*Pant – (Danish) The set amount of money refunded on returning refundable bottles and cans.
ILLUSTRATION BY JANICE BROWNLEES
The lost bottles
The idea for “Project 1 Million” (P1M) came to Jan Martin Ahlers during his studies of Global Business Engineering at VIA UC Horsens, Denmark. Originally from Hamburg, he became aware of how many bottles and cans are thrown away in public buildings or at bigger events in Denmark, where one is not given the possibility to recycle them separately.
According to Dansk Retursystem A/S, despite having the resources and the capacity to recycle all the deposit-marked bottles (both aluminium cans and plastic bottles) in Denmark, only 89% of these are returned to recycling facilities. The missing 11% might not seem an alarming figure, however in 2013 it still corresponded to about 117 million one way packages that did not get recycled.**
‘Apart from a lot of recycable material being lost like this, it also requires a lot more energy to separate plastic bottles and aluminium cans from the rest of the rubbish,” Ahlers explains.
Reducing plastic waste is at the forefront of P1M’s mission, which launched in 2012.
In order to achieve this, containers have been set up, notably in buildings of businesses and other larger institutions, where bottles and cans can be collected.
The current goal is to collect 1 million bottles and cans in total. “100% of the pant money collected from these returnable bottles and cans is donated to charities and local projects”, Ahlers states.
“In general, if you’re trying to do good instead of aiming for high profits, you’re going to be off to a rough start.”
On own hook
“It hasn’t been easy running a non-profit organization here, especially as a foreigner.” Ahlers recalls. “In general, if you’re trying to do good instead of aiming for high profits, you’re going to be off to a rough start.”
At first Ahlers and his team were often turned down by big companies, whom they approached about donating old, used containers for their project.
“Think lovely thoughts…”
“Being turned down a lot was crushing, but I simply kept trying. Having the right team and keeping enthusiasm is crucial, and failing should directly turn into motivation”, Ahlers stresses.
Winning the Entrepreneurship Award as The Green Growth Jumper 2013 was not only a relief for Ahlers and his team but also a much appreciated acknowledgement. “Knowing there where external people who believed in our project and its ability to grow was a good boost for us.”
As 2013 winners they also bagged themselves a deal with the Entrepreneur Award 2014 (http://www.award2014.dk/) in Fredericia, where they where able to present their projects’ developements as well as set up 60 containers in order to collect returnable bottles, with all proceeds going to Børnefonden.
“Having the right team and keeping enthusiasm is crucial, and failing should directly turn into motivation”
After donating their first 12.600kr from collected bottles and cans to Trygfonden Børnehus in Aarhus and Odense, it also became much easier to convince people that P1M was achieving something. “Thanks to the money generated and donated it’s easier for people to see the impact this project has on local communities and that the recycling of every single bottle and can, will cause change and lead to improvement.”
“…straight on ‘til morning”
“The biggest challenge facing us yet is to make the project self-sustainable on a low financial budget and to find more collaborates, who believe in the concept,” Ahlers sums up.
Future developments will be to target all public institutions such as high schools and universities, as well as big venues across Denmark.
Ahlers is also looking into more convenient and attractive solutions for companies and private households to collect and recycle their bottles and cans.
“We’d like to turn it into a social business, attracting companies by offering a CSR project and the involvement of their employees” Ahler explains.
“P1M is a project I can also see being successful in other Scandinavian countries”, Ahlers believes, but it strongly depends on finding cooperators who support the project financially and volunteers who will take over the concept in their own high schools or universities and spread awareness.
“I would love to cooperate with other projects because we all have different experiences and success strategies we can share. I am sure likeminded projects can gain a lot from each other”, Ahlers concludes. “I am open to be contacted in case there are people who need advice, want to cooperate or want to hear more about my projects.”
Project 1 Million
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**Bottle & Can Recycling In Denmark:Addressing Issues and Optimizing the Recycling Rate, by Simon Wederkinch Tetens, Lucas Larsen, Alessandro Parsifal Carnevale, and Lone Samuelsson.