Innovative talk: Can we recycle plastic

Discarded plastic, too often, ends up buried or burned, not recycled (it’s just too complicated). But Mike Biddle has found a way to close the loop


This talk first aired in 2011, but the topic is still relevant today

Less than 10% of plastic trash is recycled — compared to almost 90% of metals — because of the massively complicated problem of finding and sorting the different kinds. Frustrated by this waste, Mike Biddle has developed a cheap and incredibly energy efficient plant that can, and does, recycle any kind of plastic.

Why you should listen

Throwing water bottles into the recycling bin doesn’t begin to address the massive quantity of postconsumer plastic that ends up in landfills and the ocean. Because it’s so difficult to separate the various kinds of plastics – up to 20 kinds per product – that make up our computers, cell phones, cars and home appliances, only a small fraction of plastics from complex waste streams are recycled, while the rest is tossed. In 1992, Mike Biddle, a plastics engineer, set out to find a solution. He set up a lab in his garage in Pittsburg, California, and began experimenting with complex-plastics recycling, borrowing ideas from such industries as mining and grain processing.

Since then, Biddle has developed a patented 30-step plastics recycling system that includes magnetically extracting metals, shredding the plastics, sorting them by polymer type and producing graded pellets to be reused in industry – a process that takes less than a tenth of the energy required to make virgin plastic from crude oil. Today, the company he cofounded, MBA Polymers, has plants in China and Austria, and plans to build more in Europe, where electronics-waste regulation (which doesn’t yet have an equivalent in the US) already ensures a stream of materials to exploit – a process Biddle calls “above-ground mining.”

He says: “I consider myself an environmentalist. I hate to see plastics wasted. I hate to see any natural resource – even human time – wasted.”

This talk was presented at an official TED conference.

Hopefully this talk has inspired you

[Ethical Investors] So what difference can you make, and where do you begin in the global issue of recycling?

Our next article will answer these questions whilst offering a route to participate in a working Renewable Energy Waste Solution company within the UK.

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Tune in again soon for our next article, and please share this post if you have enjoyed it.

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