DGrade's Simply Bottles for a more educated & sustainable Gulf

DGrade is one of the pioneers for providing a tangible solution to plastic pollution by recycling PET plastic into textiles. They give schools and organisations with uniforms, workwear and accessories requirements, a sustainable procurement option. By giving plastic a second life, they tangibly reduce plastic bottles going into landfill; reduce land and ocean pollution, contribute to a cleaner environment and support a circular economy.

Single use plastic pollution has presented a big challenge in the UAE. With meagre recycling plastics rates (6%), this issue became alarming. As stated in their GSA submission, DGrade was established to combat this. This organisation provides a sustainable solution by recycling plastic into textile products. However, simply making the necessary change won't solve the root problem.

So they decided to target the (lack of) education on sustainability and its significance in our modern-day world. That's why DGrade established Simply Bottles, with aims to increase recycling rates in the UAE, through education and awareness of sustainable sourcing, and responsible management of plastic and recycling.

Simply Bottles was set up as an educational and PET plastic recovery initiative. Their key goal was to increase recovery rates of plastic bottles, obtaining 20% of the plastic required for their manufacturing plant through this initiative.

Simply Bottles helps raise awareness for recycling and for their sustainable products in schools and businesses. This supports DGrade's overall marketing strategy by generating content that is shared on our social platforms.

Additionally, when customers purchase their uniforms, workwear, accessories, etc., from DGrade, their process not only diverts plastic from going to landfill it also disrupts a very environmentally unfriendly textile industry.

The past year has been a challenge due to the pandemic, with more people working from home and many events being cancelled. Despite this, DGrade has had programmes running in a wide variety of sectors, such as hospitality, health, F&B, retail, transport, banking, IT and FMCG.

After a successful trial of their 'plastic challenge' competition in 2015 with 20 schools, they launched Simply Bottles Schools as a full scale outreach initiative in September 2017 to educate students of all ages about plastic pollution and recycling.

Their planning involved establishing key partnerships with the KHDA with whom we participated in their annual 'What Works' Schools Events. Then they built strong partnerships with local waste management companies to facilitate collections. In 2018/19 they established a partnership with ADEK in Abu Dhabi, and the Zayed Higher Organisation for People of Determination.

Simply Bottles was developed as a full school year program. Their Simply Bottles co-ordinator works with 'ambassadors' in each school to facilitate the program. The program is funded by DGrade and corporate sponsors to enable free of charge participation for schools. It includes free recycling collections, presentations, meetings with ambassadors, competitions and engagement activities.

The program is tailored to the requirements of the organisation. It includes free plastic collections and other chargeable activities - workshops, competitions and clean-ups with employees to create awareness for and drive participation in recycling.

Simply Bottles is the first step for organisations to achieve their CSR goals and close the loop, by producing their uniforms from the recycled plastic.

Since the beginning of the Simply Bottles Schools Initiative, they have collected in over 4 million plastic bottles, approximately 80 MT, engaged 350,000 students, as well as parents and teachers.

With an average of 4 School clean-ups per year (with an average of 150 students on each) and collecting at least 1 MT of trash each time. To sum up, DGrade and their partners cleaned up over 16 MT of rubbish from the local deserts and beaches.

Due to these extreme efforts, DGrade has won the Gold Award at our GSA '21 in the Best Sustainable Education and Awareness Programme category. So we invited them to catch up. Read what DGrade's been doing below:

1. What prompted you to start the Simply Bottles project? Has the project ended? If not, how's it going now?

Simply Bottles Initiative was set up in 2017 to increase recycling rates of plastic bottles and stop plastic from going to landfill. To support this objective we tackled a number of issues:

▪️ Lack of awareness about and for recycling - we aim to educate children, students and adults across the region to be more aware of their behaviours and take personal action.
▪️ Low rates of segregation of plastic across the UAE - by segregating plastic at source we can increase recycling rates as it means less contamination.
▪️ Unsustainably made polyester - no one else in the region was tangibly recycling plastic into new products and we wanted to show this can and is being done by DGrade

Simply Bottles activities generate content which we share across our social platforms and encourage participants to join in, spreading the message far and wide about recycling and sustainability. We also want to prevent the spread of myths about plastic packaging, ensuring that people and companies know the facts and can make choices based on scientific research, rather than media hype.

The Simply Bottles Initiative runs annually and goes from strength to strength, winning awards each year.

We have over 210 schools on board (making it the largest free outreach programme of its kind in the ME), reaching over 350,000 students, teachers and parents. The Simply Bottles schools programme has collected over 80MT of plastic.

We work with diverse businesses, from F&B, Healthcare, Banking, Sports, Hotels etc to educate and motivate staff to get involved, helping organizations achieve their CSR goals and close the loop by providing all their textile needs (such as uniforms, workwear, team kits, accessories etc).

We also partner with many events companies, work at events and partner with government bodies to ensure we collect plastic from as many places as possible. We partner with the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, collecting plastic from the live F1 events and making official uniforms for all the YMC staff. This places Simply Bottles on the world stage as our bins and recycling stations get wide press coverage at the event.

2. Why did you decide to apply for the Gulf Sustainability Awards?

The GSA helped us with our goal of spreading our message. It enabled us to network across the region and gave us access to a wider platform of potential customers.

The Awards give us a credible platform to meet like-minded companies and CEO's who we can partner with for a more sustainable future.

3. How would you describe your experience at our awards? Did you learn or gain something from it?

The Awards gave us a chance to present DGrade and Simply Bottles to a senior group of c-suite decision-makers. In order to clearly present our business we had to focus on our goals and core KPI's - which is always a good exercise!

4. How's DGrade doing now? What are your plans for the future?

DGrade inaugurated its PET plastic recycling plant in KIZAD in March 2022. This was a huge milestone and means we can recycle the plastic we collect ourselves. The plant will process up to 1billion plastic bottles a year.

We are working with the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi on their white paper on Single Use Plastic policy and hoping to launch a new scheme for the collection of plastic where consumers are rewarded for participating.

We hope to extend the reach of the Simply Bottles Schools programme and bring on more schools in Abu Dhabi and other Emirates, as well as include the Government schools.

We have also recently launched our reverse vending machine program to reward customers for recycling, partnering with Pescio, Spinneys and Integrated Transport Services with plans to grow this to 50 RVM's across the country by next year.

DGrade sales orders continue to grow with exciting new business partners coming on board to place their uniform orders. With the support of our share equity partners, Emeraude Polymers, we are looking to expand overseas.

We plan to start running Simply Bottles programmes in other countries, beginning in Bahrain in 2022. Over the next 5 years we have a huge and exciting growth plan, with the ultimate goals of bringing as much of our manufacturing process under one roof as possible.

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