‘Freeing the world from having to make new plastic. Forever’. These were the words used by Popular Science, the US-based green technology and science publication, to describe the potential of MBA Polymers’ sustainable polymer technology. The magazine interviewed MBA’s founder, Mike Biddle, in April 2014 about his mission to eliminate plastic waste and harness the value of ‘above ground mines’. Mike explains MBA’s story and highlights how our technology stands to revolutionise the way society tackles waste plastics, while creating high quality, lower carbon recycled plastic for use in manufacturing.

So how does MBA separate plastic polymers from complex waste streams?

While the exact processes are confidential, we can give you an overview of some of the different techniques used in plastic polymer separation and how we create five high grade plastics for use in manufacturing: ABS, HIPS, HDPE, PP and Filled PP.

Firstly, we receive waste plastic material for processing from our JV partners in the UK, Austria and China. This is largely automotive shredder residue (ASR), electronic waste and municipal plastic waste. We eliminate any non-plastics, grind the waste into tiny pieces, and ensure that the material we’re processing is scrupulously clean. We can then begin separating the plastics by type. And this is no mean feat.

While metals can be easily separated based on their colour, density and electrical and magnetic properties, plastics have overlapping densities and nearly identical electrical and magnetic properties. And any type of plastic can be any colour. Similarly, some plastics are flame retardant, some are reinforced and many are covered in coatings and dyes. All of this combines to make plastic polymers challenging to separate.

Speaking to Popular Science, Biddle said: “It’s hard to do. That’s why no-one else is doing it. No-one is processing this to the extent we are.”

Plastic in recycling stages

MBA has adapted separation techniques from industries including mining, metal recycling and food processing, as well as inventing its own techniques. We have 60 patents already registered, and more in the pipeline.

Broadly speaking, multiple separate procedures isolate the five target plastics. Each then goes to a stainless steel silo for blending, before being melted and extruded into spaghetti-like strands. These are sliced into mustard seed-sized pellets – this is the product that we sell to our customers.

Here are some plastics recycling techniques available to plastics recyclers, as covered by Popular Science:

  • Removing ferrous metals – an overhead magnet belt consisting of a strong magnet with a conveyor belt moving around it, plucks ferrous metals from the stream of cleaned, ground, incoming waste and drops them into a separate chute.
  • Removing non-ferrous metals – an electro-magnet inside a rotating drum creates a force field at the end of a conveyor belt. Non-ferrous items, like aluminium and copper, jump off the belt and into a chute, repelled by the magnetic field.
  • Sorting materials by weight – Mixed material moves onto an inclined grading deck. A fan blows pressurised air across the deck’s surface and lifts the lighter items. The vibrating deck sends heavier and lighter items to different sides of the incline.
  • Sorting by chemistry – A polymer-specific surfactant is added to a mix of plastic fragments, and the slurry is placed in an aerated bath. Air bubbles attach to the target plastic and float away from the other materials.
  • Sorting by colour – Bits of plastic pour past a photoelectric detector, which identifies those of a particular colour. The detector communicates with an air gun, which blasts any particles of a different colour with air, knocking them out of the waste stream.

To read the whole Popular Science article, please click here.

Europe’s recycling rate for plastic packaging hit 34.7% in 2012, according to the European Association of Plastics Recycling & Recovery Organisations (EPRO), with all countries except Malta exceeding the minimum levels of 22.5%. A total of 5.4m tonnes of packaging were recycled and 19 countries exceeded the 30% mark.

The Netherlands is Europe’s most successful plastic packaging recycler, with a 50.6% recycling rate, followed by the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden and Estonia.

While it’s certainly good news that progress is being made, there’s still a long way to go in terms of improving Europe’s overall performance. The 2012 rate is just 1.1% ahead of the 2011 rate, highlighting the slow pace of change taking place on the continent.

In 2012, the remaining plastic packaging waste was recovered for energy (34.5%) and disposed of through landfill or incineration without energy recovery (30.8%). Seven countries landfilled more than half of their plastic packaging waste, including the UK, which landfilled 63%.

The recovery rate for plastic packaging, standing at 69.2%, is higher than for other plastic applications by nearly 7%, says EPRO. With plastic packaging representing more than half of all plastic waste, there’s a significant opportunity to boost overall progress by recovering more packaging.

The majority of European countries have plastic packaging recycling and energy recovery targets in place, based on the EU directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EU). Many are putting pressure on producers to cut the amount of packaging used. The UK has a target of 57% of plastic packaging to be recovered or recycled by 2017.

