Reimagine Garbage, How One Recycling Company Turns Trash Into Cash

Mish

Kids explain game-changing plastic waste solutions.

The US Produces Nearly 5 Pounds of Trash Per Day Per Person

This post started with a reader comment to my post The US Produces Nearly 5 Pounds of Trash Per Day Per Person.

Hi Mish 

I’ve followed your blog for several years now – I always enjoy your insight and analysis.

I read your post today about what to do with the garbage we generate, and it struck close to home for me. I see climate change as high blood pressure, where our overflowing landfills are a ruptured appendix.

The company I’m working with is buying the unrecycled plastic from curbside pickup to convert it into naphtha, ultra-low sulfur diesel, and paraffin wax. Here’s a video that describes it, a shameless plug since my kids are in it.

I thought you might find it interesting. Appreciate your work, Mish – enjoy southern Utah, it's a  beautiful part of the world!

Cheers,

Rick

Rick's Video

That video is amazingly well produced and quite fascinating. 

It turns out things have changed a bit more than I thought, at least for a few companies.

I called Rick and asked how many other companies were doing something similar but he estimated only a handful. 

They turn commingled plastics back into wax and oil that can be reused as anything from transportation fuel to new plastic. They can even handle Styrofoam but they do not get very much of it. 

The Art of Buying Garbage

Brightmark not only takes garbage, they pay to get better quality garbage (better sorted plastic).

Much of it comes from Chicago. The city would otherwise have to pay a landfill to dump garbage. Instead, Chicago gets paid. 

Interestingly, Brightmark does not care much for the typical plastic bottles because they have too high water content and other problems. 

But that's OK because according to Rick, water bottles, clean paper, and aluminum cans are about all that does get recycled elsewhere. 

And they do like plastic grocery bags that other recyclers cannot easily deal with.

This kind of innovation is exactly what we need more of.

Mish

Comments (14)
No. 1-11
Agave
Agave

That's cool!

Here's another similar innovation with waste plastic turning it into graphene at an affordable cost that I read about the other day. More please!

1 Reply

Jojo
Jojo

I like the generation of H as a byproduct of the process.

Speaking of graphene, here's something else that it can do while removing discarded face masks from the garbage.

New Graphene Face Masks Offer Very High Anti-bacterial Efficiency, Deactivation of Coronaviruses
By CITY UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG
SEPTEMBER 13, 2020

Anti-bacterial efficiency close to 100% under 10-min sunlight and promising results in deactivation of coronaviruses.

Doug78
Doug78

They acquired the plant and the technology when they took over RES Polyflow LLC,an Ohio company, in 2018. They got from Goldman the financing for what I believe are Green Bonds so the plant could be finished. Hope it works out well now that the original company is owned by some people with deeper pockets. No public stock yet.

Eddie_T
Eddie_T

Nooooooo!!!! Not the Leggos!!!

Just kidding......pretty cool innovations. I hope they make bank.

Realist
Realist

Science, technology, and entrepreneurship. A great example of the thousands of necessary steps to help solve man's impact on the planet. One more drop in our ocean of need.

randocalrissian
randocalrissian

Kudos on the exploratory follow-up. Where I live in central PA, they haul glass, aluminum/metal cans, and most #1 and #2 plastics, as well as corrugated cardboard. As of 18 months ago they were the ones with a viable economy in our area. Maybe it's changed, dunno.

There is good methodology for recycling OLD corrugated cardboard, too.

Your original piece made some unassailable points though - "the illusion of recycling is real," to an extent.

Too much BS
Too much BS

1985 We had created a process where waste unsoarted was unloaded at the plant then food waste redirected for fertilizer and everything else refabricated into large mass building products. Being to early ment funding impossible. Currently everyone has to seperate their garbage only to have it shipped to 3rd world hideouts where it gets burned. Goverment only makes it look like they are recycleing but there are not at all enforcing the 3Rs.

Quanta
Quanta

The only way to recycle is to force businesses (yes through Communist liberal policies of heavy handed government) to use materials that are recycled. And to implement monetary fines for people and businesses that recycle incorrectly.

In my area in Silicon Valley , curbside recycling is very primitive. They can take glass bottles, plastic bottles and cardboard / paper and that's about it. They do not take plastic clamshells (from berries / vegetables) even though it's the same material, apparently clamshells can jam up the sorting machines. They also do not take #5 polypropylene plastic which is a common "dark" plastic. They do not take plastic bags - you have to drive to specific grocery stores to recycle giant amounts of plastic bag material.

USA is in the stone age recycling wise, compared to Sweden for example.

Ultimately - it will be difficult to make the population recycle properly. Here in Silicon Valley (presumably educated population) idiots (my neighbors) put half-finished clam shells with food still inside them into plastic recycling. Even though directions say NOT to put any clamshells even clean ones. And this happens EVERY DAY.

The only solution is to reduce consumption, and force businesses to switch to recyclable materials where possible.

Quanta
Quanta

This is all great PR of course, but the solution to a country-wide problem will be MUCH more intrusive.

PecuniaNonOlet
PecuniaNonOlet

Recycling is not sustainable, at least not the way it is being done. Let run some traps.

Step 1. Mine raw ore such as copper, aluminum or drill for oil. (This is a high energy use activity.
Step 2. Transport raw materials (more energy needed) to plant for manufacturing,
Step 3. Turn raw materials into something (more energy needed).
Step 4. Transport semi-finished or finished goods to a destination (more energy needed).
Step 5. Consumer “uses” good for a year or two then tosses in trash.
Step 6. Take trash to landfill or recycling center (more energy needed).
Step 7. Goto step 1 or 2 (recycling plant) and you guessed it....more energy needed.

Contrast this to ants or bees simply using what is available around them to build their empires. This is why ants and bees will be here long after we die off in a century or two.

Dutoit
Dutoit

In my place (Brittany) plastic garbage is compressed, put in boats (25000 tons each time) and goes in a special factory in Sweden, where it is burnt to produce electricity. I don't know the underlying financial deal, but maybe this is paid with the produced energy.


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