Ahead of World Ocean Day in June, the Guardian reported that biodegradable plastic is not an appropriate solution for the growing ocean plastic waste issue, according to top UN scientists. Contrary to popular belief, biodegradable plastics do not break down easily, remaining instead as debris in the ocean, finds a UN report, just like other more ‘mainstream’ types of plastic.

Commenting on the issue, Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), told the Guardian: “A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50°C… They’re not buoyant, so they’re going to sink… they’re not going to be exposed to UV and break down.”

More than 300m tonnes of plastic were produced in 2014, and this could reach nearly 2,000m tonnes by 2050, the UN estimates. While the exact amount in the world’s oceans is unknown, the report concludes that plastic debris in the ocean is now everywhere, even as far away as the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. It spreads via currents to oceans from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and includes everything from fishing nets (that can ensnare marine mammals) to smaller fragments that break down in the ocean. Known as ‘microplastics’, they gradually form a ‘plastic soup’ that is consumed by marine life and gradually makes its way into the food chain.

Earlier this year, some 29 sperm whales were found stranded in shores around the North Sea. Scientists discovered that the stomachs of 13 of these whales, which beached in Germany, were full of plastic debris, including a 13-metre-long fishing net and a 70cm piece of plastic from a car.

The chief solution to ocean plastic waste is better waste collection and recycling, particularly in the developing world, according to the UN. However, the additives used in biodegradable plastic can make it harder to recycle, potentially harming the environment. The report’s authors highlight that previous warnings about ocean plastic waste, originating as early as the 1970s, had not been taken seriously. However, it concludes, there is now a “moral argument” to stop further plastic pollution in our oceans. Marine litter should be considered a “common concern for all humanity”.

A new film documentary, A Plastic Ocean, aims to raise awareness of the dangers of ocean plastic waste. The producers, an international team of adventurers, scientists and environmentalists, have sought to highlight the environmental impacts of our disposable lifestyle. Over four years, they captured footage of marine life and plastic pollution and its ultimate consequences for human health, filming in 20 locations including some of the world’s remotest waters. Importantly, they also cover technologies and policy solutions that stand to make a positive difference.

In Chennai, India, a ‘plastic road’ in the city’s busy Nungambakkam area has withstood a major flood, several monsoons, heat waves and non-stop traffic in the form of cars, trucks and auto rickshaws. Built in 2002, the road in Jambulingam Street was one of the country’s first plastic roads. It is made of tar, held together with a polymer-based glue made from shredded plastic waste, and unlike conventional roads, it has not developed any cracks or potholes.

The idea of using a plastic polymer-based glue to bind India’s roads first came about 15 years ago in response to the growing problem of plastic litter in the streets (including discarded plastic cups, single-use plastic bags and foam packaging). It has proved to be a durable solution, winning support among scientists and policymakers in India as well as neighbouring countries like Bhutan. Today, there are more than 21,000 miles of plastic roads in India, mostly in rural areas, with approximately half of them in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Commercially-made polymer-modified asphalts are already in use in Europe and North America. Often made from virgin polymers (and sometimes ground tyres), they are highly versatile, tending not to buckle in extreme heat. The ‘melting point’ for plastic roads is around 66°C, compared to 50°C for conventional roads.

Plastic roads are also cost-effective, making use of waste as opposed to virgin materials. Every kilometre of plastic road uses the equivalent of 1m plastic bags, saves around one tonne of asphalt and costs roughly 8% less than a conventional road. The first motorway (connecting Chennai with Villupuram) using a plastic-polymer based glue was tested in March 2016, and is expected to reduce construction costs by 50%.

However, using plastics in roads can have an effect on the environment in the long term. Old or poorly built roads may shed plastic fragments into the soil and waterways when they deteriorate. These ‘microplastics’ attract pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and can have an impact on their surroundings.

Despite this, the Indian government the Indian government announced in November 2015 that plastic roads would be the default method of construction for most city streets, part of a multibillion-dollar overhaul of the country’s roads and highways. Urban areas with more than 500,000 people will now be required to construct roads using waste plastic. This is also helping to create employment, since small companies are springing up to shred plastic waste needed to make the glue.