Clearly, the individual countries’ recycling schemes are working to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how rigorously they’re implemented as well as the level of engagement among businesses and communities. Some 63% of post-consumer plastic packaging waste is generated from households, with the remaining 37% produced by business.

Typically, European countries are collecting rigid plastic packaging for recycling, with some parts of Austria and the UK collecting all plastic packaging. Some countries (Germany, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) also have clearly defined deposit systems for recycling plastic drinks bottles.

The issue of how to sort, recycle and recover mixed streams of plastic packaging is still a steep challenge.

“Progress on plastic packaging recycling depends on both the success of government initiatives and the ability of the recycling industry to grow and innovate,” says Nigel Hunton, CEO, MBA Polymers. “Investment in the European recycling industry will be crucial to improving performance and making faster progress on recycling targets.”

In a circular economy, sustainable design is fundamental to ensuring materials stay in use for longer and waste is viewed as a vital ‘nutrient’ to create new products. Designers have the power to develop a blueprint for products that require fewer natural resources and maximise the use of alternative, secondary raw materials. Increasingly, leading companies like Philips, Nissan and Nike are exploring how to use more sustainable materials and best practice in design for disassembly or maintenance. These companies know that the future of their businesses depends on their ability to adapt.

This new thinking goes against the tide in terms of how products have been designed and marketed for the past 50 years. Manufacturers have profited by designing products that become obsolete ever more rapidly – the average lifespan of a mobile phone in the West is now 18 months – in the never-ending drive to sell more ‘stuff’.

Now, there’s a cultural shift starting to take place, particularly among big business, as the challenges of resource scarcity, energy security and waste become ever more urgent. Instead of ‘designing for the dump’, as collaborative consumption expert Rachel Botsman puts it, companies are actively rethinking how they can grow by switching to service-based business models and creating a new breed of resource efficient products that don’t cost the Earth to make.

Coca-Cola:Turning plastic bottles into chairs

Coca-Cola worked with designers at Emeco to reduce the volume of plastic drinks bottles going to landfill. Emeco transformed the recycled PET bottles into a durable, scratch-resistant chair for heavy duty use. 111 recycled bottles are used to make each of the company’s iconic ‘Navy Chairs‘.

Nissan: Stepping up the use of recycled components

Nissan is using its electric vehicle, the Nissan LEAF, to showcase the approach its beginning to take to incorporating more recycled materials in the manufacture of cars. The company is pulverising end-of-life bumpers to create materials for repairs and new bumpers. It’s also using recycled aluminium wheels to make high quality suspension parts, fibres from recycled plastic bottles for the dashboard and floor insulation, and recycled plastic bottle caps for a variety of different components. All this shows what can be done with ingenuity and innovation at the design stage. A more widespread adoption of this approach would go a long way to cutting carmakers’ use of natural resources and of course, reduce waste.

Nike: Informing sustainable design with the MAKING app

Nike’s MAKING app, launched in 2013, helps designers to make informed sustainable design decisions. It ranks materials based on their environmental impact areas, focusing specifically on water, chemistry, energy and waste, as well as whether the material uses recycled or organic content. MAKING is powered by data from the Nike Materials Sustainability Index (MSI). By using the app or exploring the publically available MSI, designers both within Nike and beyond can rapidly browse and compare materials as they navigate the creative process.

If you’re a manufacturer seeking high quality recycled plastic to create more sustainable products, please contact us.

Enter our sustainable design competition

What’s the smartest use of recycled plastics you’ve seen? Let us know and we’ll feature the most innovative examples in our next newsletter. To enter, simply contact us with a link to the product and explain why you think this is a great example of sustainable design.

The British tabloid newspapers have rushed to condemn the EU’s plans to introduce a Plastic Day in Europe, claiming it would be a waste of money at a time of austerity. The Express questions the validity of this new initiative, reporting that Europe has spent £167m on 300 waste and recycling initiatives since 1992.

So what about the positives of introducing a Plastic Day? Certainly, EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik is convinced of the benefits, explaining that the cost of failing to act on waste far outweighs the cost of a recycling campaign.

“Plastic pollution poisons people and costs Europe, not least the UK, vast amounts of money. Changing production and consumption patterns is becoming urgent,” he said. “We make absolutely no apology for seeking innovative ways to provide the public with information on this.”

Beyond the need to educate the public on the importance of recycling plastics, the proposed Plastic Day could also be a good opportunity to highlight how the recycling industry contributes to the European economy. The recycling and waste management sector in Europe is now worth €145bn and employs around 400,000 people.

Employment related to recycling in European countries increased by 45% between 2000 and 2007, and the UK’s Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that 160,000 jobs could be created in the European recycling industry by 2020 through the widespread adoption of a circular economy.

