IPO Corner: Time For Better Plastic Recycling

Between the recent train derailment involving vinyl chloride in East Palestine, Ohio and the news of a federal court battle over the designation of plastics as toxic… it seems like plastic is having a moment. That doesn’t surprise us (you’ll notice we touched on plastics a bit in other segments this week), because the numbers surrounding our collective use of plastics are mind boggling.

In 1980, the average person was producing about 60 pounds of plastic waste a year… by 2018, it sat at 218 pounds. But, despite that number only continuing to grow, we’ve not seen recycling keeping up. That’s basically because, historically, it has cost less to produce new plastics than to recycle… even now, estimates only put us at a plastic recycling rate of about 6% in the U.S.

Globally… we’re on track to triple our 350 million tons of plastic waste a year to a staggering one billion tons by 2060, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Every bit of that plastic that goes unrecycled, that we don’t repurpose meaningfully, goes places we don’t intend. Places like in our food, and in the waterways, and in our dirt. What isn’t getting recycled, is becoming a big problem.

Luckily for us, new information is pouring out almost daily about possible solutions to the problem. Recently, studies have shown that it’s plausible that the plastics industry could become entirely sustainable. It wouldn’t even take that much work, just some dedication to change. A big chunk of that success would come from recycling, with other pieces of the strategy including CO2 and biomass use.

Also to our advantage, we have advanced recycling, with companies like Nexus Circular out of Atlanta, Georgia, driving at plastics recycling issues head-on. Nexus secret sauce involves a proprietary, end-to-end solution that captures used plastics that can be hard to recycle, like films, from landfills. Advanced recycling is simply a term used to mean the use of science and technology to take old plastic products and turn them into a new thing that can be recycled over and over.

Back From The Landfill

We may be reaching a place where making new plastics are no longer cheaper than us figuring out how to recycle and reuse what we have… but not the old kind of recycling we’re used to thinking about. We need to go further, we need to chemically break down our plastics into their original building blocks so they are not at odds with the world, but can be reused and work with the ecosystem. Advanced recycling could hold promise there.

Nexus Circular has technology that takes these used plastics, especially those that like to stick around forever and haunt us, and convert them into clean, high-quality, ISCC Plus certified circular products. ISCC certification covers the entire supply chain. Nexus is rising in the space, and recently secured $150 million in funding led by Cox Enterprises. The funds will be used to continue advancing their proprietary technology.

As we continue to advance our ideas of what recycling is, we’re also advancing how we recycle, and finding ways to make doing it cheaper. Recently, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed a technique that can break plastics down at near room temperature. No white-hot fires burning anything, no squashing and packing, just a chemical reaction that converts plastic to a liquid fuel reminiscent of gasoline, without unwanted byproducts.

The beauty of something like this is… it could finally mean that lots of people could hop on the recycling bandwagon to make money, because we could finally use plastics as other things. Remember in Back to the Future where Doc put trash into the car to make it go? We’re talking about that kind of thing here, current plastics as fuel and new products. Come back next week, we’ll have more from the IPO world. See you then!