Final Report: Recycling Supply Chain Verification and Measurement System - Blockchain and GIS-Based

EPA Contract Number: 68HERC22C0023
Title: Recycling Supply Chain Verification and Measurement System - Blockchain and GIS-Based
Investigators: Robberson, William
Small Business: Kamilo, Inc.
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: I
Project Period: December 1, 2021 through May 31, 2022
Project Amount: $99,998
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I (2022) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)

Description:

The broad expectations of U.S. plastics recycling programs over the last five decades have not been met and the fate of most discarded plastic products and packaging is unknown. There are many challenges facing the success of domestic plastic recycling – including high contamination rates, export restrictions, and low cost of alternatives such as use of virgin plastic and landfilling.

As plastics production and consumer use continues to accelerate, so does the amount of plastic waste lost to the environment, landfilled, or burned – all of which disproportionately affects frontline and overburdened communities.  Information related to the increased production of plastic polymers and the sale of new products using plastic is readily available, yet there is very little sound data related to the amounts and end dispositions of used or waste plastic.  The data that is available is generally self-reported, interpolated and/or extrapolated from industry sources.  There is widespread acknowledgement among numerous stakeholders that improved data measurement and tracking capabilities for waste plastic resources are essential to improve the recycling system. 

The plastic waste crisis has reached a perfect storm; while numerous corporate and government commitments, goals and mandates call for greater use of recycled content in plastic products by the year 2025, there is a massive shortfall of available recycled feedstock – currently only enough to meet 25% of this demand.  Reliable data measurement and verification systems will be essential as competition to find post-consumer resin feedstock intensifies and commitments become difficult, if not impossible, to meet.  The ability to continuously track the movement of plastic waste through the recycling system and immutably verify the use of recycled feedstock in new products will become a regulatory and/or commercial necessity.  Kamilo is uniquely positioned to meet these data measurement and 3rd party verification needs with a first-of-its-kind digital real-time tracking and accounting system. 

The purpose of our research was to build and pilot test Kamilo technology innovation to provide low cost, transparent and trusted techniques to measure, track, verify and sustainably manage reusable resources at a level of granularity not previously available.  Recycling begins at the local level, and our purpose includes the provision of real-time measurement of local recycling system performance as it engages the broader recycling supply chain at the regional, national and international levels.  This measurement and verification of recycling enables creation of more effective recycling goals, decisions on allocation of resources, the ability to track progress and the ability to improve the market value of recovered plastics.

This work was supported by the EPA SBIR Program under contract number 68HERC22C0023 and has enabled Kamilo to validate the efficacy of our transformative technology platform and to track and verify the movement of waste plastic through the value chain from aggregation (e.g., collection and sorting) to processing and manufacturing into a new product, confirming that plastic waste does not end up in the environment.  Our system uses a unique digital identifier combined with geolocation intelligence to create circular traceability within the supply chain.

While the back end of our technology platform is built in the same geospatial environment used by top US Government Agencies, the front-end data collection Mobile App is simple and easy to use and downloadable on any Apple or Android mobile device.  The user inputs a few data elements into the App, including shipment weight and polymer type, and takes photos of the shipment and shipping manifests. The data is instantly uploaded to a blockchain-based Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB – a fully managed ledger database that provides a transparent, immutable, and cryptographically verifiable transaction log) and is simultaneously available on Kamilo client’s confidential, web-based dashboards.  QLDBs are energy efficient versions of block chain ledgers.  

As an additional part of our traceability service, Kamilo calculates 1) the net environmental benefits of greenhouse gases avoided using recycled plastic feedstock in place of virgin; 2) the environmental plastic pollution prevented by confirmed chain of custody tracking and recycling; and 3) the landfill space saved by recycling plastic.  Kamilo’s immutable, real-time continuous metrics demonstrate to companies, governments and communities that their actions to fight climate change are now quantifiable.

Over the course of the Phase I SBIR contract, Kamilo successfully developed and deployed our mobile device Kamilo Secure Data App – available in both iOS (Apple Store) and Android (Google Play) and tested and validated our traceability system in several pilot projects.  Kamilo chose pilot project use-cases that would allow a broad scope of user experience and client feedback.  All pilot projects were conducted in California, partly due to Omicron/COVID constraints for site visits and travel, and partly because California leads the way in many regards with existing and upcoming plastic recycling mandates.  Even though our focus has initially been in California, we are currently scoping new domestic projects in Alaska, Hawaii and Pennsylvania and outside the U.S. in Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, the Caribbean and Nassau Bahamas.  As an additional component of the EPA SBIR Phase I contract, Kamilo has developed and extended our technology capabilities to provide for overseas tracking and traceability.