“It’s vital that policy-makers continue to champion the cause of recycling in Europe and globally,” says Nigel Hunton, CEO, MBA Polymers. “While awareness campaigns may be met with scepticism by some, they are important tools to get people thinking about the social, environmental and economic benefits of stepping up their recycling efforts and growing the recycling sector.”

This month, we’re putting the sustainable design spotlight on Interface, the global carpet tile manufacturer. Interface has been blazing a trail in sustainable business since the 1990s, when its founder, Ray Anderson, decided to revolutionise the way the company did business. He was inspired to move from ‘pillaging’ to protecting the environment by developing a new restorative business model and creating innovative, sustainable designs.

And so the Interface ‘Mission Zero’ commitment was born. The company aims to make no negative impact on the environment by 2020…and it’s making progress. In January 2014, Interface announced that it was operating with 100% renewable energy, using virtually zero water in its manufacturing processes and has attained zero-waste-to-landfill status. It has also reduced its carbon footprint by an impressive 90% since 1996.

According to the Interface ‘Design with purpose’ story, ‘design’ only applies to the surface of a product, but, the company says, for them it goes much deeper. It views design as a ‘mindset’, a way of continually innovating to exceed customer expectations. And of course, it aims for all its products to be sustainable while delivering great quality and performance.

Let’s look at an example of Interface’s approach to design in action. The Interface Net Effect collection of carpet tiles is inspired by the sea and manufactured using up to 81% recycled content, including recycled nylon fishing nets…

Discarded or lost fishing gear (including nylon fishing nets) account for some 10% of marine litter, according the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The nets drift for many years, ensnaring species including turtles, seabirds and marine mammals. They also damage ecosystems and gradually enter the food system. Clean-up operations are complex and costly. However, Interface spotted a business opportunity in addressing this issue, one that would also help local communities.

Working with the Zoological Society of London, it is collecting fishing nets on the Danajon bank in the Philippines, and building a commercial viable supply chain to transform this post-consumer nylon into raw material for new carpet tiles. The project, called Net-Works, gives the nets a value and therefore incentivises communities to organise beach clean-ups and avoid discarding nets in the first place. Local people benefit from an additional revenue stream, while Interfaces builds a restorative loop in carpet tile production and benefits financially by avoiding the need to purchase virgin raw material.

The Net Effect collection features six modular carpet tiles options with a design reminiscent of swirling currents, thereby connecting people with the emotions and memories they associate with the seaside, while evoking the Net-Works partnership.

To learn more about the Net-Works partnership, please click here.

We’re delighted to announce that MBA’s investors and joint venture partners have made a significant new investment in our business. We’ll be using the funds to improve our performance, and expanding our Worksop production capacity to 43,000 tonnes this year, with a view to reaching an annualised rate of 50,000 tonnes by December, an increase of 40% on our current capacity. We’ll also be creating 14 new jobs on site for people in the local area and extending our operating times from five to seven days per week.

“This is a great start to the year for MBA and it’s a real vote of confidence in our business,” says Nigel Hunton, CEO, MBA Polymers. “We consistently strive to improve the efficiency of our processing plants and this new investment will be instrumental in taking our performance to the next level.”

In particular, we’ll be able to increase the quality and consistency of our products by adding new blending equipment to cross-blend finished products. We’ll also purify our byproducts (such as rubber), raising the value of the materials to prospective buyers. Implementing more cost efficient processes will also help us to save time and keep manufacturing costs down.

Inside recycling factory

As we scale up and improve our operations, we’ll be able to recycle ever greater volumes of material, diverting more waste from landfill and delivering increased quantities of high quality recycled plastic to our customers. MBA will also be receiving a lot more automotive shredder residue (ASR) from February this year, when our JV partner EMR opens the UK’s largest recycling plant in Oldbury.

“As manufacturers seek to tackle raw material price volatility and reduce their carbon footprints, it’s vital that we increase the volume of high quality secondary raw materials in the marketplace,” continues Hunton. “Keeping materials in use for as long as possible also supports the development of a resource efficient, profitable circular economy.”

Reclaimed and recycled plastic

Sourcing recycled plastics can save up to 80% of CO2 compared to virgin plastics. MBA’s recycled plastic pellets are suitable for use in a wide range of applications and can be tailored to suit customers’ exact requirements.

The Restart Project is an exciting new social enterprise based in London, UK, that empowers people to repair and maintain their electronic goods. By keeping electronics in use for longer, the charity aims to help slow the avalanche of e-waste and reconnect people with electronics. Founded in 2012 by Janet Gunter and Ugo Vallauri, it holds community and workplace events across the capital, whereby people learn how to increase the lifespan of their electronic and electrical equipment.

