Vaughn and Anastasia Chalmers, University of South Carolina undergraduates, Columbia, S.C. Project ReVend aims to boost recycling rates by alleviating sortation challenges with a subliminal label design. It also seeks to incentivize consumers to recycle through strategically located reverse vending machines that are integrated with the user's preferred payment account. With the solution implemented at a U.S.-based university with an undergraduate student population of 35,000, a 10 percent adoption rate is projected to lead to 210,000 collected bottles per year.


  • rMarket, led by Carissa Tasto and Jennifer Larkin, MBA graduates from Presidio Graduate School, San Anselmo, Calif. The full-service platform rMarket offers any retail chain the option of becoming a certified recycling center under the rMarket program while supporting logistics for reclaimers, processors, and copackers manufacturing rPET. The goal of rMarket is to provide the equipment, marketplace and industry expertise to transform a retail store into a centralized collection point for communities underserved by municipal recycling programs. At scale, it has the potential to provide enough material for 2,652,864 soda bottles made with 30 percent rPET.


  • EcoTrace , led by Professionals Aadhithya Sujith and Somya Singh, from Kannur, Kerala & Nagpur, Maharashtra, India. EcoTrace uses fluorescent-based markers in PET plastic manufacturing coupled with Tracer-Based Sorting (TBS) technology to improve the material's recyclability and downstream applications. The zero-waste process is designed to minimize tonnage loss, conserving valuable resources and reducing the carbon footprint associated with plastic production and recycling. With an estimated 1 billion pounds of rPET recovery facilitated by TBS, the potential for mitigating plastic waste is substantial.


  • Strong Bottle, led by Terra Miller-Cassman and Taylor Fackrell, Boise State University graduate students in Boise, Idaho. Single-use water bottles are made of rPET, yet most PET bottles are landfilled because they are mistaken for paper during the recycling process when the rPET bottle gets flattened by the pressurized air-sorting technology common in materials recovery facilities. Strong Bottle proposes a new disposable water bottle shape to prevent flattening during the recycling process that could result in a 15 percent increase in the PET collected during the recycling process.


  • BottleBot, led by Nicole Restani Kolbeck and Sebastian Weeks, Bard’s Graduate Program & professional Nate Kolbeck in Red Hook, N.Y. BottleBot is a deposit return plan that collects PET bottles and distributes rewards for consumers through an interactive reverse vending machine co-sponsored by large brands with established recycled content goals. It incorporates AI scanning that reduces contamination and blockchain technology that allows retailers to track and manage PET supply throughout the plastics value chain. This solution is estimated to increase the supply of rPET by 10,000 pounds per store, per year within the first year.

 Each team will present its ideas during a virtual showcase May 8 during NPE2024, which is produced by the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS). The judging panel will determine the winners during the show. The first-place team will be awarded $10,000, with $2,500 and $1,000 going to the second- and third-place teams, respectively.