Plastic Pirate: Retail experience that makes the circular economy tangible

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3D printing of customized HEMA items, from used plastics collected by kids (the 'Plastic Pirates').

What if all young people would be part of the HEMA Plastic Pirates tribe?

They collect used plastics and bring it to a HEMA store. There, captain HEMA will help and educate the children on how to recognize, separate and recycle the various types of plastics. E.g. thermoplastics which can be recycled, and for single-use plastics or non-recyclable materials, they will learn to recognize and no longer use or buy products made from these materials (and teach their parents not to do so either).

On their plastic passport (loyalty card) they collect points that they can use to purchase 3D printed products. A demonstration 3D-printer in-store functions as a showcase of the process. The actual products ordered are printed in a central warehouse; the collected plastics are transported in the trucks that delivered goods to stores, to make use of existing infrastructure. Collaborations with NGO's such as Plastic Whale add to the fun and engagement of the service.

With the Plastic Pirates, HEMA tackles the Beyond Plastics challenge in multiple ways: used plastics are recovered as a valuable resource, single-use plastics can be phased out in a responsible and fun way, it builds brand loyalty and opens up avenues for new business models and product innovations (including personalization), the consumer is educated about plastics and associated challenges and solutions.

Key users and beneficiaries:


  • Children: will collect the plastics, learn which plastics are recyclable (teacher: Captain Hema), learn about 3D printing, will have a customized item 3D printed (e.g. decorations for Christmas tree, egg holder for Easter, vase for Mother's day)

  • Parents: will learn about plastic recycling, educational for children

  • Waste collectors: separation of plastics (waste in general) is an expensive step in the process, which will be done now by children at HEMA

  • Wider society: contributes to mindset shift from waste to resource"


Key partners and systems needed:

  • 3D printing partners: machine, designers
  • Waste collectors: for plastics/materials collected that cannot be used for 3D printing
  • Depending on scale: small scale in store collection, separation and printing or larger scale with actual printing in warehouse. In latter case, existing distribution logistics can be used to transport plastics collected in store to warehouse
  • NGO's tackling plastic waste: e.g. Plastic Whale
  • Educational institutions


The Impact:

  • Economic: brand loyalty, value from waste, transition assortment from single-use to multiple-use materials, new business model (HEMA used plastics upcycled via 3D printing)
  • Environmental: recycling of plastic waste, removing waste from environment, transition away from single-use plastics has positive environmental footprint
  • Social: educational aspect, community building


The first phase of this challenge looked at key opportunity areas, barriers to overcome, inspirational case studies, existing research, facts and figures, and other insights around the challenge. The Circle Economy team identified and clustered all submissions into key areas of opportunity that served to inspire and support the development of new solutions at the Beyond Next circularity festival. This is one of the solutions that came out of the event. 

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