MBA Polymers Austria continues to perform well, despite the current low prices for plastics. This is largely due to the hard work and dedication of Wolfgang Ganser, MBA Austria’s General Manager, and his team, many of whom have worked at MBA Austria since its inception in 2005. They continuously seek to improve MBA’s technology, increasing efficiency and yields.

So let’s meet Wolfgang.

1. Could you describe your role and responsibilities at MBA Polymers?

As General Manager of MBA’s Austrian facility, I have many responsibilities. Of course, the most important is to deliver results. Beyond that, I’m responsible for helping to increase the yield and output of the plant, including by developing new materials, in order to maintain our competitive advantage. I’m therefore also close to the sales strategy, as I need to understand how our products are used by customers – mostly global manufacturers – and how they could be used by other companies.

Before joining MBA, I worked as a Division Controller in diverse industries, including the packaging and automotive sectors. I joined MBA in 2006, excited by the idea of plastics recycling. I took on the role of General Manager in 2012. We have a great, highly motivated team, focused on quality and good customer service, and we’re learning all the time. For example, in addition to working with a complex raw material stream, we also find new ways to separate and derive value from other e-waste materials, such as metals.

2. How does MBA work with its customers to tailor the characteristics of their products?

It’s fundamental to analyse the customer’s requirements and understand how we can adapt the characteristics of our products to meet their needs. We begin with products from our existing portfolio, and if necessary, we develop alternative products, such as PP with glass fibre or even plastics with different mechanical properties or colour.

3. Could you share an example?

We are currently working on an FPP grade comprised of 40% glass fibre. It’s for a part that will be visible to the end consumer, so it’s vital that the material looks pristine. Collaborating with our customer, we went through several iterations of the material. We ran tests on the material at our laboratory, and the customer ran ‘real world’ tests in the relevant application. In this way, we’re refining the colour properties of the material, darkening them to suit the customer’s product.

4. What plastics recycling challenges do you face and how are you working to overcome them?

The challenges begin with sourcing. There are many legislative restrictions in place, relating to the transport of materials or chemical contaminations, for example. It’s therefore important to work with trusted suppliers. For example, we have a dedicated process to recycle WEEE-materials from metal recyclers. The composition of materials also poses a constant challenge in terms of increasing yield and efficiency, particularly with so many plastic polymers available. We also focus on helping customers to understand the benefits of our products. In many cases, we can offer alternatives with different properties that perform just as well as their existing materials, so it’s important for us to understand how best to communicate this.

5. What are your ambitions for the business?

We have a detailed business plan for the next few years. In particular, we aim to increase the recovery rate for our plant up to 70%. We have defined a strategy to achieve this, and will seek to reach an output to 35,000 tonnes annually. We currently produce 22,000 tonnes annually. We will also build on our successful entry in the automotive industry.

This story was originally published by Recycling Today

Jim [Keefe, publisher of the Recycling Today Media Group] asked me to do a high-level stage setting: where are we in terms of challenges and opportunities facing the recycling industry, specifically the plastics recycling industry.

Just two years ago I decided to step out of the company I founded—the hardest decision I ever made but probably the most rewarding because now I get to tackle a wider range of solutions all over the world, trying to figure out how to indeed close the loop and make plastics part of the circular economy.

What I’d like to do is set the stage for what are the challenges and opportunities in making this happen. I am going to do that with four questions:

  1. Why are we here?
  2. Where are we?
  3. Where do we want to go?
  4. And, most importantly, how do we get there?

ONE: WHY ARE WE HERE?

How many remember [The Graduate] from the 1960s? What was the one word of advice to this recent college graduate?

Plastics.

Whoever put that line in there knew what he or she was talking about.

You remember that line because it was funny. Who in the ’60s in their right mind would have gone into the chemical or plastics industry? It wasn’t sexy or hip.

This is another reason that we’re here. [Biddle begins playing a clip of comedian George Carlin].

“The planet will be here for a long, long, long time after we’re gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself because that’s what it does—It is a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover,” Carlin says. “The earth will be renewed. And if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm: the earth plus plastic.

“The earth doesn’t share our prejudice toward plastic,” Carlin continues in the clip. “Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably just sees plastic as another one of its children.

“It could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place: It wanted plastic for itself, didn’t know how to make it [and] needed us. It could be the answer to our age-old philosophical question, Why are we here? Plastic,” the clip of Carlin concludes.