Our multiple-entity California pilot project tracked truckloads of thin film waste plastic (LDPE/LLDPE) from two separate sources in Northern California to two separate facilities, one a processing & manufacturing facility in Central California and the other a large processor in the Greater Los Angeles Area.  One of these thin-film sources is a consumer-based originator of thin film plastic waste and the other is a municipal Material Recovery Facility (MRF) which collects and bales thin film plastic.  We successfully tracked and verified over 80,000 lbs of L/LDPE from origination or collection into processing for use in manufacturing new plastic products, and we were able to verify a portion of the processed plastic into new products. 

Kamilo also worked under contract with a progressive municipality in the Bay Area to track shipments of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) from a local MRF to a processor in Southern California.  As a condition of the contract, we tested combinations of digital IDs including QR codes, blue-tooth low-energy transponders and GPS units.  To-date we’ve tracked over 120,000 lbs of HDPE to this processor, where the HDPE is made into food-grade pellets.

We also worked with a large national manufacturer of durable plastic products based in the Los Angeles Area.  We began with a small-scale pilot tracking limited shipments from origination to processing and to manufacturing, which worked very well and provided useful feedback for system modifications.  This led to an expanded scale pilot project tracking truckloads of end-of-life durables from multiple facilities in Southern California to a central processor, where the durables were ground-up for recycled feedstock to be used back in manufacturing new durable goods.  For the expanded pilot project, the participants were loaned demonstration licenses for the Kamilo Mobile App to independently conduct data input during shipping and receiving without Kamilo personnel onsite - the tracking and verification worked flawlessly.  Subsequent tracking of new plastic products (manufactured with a portion of the tracked recycled material) back to the original customers closed the loop and provided a demonstration of true circularity.  

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

         Kamilo Mobile APP: Our Mobile App for on-site chain of custody data collection is successfully deployed and available in both Andoid and iOS and is simple and easy to use – it takes about a minute to scan incoming and outgoing shipments/items and requires minimal operator touches.  We incorporated pilot participant feedback to further streamline and simplify the App input options and maximize ease of use.

·         Kamilo Web-based Dashboards: Once chain of custody tracking and verification information is submitted from the App, it is immediately available on our web based Kamilo internal administration dashboard and individual client dashboards. An individual client dashboard contains only information related to that specific client’s supply chain network, as predetermined during the setup and on-boarding process.  Our pilot project clients experienced an unexpected benefit in the ability to see the status of shipments in real-time, and to have awareness regarding when waste plastic is on its way to either the processor and/or recycled feedstock is enroute from the processor to the manufacturing facility.  Inventory management has been a very positive side benefit of the traceability service according to our participants’ feedback.

·         Use and Benefits of Digital IDs: With supply chain logistics and transport availability experiencing significant challenges recently, the GPS units used in tandem with other digital IDs provided transport awareness and proved helpful to anticipate shipment arrivals at facilities.  Even though most transport has scheduled arrival times, it can be quite unpredictable and thus the real-time GPS location intelligence allowed for greater efficiencies for both Kamilo field personnel and the receiving-dock operators.  For direct short hauls of less than 2-3 hours, GPS units are less necessary.  Socialized by the recent prevalence of QR codes for reading menus/ordering at restaurants and other establishments during and post-pandemic, the use/scanning of QR codes was second nature to pilot project participants who universally said the App was “easy” and “simple to use”.

·         Net Environmental Benefit Calculations: The feature of net environmental benefits calculated automatically within the system and made available through our dashboards resonated strongly with our pilot participants. We hope to work with facilities in the Kamilo network to optimize transportation routes from originator to processor to manufacturer to minimize GHG transportation footprints.

·         Challenges in Transitioning to a Circular Economy: Business to business (B2B) relationships are vital to recycling network success, and we found a recurring concern with corporate vulnerability to B2B supply chain transparency.  One common challenge in the adoption of full-circle material tracking is that some haulers and processors in the plastic waste supply chain can be reluctant to divulge the identities of their down-stream customers, which is often considered confidential business information (CBI).  Kamilo recognizes the need for confidentiality within business networks and is able to provide dashboard anonymity to the identities of business relationships for those clients which want to demonstrate, celebrate and promote their recycling and circular economy achievements without jeopardizing relationships with their downstream customers.   