With electronic waste now the fastest growing waste stream in the world, Restart says it wants to encourage consumers to buy for longevity, and move beyond the culture of constant upgrades and disposal. With laptops in Western countries typically being replaced every two years and mobile phones every 18 months, they have a tall order on their hands…

But their energy is infectious, and they’ve struck on something really interesting here, both in terms of bringing communities together and reconnecting people with products. In an increasingly resource-scarce world, consumers will need to get to grips with repair and maintenance, and projects like Restart are preparing the ground for this to happen.

The charity is being supported by the Transition Network, Unltd and Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme, and is reaching out to groups across the world keen to replicate its work.

For more on the Restart Project, please click here.

Leading plastics recycling firm MBA Polymers is lending its full support to the European’s Parliament’s plans to ban toxic plastics and introduce binding targets on recycling plastic waste. The EU’s renewed focus on recycling is a direct response to growing concerns over the detrimental effects of plastic waste to the environment and human health, and is intended to accelerate Europe’s journey towards a prosperous circular economy. Fully enforcing EU legislation on waste could save €72 billion a year and create over 400,000 jobs by 2020. Now, innovation and investment are needed to make this a reality, says MBA Polymers.

“With just 25% of Europe’s plastic waste currently being recycled, there is a significant opportunity for European businesses to increase their recycling capabilities and develop the infrastructure we need to recycle more plastics within our borders,” explains Mike Biddle, founder, MBA Polymers. “We have the technology to recycle complex plastic waste streams, but to harness its full potential, scale is vital. Innovation, strong policies and economic incentives are fundamental to growing the European recycling industry and transforming larger quantities of waste into valuable raw materials.”

Under the new proposals, 80% of plastic waste would be collected and sorted, with clear, mandatory criteria introduced to define which plastics should be recycled. In this way, the EU aims to phase out the landfilling of Europe’s recyclable and recoverable waste by 2020 and discourage incineration. Single-use plastic bags would be banned, along with hazardous plastics. MEPs also intend to take bolder steps to reduce Europe’s heavy reliance on exporting plastic waste to overseas recyclers.

“We welcome the EU’s stance on tackling illegal waste exports and preventing the dumping of plastic waste,” continues Biddle. “By developing a large scale, high technology and highly regulated recycled industry in Europe, businesses and consumers will have far more clarity on how their waste is processed. Currently, we have little visibility of how plastics are recycled in developing countries such as China, where reports abound of environmentally harmful recycling techniques. Recycling more waste in Europe would allow companies to take greater responsibility for their products, from design to disposal and beyond.”

MBA Polymers is supporting the EU’s drive to increase plastics recycling by maintaining a strong dialogue with the UK Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable. MBA CEO Nigel Hunton met Mr Cable in October 2013 to discuss how investment in the UK recycling industry could be incentivised. MBA is also calling for zero VAT to be introduced on products made from recycled plastics.

Through its investment in a high tech recycling plant in the UK, MBA Polymers has achieved a recycling rate above 70% for recyclable end-of-life vehicle (ELV) waste, proving the strong potential of advanced recycling techniques in waste reduction. Additionally, with the energy savings offered by high quality recycled plastics (recycled plastics can save up to 80% of CO2 compared to virgin plastics), manufacturers using secondary raw materials stand to reduce the environmental footprint of their products.

“We must work together to help the EU make their new proposals a reality,” concludes Biddle. “Businesses, politicians, NGOs and consumers have a real opportunity to collaborate and support the changes we need to ensure Europe’s future is based firmly on a thriving circular economy, where waste becomes a thing of the past.”

Our processing plant in Worksop, UK, has just received the first load of automotive shredder residue (ASR) from our JV partner EMR’s new recycling plant. The delivery of 20 tonnes of plastic is now being processed and will be transformed into high quality plastic resin for use in manufacturing. EMR opened its new Oldbury plant, which is the largest in the UK, in February 2014.

“This first delivery marks the beginning of an exciting new phase of expansion for MBA,” says Nigel Hunton, CEO, MBA Polymers. “We’re delighted to be working with our partner EMR to scale up our production capacity in the UK, and look forward to a steady stream of high quality feedstock from Oldbury.”

The news of this first delivery follows the announcement in January 2014 that MBA plans to expand its Worksop production capacity by 40% to 50,000 tonnes a year, with the support a multi-million pound cash injection.

Pictures from the 10 year celebration of the Guangzhou Iron & Steel Enterprises joint venture with MBA Polymers, an e-waste recycling processing plant in Guangzhou, China.

» Read the full news story

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