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IBM Joins Alliance, Developing Platform To Track Plastic Waste Globally

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You might say IBM has joined the Plastic Avengers. The technology giant’s superpower: Designing a new data platform to help track plastic waste and recovery on a global scale.

The Avengers group in this example is officially called The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, and it includes 50 member companies. IBM’s platform is called the Plastics Recovery Insight and Steering Model, or PRISM for short.

The effort is about organizing data so it can be acted on, says Nick Kolesch, vice president of projects at the Alliance to End Plastic Waste.

“Right now, most data on plastics, plastics waste and waste management infrastructure is contained in silos, which means no one has a full picture of what is going on,” Kolesch says.

U.N. agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector have several “excellent” iniatives aimed at plastic waste but PRISM is “an opportunity to bring this data together and further fill in the gaps in a unified system that will allow for multi-dimensional analysis—the whole really can be greater than the sum of its parts,” Kolesch says.

The platform will allow sharing of the variety of data that’s currently collected individually: by organizations that track overall global plastic production, by manufacturers on their own production and how much of that includes recycled material, by waste management companies on how much plastic they process annually and by NGOs on how much plastic leaks out into the environment (and ends up in oceans, for instance).

Kolesch notes that “none of these groups are effectively sharing this information with each other, primarily because there is no platform to do so.”

PRISM is meant to be an open platform, hosted on IBM Cloud, to bring all the data sets together so everyone better understands the full plastic ecosystem and can take steps that will have the largest impacts.

How soon until this is up and running?

IBM is said to be in the early stages of development, with a beta version in place that will be made available soon to some NGOs, inter-governmental organizations and alliance members for testing and evaluation. The company is aiming for a wider release by mid-2021.

NGOs that can put the system to use include Project STOP Jembrana in Bali, Indonesia.

“One of our priorities is focusing on regions most affected by unmanaged plastic waste with little access to formal waste management systems,” Kolesch says.

The Alliance to End Plastic Waste is working with Project STOP to create the regency’s first-ever solid waste management service.

“The data contained in PRISM can provide information on the current situation and the outcomes of the project can be captured in the system, enabling our partners to track and monitor progress towards the goal of waste management system that can collect 20,000 tons of waste per year,” Kolesch says.

The benefits include creating new jobs and contributing to local and national government sustainability objectives.

At IBM, global industry managing director Manish Chawla points to a productivity study published earlier this year. It found that data scientists spend only 20% of their time on data analysis. The remaining 80% goes to finding, cleansing and organizing data.

“Our approach to PRISM is intentional to reverse that from the onset by using IBM Cloud, which can build a platform with different data formats and data definitions that integrates all of this knowledge, with data standardization and a data governance framework. This ensures PRISM is designed to be flexible and scalable to integrate future data sets.”

Sounds like a plan.

The Alliance to End Plastic Waste is targeting $1.5 billion over five years “to fund and incubate projects and pilot programs that create value from plastic waste and ultimately support the realization of circular economies,” according to an IBM news release.

Kolesch says PRISM platform is “a small part” of that investment. IBM has joined the alliance as a “supporting member” and is donating its time to a portion of the development.

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