George Carlin has a different perspective about why we are all here today, but it is all about plastic—at least this session is largely, but not entirely, about plastics.

TWO: WHERE ARE WE?

I think we’re all aware that we are on a more crowded planet. It’s a very steep rate of increase in the level of crowdedness, which leads to things like a resource squeeze. I think that’s what many of us in this room are taking advantage of with our businesses.

From many different perspectives, people see this as a problem for society [and] for businesses going forward. McKinsey is making a life consulting about it. Even the U.S. military is concerned about resource scarcity driving conflict in the world.

Why should we worry, though?

If we look at the last 100 years, resource prices overall on a basket of commodity goods fell by 50 percent.

How is that possible when the world population was growing so dramatically during that time, and we were consuming more and more stuff? How did we drive down commodity prices by 50 percent?

It’s because many of you in this room and others figured out how to do their business very efficiently.

In the last 10 years, all of that gain was wiped out and more. Now, talking to you here today it’s a little hard to get you too excited about this because I know we’re in another dip as in 2008. But how many in this room actually believe [commodity prices] will continue to go down and are not going to have this general upward trend?

I don’t think so.

McKinsey points out that there is going to be 3 billion new middle-class consumers coming on the market in the next 15 years. Three billion middle-class consumers, and they want all of the same stuff we enjoy.

McKinsey estimates that we are going to need an 80 percent increase in steel alone. And they believe we need to invest $1 trillion a year just to manage this resource scarcity issue. Even if they are off by a factor of 10, that is still a big number—and I don’t think they are off by a factor of 10.

For me, this is a problem. But, more so, it is an opportunity, particularly for those of you in this room who know how to solve this problem.

We know there are financial and environmental consequences to extracting more [metal and ores] from a finite supply. It’s getting harder to find the stuff, in the ground at least, and therefore the costs are going up in general.

How do we solve this problem? How have we solved this problem?

Many of you in this room are responsible for the solution to this problem by reusing these minerals and not forcing them to be extracted from the planet to meet this growing demand.

How do plastics compare with other materials?

Most plastics today are made from petrochemicals or natural gas. Today it feels like we have an abundance of those raw materials, but we are going to more extreme measures to get to that remaining abundance in the planet.

Using recycled plastics can save between 80 percent to 90 percent of the energy needed to make them from virgin material. We can save 2 tons to 4 tons of CO2 (carbon dioxide) per ton of virgin produced. And recycling keeps plastics from ending up in harmful places—one of the things I’ll talk about in a moment.

In 2014 Europe recycled about 6.6 million tons of plastic—that’s a lot of plastics to recycle, but it is only about 14 percent of their annual use.

The U.S. recycles less than 10 percent [of its plastics] by estimates of the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

Plastic has traditionally not been recycled as much as metals. Many people think that is because metals—steel in particular—have a very high value compared with plastics; plastics are a throwaway, worthless material.

But, plastics are actually several times more valuable than steel on a price per weight basis, and some plastics [are] considerably more [valuable]: 10 times more.

If there is so much of this darn stuff in the world, and it is so valuable, why in the world is the reuse/recovery rate so tiny compared to steel?

Well, the simple reason is that it’s not easy. If it were easy to recycle plastics, this wouldn’t be the case, right? You wouldn’t have a valuable material not being reused.

Metals have very different densities over a wide range. They have different electrical and magnetic properties. And they even have different colors. Those properties are exploited to separate metals and metal ores very efficiently and effectively.

Plastics, on the other hand, have overlapping densities over a very narrow range. Their electrical and magnetic properties are either nonexistent or very similar. And any plastic can be any color.

The traditional ways of separating materials simply have not worked for plastic, and we’ve had to be much cleverer.

Another consequence of plastics being difficult to recycle and metals being easy is that those of us in the developed world, particularly the U.S., I’m sad to say, ship our difficult-to-recycle stuff overseas. We continue, even with the Green Fence (China’s initiative to crack down on mixed materials shipments into the country) and with the market down, to ship much of our difficult-to-recycle streams to developing countries.