·         Building Trust in the Plastics Recycling Process:  One MRF director commented to Kamilo that he was excited to begin tracking and verifying the outcomes of the waste plastic they collected, sorted, baled and sold so they could communicate that information to their customers - to “rebuild faith in the recycling system.”   

·         Building Trust in Plastics Recycling B2B Supply Chains:  All facility participants in the Kamilo network receive an onsite visit during onboarding to confirm that their environmental management practices are not endangering or posing a threat to people or the environment. This confirmation ensures that every chain of custody participant within a supply chain consistently meets a minimum threshold of environmental care, which enables a stronger level of trust between all participants.  There is also a level of trust associated with the implementation of a completely new technology and measurement approach; this trust needs to be developed over time with the various facilities in each network, and as Kamilo’s innovative and secure traceability platform is more widely adopted across the waste supply chain, the trust also grows. 

·         Building Trust in Kamilo Traceability as a Service (TaaS): Over the course of conducting the pilot projects we regularly observed increased trust in the Kamilo technology platform as the operators and managers became familiar with the Kamilo team, with our novel - yet simple - tracking App and as they experienced first-hand the benefits and insights that came from using the technology.  We also expect that as competition for recycled feedstock accelerates over the next few years, increasing numbers of participants in the plastic waste supply chain will acknowledge the need for and appeal of the 3rd party verification and traceability provided by the Kamilo system.

Conclusions:

Kamilo has built a first-of-its-kind, innovative, immutable, fraud-resistant, real-time digital tracking and accounting technology platform designed to replace decades of spot auditing, self-certifying and self-reporting.  The data collected by the Kamilo technology on the movement of recycled plastic materials in the waste supply chain are at a level of granularity and authentication that has been, until now, unavailable.  It is Kamilo’s intention that over time, with increased use, the aggregation of this data will serve to fill in many information and measurement gaps that exist in the recycling sector today.   

The achievement of sustainability can be described as the integration of measurement and management systems into the lifecycles of materials and things.  The Kamilo technology platform brings a systems approach to tackling the problem of mis-managed plastic waste resources (short lifecycle) by providing granular, continuous, real-time accounting and tracking (measurement) and the environmental benefits through recycling to enable more informed decision-making (management) and lengthening of its lifecycle.  

The Kamilo geospatial technology system:

  • Creates a ‘digital-twin’ of connected physical events, thus providing a digital transformation that adds transparency and value to an important and undervalued resource;
  • Provides irrefutable, auditable data to fill in the many data gaps that exist around the movement of plastic in the waste supply chain; and
  • Moves us that much closer to a circular economy.
  • Increases use of recycled plastic feedstock which results in lower carbon emissions by reducing the use of virgin plastic, the production of which has a significant carbon footprint.  The Kamilo tracking technology helps reward the players who are already doing the right thing and encourages those who are thinking about doing the right thing by verifying claims around increased plastic recycling and recycled content in products.  As competition for recycled feedstock ramps up over the next few years, a 3rd party secure, auditable, continuous traceability technology such as that offered by Kamilo will become a necessity.

Kamilo’s target customers for our “Traceability-as-a-Service (TaaS) offering include all entities in the recycled plastic value chain.  Kamilo serves the entire waste supply chain from municipalities and consumer packaged goods generators of waste plastic to waste management companies that collect, sort and aggregate the material, to intermediary processors and finally to manufacturers who use the recycled plastic in a product.  There are tens of thousands of potential customers just in the United States.

Kamilo charges an annual subscription fee for use of our technology platform to track and verify the origin, processing and manufacturing with the plastic provided in their supply chain is through recycling.  We have also identified a number of derivative offerings building on the core traceability service and will continue to pursue development of these as well.

Over the last 6-months, under the support of the U.S. EPA’s Phase I SBIR contract, we have validated our technology’s operation and value with pilot project participants in the plastic waste recycling industry and believe we’ve confirmed a product/market fit for our solution.  Before we scale up, we will be refining our value proposition and how to deploy it most effectively through the experimentation and commercial pilot application of different business models.  We will also be evaluating the different market segments, building a sales playbook and work to ensure we grow in an equitable and sustainable manner.  Additionally, the ability to influence policy at the local, State and federal levels could be a potential game-changer for us.