Interview with Manish Chawla, Industry General Manager, Energy, Resources & Manufacturing, IBM
Exclusively for K-MAG
Bild: PantherMedia/Andriy Popov
In mid-December, U.S. IT company IBM announced it had joined the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. Together, they are designing the PRISM platform – a unified ecosystem of NGOs, the plastic value chain participants, communities, regulators, and any organization looking to deploy and improve waste management decisions and programs.
In an interview with K-MAG, Manish Chawla talks about the added value of the new platform, important steps on the way to achieving the circular economy and what contribution IBM is making to greater sustainability.
What made you join the Alliance to End Plastic Waste?
Manish Chawla: IBM has a long-standing commitment to the environment, dating back to as early as 1971 when IBM published its first corporate environmental policy statement. Today, IBM remains committed to good stewardship of the planet's resources and has made significant progress in managing waste, conserving energy, using renewable electricity, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In addition to our corporate commitments, we also have a legacy of helping clients use technology to solve complex sustainability challenges.
You are now also developing such a solution together with the Alliance in the form of the "PRISM" (Plastics Recovery Insight and Steering Model) platform. What is the goal behind this?
Chawla: There are so many complex environmental – as well as business – challenges that persist today simply because data generated is not properly shared, interpreted, or used. 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. There are several excellent – but independent – initiatives underway with NGOs as well as within the private sector; however, there 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.
As an open platform, PRISM can bring these data sets together so everyone better understands the full plastics ecosystem and can target interventions that will have the biggest impact where they are needed most. Using PRISM, organizations will be able to identify the data gaps and commission the development of data sets to ensure we have the full picture. We look forward to working with diverse institutions including universities and other institutions to capture those critical data sets.
Another key challenge which we hope to tackle with PRISM is a common approach to validating and harmonizing data around plastic waste, ensuring accuracy and transparency. Last year we published a study that found data scientists spend only 20 percent of their time on data analysis – while the remaining 80 percent 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 this knowledge, with data standardization and a data governance framework. This allows PRISM to act as an open, scalable platform to bring together these data sets so everyone can target interventions that will have the biggest impact where they are needed most.
What is the current development status of the platform? When is it expected to be usable?
Chawla: Right now, we are still developing and working through data governance for PRISM; however, the intent is to integrate AI capabilities to aid in data analysis down the road.
We are in the early stages of development, with a beta version in place that will shortly be made available to select external stakeholders including NGOs, inter-governmental organizations, and our member companies for testing and evaluation. We are aiming for a wider release to a broader group later this year and will share more in coming months.
What is IBM's contribution to more sustainability in the plastics industry or the realization of the circular economy?
Chawla: As said, IBM regularly works with clients to use technology to solve complex sustainability challenges. Specific to plastics and the circular economy, in 2019, IBM created a new technology called VolCat, a catalytic chemical process that can turn polyethylene terephthalate (PET) into a renewable resource. VolCat uses a benign organic catalyst to selectively digest PET back to its monomer constituents. After purification, the monomer can easily be re-polymerized to form new PET. The cost-effective and sustainable innovation is capable of breathing new life into old plastic. We predict that technology such as VolCat could be adopted around the global to combat plastic waste. We are beginning plans to kick-off the next phase to commercialize the technology.
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