That in and of itself is not a bad practice, and I’m not here to suggest that it’s a bad practice. I am just here to talk about the consequences of that. Whole cities in China, for example, have been developed to handle our waste streams. They do a very good job of recycling what they can—the ones and twos and sometimes some other plastics—because that is what a human being can see as unique and separate from our waste streams, and they are getting the stuff that largely we have missed out of the mixed waste streams. I’m not trying to make a blanket statement because I have seen some very sophisticated recycling operations in China, as well.

This is not how we want to be defined as what we do with even some of our waste, in my opinion. It is certainly not how I want to be defined. Yet this is how we deal with some of our problematic waste that we have not figured out how to sort and process and handle properly here.

We seem to care about how our stuff is made. How many remember the pressure that Nike and other manufacturers of apparel, particularly sporting goods, received from the public because of their use of sweatshops? They changed their policies very quickly.

More recently Apple and other electronics manufacturers have come under similar scrutiny.

The unmaking of our stuff is much riskier if it’s not done properly than the making of our stuff. It can be done right, but often it is not.

There are a lot of movements to ban plastics. I have spent 35 years of my life in the plastics industry, so I don’t like to see this for any reason, not just because it impacts the career I’ve decided to choose for myself but [also] because I think this is bad.

Plastics offer incredible benefits, which is why we use them in the first place; it’s not just a cost benefit. There are huge water, energy [and] resource savings because we use plastic in our automobiles.

TROLLING FOR PLASTICS

During his presentation at the 2015 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference, Mike Biddle of Material Solutions talked about his experience participating in an expedition with 5Gyres, a nonprofit based in Santa Monica, California, to research the issue of plastics in the world’s oceans. 5Gyres says its mission is “to witness plastic pollution decline until it is no longer found in the world’s oceans.”

Biddle and his daughter, Jessica, were part of Crew 3 (http://www.5gyres.org/howtogetinvolved/expedition/), which studied the North Atlantic gyre, sailing from Bermuda to New York City.

Biddle said a recent paper published in Science attempted to quantify how much plastic is entering the oceans. According to the paper, 275 million metric tons of plastic are being generated in 192 coastal countries. Of that, anywhere from 2 percent to 5 percent might be entering the water streams. “Even though that is a small percentage, 5 million to 13 million tons a year is a very large number,” Biddle said.

He said he “wanted to see this with my own eyes,” which is why Biddle participated in the 5Gyres expedition.

In addition to trolling the ocean and sifting through the collected plastics, Biddle, his daughter and the rest of the crew also engaged in beach surveys. He said, “We sifted through sands on what looked to be pristine beaches and found an amazing amounts of plastic fragments—something you actually wouldn’t see with your eyes until you sift through the sand.”

He spoke of the “horizontal smokestacks” that contribute to the problem, namely the plastic pollution on the streets that finds its way into storm drains that lead to waterways and eventually the ocean.

“The problem besides the debris and the appearance and the pollution and so forth is that the interaction with marine life is not usually very positive,” Biddle said. “You have mammals, you have birds eating much of the plastic debris, filling up their guts. They are not dying from the plastic, but they are dying from the fact that they can’t get anything more into their digestive systems after a certain point. This is not a good thing by any stretch of the imagination.”

The American Chemistry Council did a study recently that said if we replaced plastic packaging with the next most logical nonplastic material, we would increase the burden of plastics in the U.S. by 55 million tons with all of the consequences that stem from that—more transport costs, etc.

THREE: WHERE DO I WANT TO GO?

I still think plastics are one of the coolest materials on the planet. I don’t want plastics out of my life, but I do want them out of my oceans, and I want them out of the wrong places.

I want to see plastics occupy a more accepted and a more understood role, and that’s frankly one of the reasons I left MBA Polymers, so I could advocate on how to solve these problems so the answer is not banning this valuable material. I want to see them deliver resource efficiency in a more complete way, which means managing end of life. To be very specific, we have got to do a better job with resource efficiency and with responsible waste management in particular.

We’ve got to start looking at waste differently. Now, I know I’m talking to the converted here, and this is nothing new to you, but it is for many of the audiences I talk to. Waste is not a waste—it’s a resource. We all know that; that’s why we’re here. We are mining resources from waste and are not looking at it as waste.

