Innovative companies increasingly are finding ways to turn trash into treasure. More specifically, they are leveraging collected waste and trash and processing it into plastic materials that can be made into useful products and then eventually recycled again.
Nike, for example, has made headlines for its latest line of sneakers, dubbed Space Hippie, that it fashioned from various types of waste materials –– from used T-shirts and drink bottles, to rubber and plastic factory scraps –– to produce four versions of the funky-looking shoe.
One model, Space Hippie #04, accounts for only 3.7 kg of carbon per pair, making it by far the lowest carbon footprint shoe that the company has produced. It’s goal is to reach zero-carbon or climate-positive, notes Noah Murphy-Reinhertz, sustainable design lead within Nike’s NXT Innovation Space Kitchen, and head of the team that created the Space Hippie line.
Dr. Andrew Dent, executive vice president of research at Material ConneXion and chief material scientist for its parent company, Sandow, recently cited the following three encouraging developments as examples of how innovative companies are turning waste into useful, and reusable, plastics. New York City-based Material ConneXion operates eight subscription-based materials libraries around the world, featuring more than 10,000 materials and processes across all disciplines of design.
Dent was speaking in June as one of three dozen presenters at a virtual event called the Sustainability Deep Dive, the first such conference organized by the Industrial Designers Society of America.
‘Dirty’ plastics become Ekomats
A social enterprise company called EcoGlobal in Chelsea, Vt., says the mechanical recycling and low-emissions manufacturing process it has developed can turn single-use and “dirty” plastics into a durable, recycled material it calls Ekopolimer, consisting of 75 percent post-consumer waste (mostly used LDPE retail bags and diverted landfill-bound material).
EcoGlobal then molds the resulting compound into heavy-duty, durable, slip-resistant, multi-purpose mats it calls EkoMats (www.ekomats.com). The company claims they are “water-impervious and flexible, and hold up in all-season weather and temperatures (-40ºF to 158ºF)— outliving and outperforming metal, concrete, wood and other plastics.”
Recycling TetraPak cartons
A Swiss company called RePlan Global Sagl has developed a material called EcoAllene® made from recycled multilayer, polylaminate food cartons that consist of 75 percent paper, 20 percent polyethylene and 5 percent aluminum. These composite materials (most notably TetraPak food and drink containers) have previously been disposed of in landfills, burnt in incinerators, or partially recycled by separating the three components, at high cost, high energy consumption and low quality of materials.
RePlan (for Recycling Planet) said it took years to develop the patented process to treat the PE and aluminum (PoAl) elements to create a viable, third material. It granted a license to Turin, Italy-based Ecoplasteam SpA (www.ecoplasteam.com) to launch the first EcoAllene production site in Spinetta Marengo, Italy. The plant, created with the help of Italian equipment maker Amut SpA, can recycle 7,000 tons of PoAl waste and transform it into a similar amount of EcoAllene recycled material.
Ecoplasteam receives bulk PE and aluminum waste from a paper mill, in bales weighing half a ton each. First scanned for extraneous material, which is removed, it then goes through a washing phase, after which any remaining cellulose material is separated out. The cleaned material then goes through grinding, drying, and densification, before being extruded and chopped into pellets.
The resulting dyeable and highly consistent material is a soft plastic polymer, metalized by the effect of the aluminum, with what the partners call “top-grade mechanical characteristics.” The material––which Andrew Dent says can have a “shimmery, silvery look”––is being used to make a variety of consumer products, from eyeglass frames, cleaning tools and writing utensils, to toys, desk organizers and jewelry.
EcoAllene––which consists of an entire family of various recipes and formulations––also is “infinitely recyclable,” RePlan claims. Visit www.replanglobal.com/en/ecoallene for more details, including a video inside the production plant.)
Turning food waste into moldable plastic
Israeli company UBQ Materials Ltd. (www.ubqmaterials.com) notes that humans generate more than 2 billion tons per year of global municipal solid waste, with that number projected to more than double by 2050. Solid waste management, therefore, is a key utility and critical infrastructure for society.
The Tel Aviv-based UBQ has developed a patented, proprietary process that can make a new thermoplastic raw material out of all Residual Municipal Solid Waste (RMSW) destined for landfills, including food waste, garden trimmings, paper, cardboard, diapers, dirty plastics, and packaging materials. The company calls its resulting bio-based, fully recyclable, composite material “the greenest thermoplastic material on the planet.”
Each ton of material produced by the company is said to equal the carbon-emission reduction of 540 trees.
During the process, the mixed waste stream is reduced to its more basic, natural elements, such as cellulose, lignin, sugars and fibers, that reconstitute and bind together into a new sustainable, composite material –– all through what the company calls an energy-efficient and commercially viable process that does not use water or emit harmful fumes. UBQ says its testing has shown that its materials can be recycled more than five times without degrading, while most plastic materials typically begin to degrade on first use.
On its website, the company states: “We’re up and running. Our pilot industrial plant in Israel, is already supplying UBQTM to local manufacturers, has a capacity of 5,000 tons per year and boasts advanced laboratories that are the base for R&D activities at UBQ.” It adds that it is nearing the launch of its first overseas plant, and is aiming for an annual capacity of 100,000 tons of UBQTM material for the North American market.
UBQ announced in March that it had appointed Mike Thaman, the former CEO of building giant Owens Corning, as its new CEO, and charged him with scaling UBQ globally, focusing initially on North America. Thaman headed Owens Corning for more than a decade, before stepping down last year from the $7 billion company.
UBQ, co-founded by Jack (Tato) Bigio and Yehuda Pearl, in April was named a finalist in Fast Company magazine’s “2020 World Changing Ideas Awards,” marking the firm’s second year in a row on the list.
A March article in the Jerusalem Post noted that in recent months, UBQ has announced a partnership with automaker Daimler AG to test its material in the production of automobile parts, and with Arcos Dorados –– the largest independent McDonald’s franchisee worldwide –– to incorporate the material in items at its Latin America stores. Last fall, UBQ also partnered with the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority in the U.S. to introduce 2,000 recycling bins made from the company’s material.
Waste bins made from waste. Now that’s the circular economy in action.
NOTE: IDSA has made videos of all of its Sustainability Deep Dive conference presentations available for viewing, for free. See the full speaker and topic list, and access the videos at www.idsa.org/SDD2020.
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6 Responses to “Waste not, want not
More companies are using waste as a plastic feedstock”
It’s interesting that they can get a lot of waste down to its basic elements again. My brother is trying to get a skip bin for his business this month. They are throwing a lot away and need a way to ensure it’s going to get recycled.
There is a huge consumption of plastic in our day to day life but plastic waste is not managed properly. To avoid plastic pollution we can reuse plastic into useful products. One can also reduce plastic usage to avoid wastage. And industries also start recycling the used plastic as it can be used for construction, electronics, agriculture, etc.
There are several recycling companies that are on a race for diaper recycling and I know one company that convert plastic from diapers into raw pellets that can be sold back to the market https://diaperrecycling.technology/pelletizing-technology/
Thanks for your comment on my UL story, and for the heads-up about Diaper Recycling Technology in Singapore. It looks interesting.
Really excellent website it is. I enjoy your post. Thanks for sharing with us.
It’s good to know that companies are finding ways to turn trash into treasure. My dad is trying to find ways to help protect the environment. I’ll tell him to find a skip bin service that uses waste as a plastic feedstock.