Jean-Baptiste Grassin, 26
Recycling Field Project Coordinator, Plastic Odyssey
Jean-Baptiste Grassin was born in France and studied engineering at CentraleSupélec and entrepreneurship and sustainability at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
He first got involved in the plastics industry through his research in Hong Kong, following travel across Southeast Asia.
"From Myanmar, I traveled through Thailand and Vietnam and saw with my own eyes what I had heard or seen only in documentaries: The reality of plastic pollution and increasing consumption, completely overwhelming the informal sector and the waste pickers' network, living with very low compensation and horrible conditions," Grassin said.
He read literature and studies and formulated ideas on how to tackle the issue.
"I interviewed recycling entrepreneurs and created analysis models from data I gathered from 350-plus projects in 70 countries," Grassin said. "This effort led me to join forces with Plastic Odyssey, where we share a vision to accelerate action in underserved communities living on the front lines of ocean plastic pollution."
Plastic Odyssey aims to reduce ocean plastic pollution with the goal of building a global network of local initiatives. The 40-meter scientific exploration vessel is powered by plastic waste converted into fuel by pyrolysis and was transformed into a laboratory to carry onboard a mobile recycling center and portable space for experiments ashore with local inhabitants of 30-plus stopovers across three continents.
"Plastic Odyssey has direct interface/engagement with local community partners in many locales, e.g., Cape Verde, Morocco, Indonesia, Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal. An essential part of my role is to maintain active engagement with local stakeholders, partners and communities," said Grassin, recycling field project coordinator with Plastic Odyssey.
Grassin has been involved with his community in Hong Kong, starting with the creation of a plastics recycling station on his university campus.
"We built vertical farming planters with the university's plastic waste and combined them with fertilizer from food compost to grow vegetables locally," he said. "I also got involved with networks and NGOs leading beach cleanups and helped set up a platform to empower individuals, groups and corporates to organize their own cleanups and reward them for it."
Grassin has also been with Nomad Plastic, as the managing director, since September 2020. He is involved in local projects from Hong Kong with operations in Indonesia. "Nomad Plastic is a social business providing sustainable tourism in remote areas of Indonesia in the Flores Sea. Revenue from the business is invested in building waste management solutions for these remote communities, education/local awareness building, as well as biodiversity conservation in marine protected areas," he said.
Grassin was nominated for Rising Stars by Jill Abelson, U.S. communications and partnerships adviser for Plastic Odyssey.
Q: What is your greatest achievement?
Grassin: My proudest achievement is my academic thesis and the two years of work it represents. "An Evidence-Based Model to Design Plastic Waste Management Solutions for Emerging and Developing Countries" sets key criteria, methodologies and tools to match a given plastic waste problem in a corresponding country with an adapted solution. Within the thesis, I created an algorithm/analytical tool, PO Analytics, to automate this work. Based on key criteria and local conditions, the tool can recommend a set of adapted machines, calculate required investment as well as financial forecasts for the first years of operations, staff needs and social impacts.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Grassin: Our concept of semi-industrial scale projects is completely different from small-scale recycling on one side and industrial recycling on the other. We've adapted industrial recycling solutions to a smaller scale — making our systems more affordable, easier to operate, build and maintain. We are eager to prove it out. So my biggest challenge is to put my research into action: implement projects in our targeted countries using my model.
We feel confident that our unique approach enables us to access remote areas, secondary cities or coastal/island communities that now lack access to industrial recycling networks. Still, we have to secure a sufficient supply of recyclable materials so the projects make economic sense. These are my main challenges heading into 2022.
Our main objective is to empower local communities so that they have full ownership and responsibility while benefiting from our expertise and support. I think we're well positioned to mobilize a transformation — economically, socially, environmentally and in quality of life — for many people around the world.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Grassin: Looking at the large spectrum of plastic recycling, I was first really curious about chemical recycling like enzymatic recycling and explored ways to adapt this technology to semi-industrial scale. From technology developers, I learned that it was still a work in progress at the industrial scale, so this delayed piloting it at a smaller scale for now.
Right now, I'm increasingly fascinated by ingenious, low-tech solutions to solve the plastic waste problem with a low CAPEX while making a real impact. An example is from my work in Indonesia, where we're developing affordable, small-scale pyrolysis systems to convert plastics into fuel for boats used for waste collection in remote islands.