The four areas that I think we need to focus on with respect to plastics are:

  • biodegradable plastics – This is a hard one because as a recycler I fought biodegradable plastics for almost two decades. Now I am a believer that there is a role for biodegradable plastics in streams where there is no logical, sensible way to get the stuff collected.
  • collection – We still have to collect a lot more. We have gotten a lot better in the U.S., but we have got a lot more to go.
  • recycling – We need to recycle more of what we collect in the U.S. instead of just shipping it off and hoping and praying it gets recycled by someone who gives us a few pennies a pound for it.
  • energy recovery – For what we can’t recycle responsibly, I am a firm believer that there is a role for energy recovery to get us to full resource valuation—to get the full value out of our resources.

FOUR: HOW DO WE GET THERE?

Let’s learn from other materials and best practices: Steel has such a high recycling rate [though] it is a pretty low-value material because it is so straightforward to [recycle] it now and on a large scale. I believe plastics recycling is following exactly the same path.

A book by Clayton Christiansen, The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth, talks about the innovator’s solution. One of the examples he used was Nucor Steel, which put minimills on the map for steel recycling.

The original steel industry thought that Nucor was nuts—you can’t [upcycle] steel; it will always be a low-end rebar material. But from 1975 to 1990 [Nucor] went from rebar up to angle iron up to structural steel and sheet steel with accompanying increasing gross margins.

I see plastic doing the same thing, from plastic lumber to flower pots and bins to hidden low-demanding parts to now 100 percent used in very demanding parts. It is happening today, already.

If you are curious about this relationship with steel, The Guardian put out an article, “What Plastic can Learn from Steel in a Circular Economy” (www.the guardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/jan/29/plastic-industry-recycling-learn-from-steel-circular-economy).

[In plastics recycling today] what I see is a lot of movement of material. The transporting companies are the ones making the money in this scheme.

I think the future will be fewer touches. … Instead of every single MRF (material recovery facility) making bales that are 80 percent to 90 percent No. 1 or No. 2 material that then have to be transported and touched again and again, I think the MRFs will make a mixed plastics stream that will go to a single plastics processing facility that will then create at least five different types of plastics. The residual from that facility and the MRF can go to fuel. And the advantages to this besides the obvious fewer touches, transport and so forth is economies of scale … and more diversity instead of being stuck on just one plastic and the vagaries of that particular plastics commodity market.

I think the future will be more efficient and more financially attractive, and therefore plastics and recycling will become more sustainable in every sense of the word—environmentally and economically.

You might say, “This is nuts; you can’t do that.”

I invite you to go to a plant in northern England—an MBA Polymers plant—and I’m not just saying that because it’s my former plant. It is processing automotive shredder residue, perhaps the most complicated mixed plastic stream on the planet. It is the largest plant of its kind recovering plastics from end-of-life automobile shredder residue. There is a preprocessing facility that recovers the residual metals. It sends the mixed plastic waste to an MBA Polymers facility, and it gets energy from the rest. It is pretty close to zero waste. That is operational today. The MBA facility produces five plastics today and many grades within those five different types of plastic and sells them to Fortune 100 companies.

It is happening. It is possible. And it is much more efficient than touching it so many times.

Recycling Today Editor’s Note: This article is an edited transcript of the presentation Mike Biddle, founder of MBA Polymers and of Material Solutions, gave during the keynote session, “From Waste to Recycling to Resource Management,” at the 2015 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference, organized by the Recycling Today Media Group.

Recycling Today

I am pleased to offer our MBA Polymers Newsletter for Q1 2016. At a time when economic conditions in the plastics recycling industry are difficult, we hope to provide a more positive overview of the sector.

One doesn’t have to look very far to find positive news about plastics. In one article, we explore how MBA Polymers actually contributed to a piece of groundbreaking research, published by Elsevier and penned by the researchers P.A. Wäger and R. Hischier, which used a life cycle analysis (LCA) conducted at our JV plastics recycling plant in Austria, to clearly demonstrate the environmental benefits of plastics recycling.

Another article, “Closing the missing link in the circular economy” by Chris Slijkhuis of Müller-Guttenbrunn describes how governments in the EU are recognizing the need for policies which encourage plastics recycling. The themes discussed are echoed in a TED talk from Dame Ellen MacArthur, in which she discusses how sailing solo across the world helped her to realise that the “take, make, waste” attitude to the world’s resources is fundamentally flawed, and why shifting towards a “regenerative economy” is imperative.

Indeed, the need for recycling in the plastics industry is such big news that our founder and board member, Mike Biddle of MBA Polymers was recently featured on the front cover of Recycling Today. His article “Coming Full Circle” highlights why developing the ability to turn waste into products is so crucial.

And it’s not just the environment that can benefit from an increased focus on plastics recycling but the economy too. Analysis conducted by Deloitte on behalf of the Brussels-based trade association Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE), found that increasing plastics recycling targets with the EU could help create some 50,000 jobs in Europe’s plastics recycling value chain within five years, as well as acting for the catalyst for a further of 75,000 indirect jobs in related industries.

It cannot be denied that in the future, recycling virtually all plastics will need to be something that happens as a matter of course. Our business is ideally placed to meet this need.

Our focus both historically, and in the future is likely to be producing and selling virgin substitute plastics from end-of-life mixed feed streams and as such we are focusing our efforts on gaining new OEM customers. We are also the only global plastics recycling company which can recycle plastics from Electronic Shredder Residue (ESR), Automobile Shredder Residue (ASR) and Municipal waste. There is real demand for these services, and we expect that this requirement will only increase over time.

Indeed, our business is already catering to significant demand. Even in the context of difficult economic conditions, our Austrian subsidiary continues to provide solid economic performance ending the year with a strongly positive EBITDA. In Austria, with the support of our partner, Müller-Guttenbrunn, we have also begun commercial production of a PC/ABS blend – something we think MBA Polymers is unique in having accomplished.

This is an exciting time for the plastics industry, and I am excited to be at the helm of such an pioneering company, and one which I am sure will continue to be at the forefront of innovations in the plastics recycling industry.

As mentioned in the last newsletter, when I was asked to return to MBA, I promptly accepted due to the passion I continue to have for MBA and its mission. Thank you for your support and interest in topics important to our Company.

If you have any questions, please e-mail me at the address below.

Respectfully yours,

Richard McCombs, CEO
rmccombs@mbapolymers.com

The “open house days” at the Müller-Guttenbrunn Group (MGG) on 8 and 9 October 2015 were a huge success. Both the local population as well as interested business partners thronged to the three sites in Amstetten and Kematen. Altogether, 700 visitors informed themselves about the work and the processes in the three plants: Metall Recycling Mü-Gu, Metran and MBA Polymers.

Lots of exciting facts, data and figures were presented to the guests – and also a fascinating insight into one of the most innovative recycling companies in Europe.

Horsepower Giants and the New Gold Rush

Group visitors were first put into the mood with short films about the Müller-Guttenbrunn Group. These took them step by step through the development of the company from a small scrapyard in Waidhofen to the internationally active recycling specialist it is now. Subsequently, MGG employees led groups of visitors through tours of the respective factory premises. The guests were able to experience the recycling process “live”: using different technologies, delivered waste (including old cars, electrical and electronic waste) is processed into mono-fraction metals or plastics that can be used in new products.

Both young and old were particularly fascinated by the big machines which were often developed in the respective plant. For example, you could sit in the cockpit of a large shredder in Amstetten and witness how this horsepower giant is controlled.

At the Metran site in Kematen, the inquisitive visitors learned, among other things, that the metal recovery from the recycled material partly works on the simple principle than that of the gold mining in the Wild West, but also by means of high-tech separation procedures.

Next door at MBA Polymers, the storey-high plastic separation systems made for a wow effect among visitors. They were particularly astonished that from a waste, this kind of new products for technical applications can be produced.

Contribution to Environmental Protection

In addition to the large machines and plants, the facts surrounding the Müller-Guttenbrunn Group caused a lot of astonishment. Anyone who watched closely noted the daily contributions of the employees themselves to the saving of energy and the conservation of the environment at the three open sites. How deeply the topic of recycling moved people was shown by the many questions of interested visitors that were answered by the MGG employees in detail.

MGG CEO Mag. Christian Müller-Guttenbrunn was happy about the great interest shown: “It’s great to see that the population displays such a strong interest in our company. We will thus surely open our doors again for all in the future.”

Welcome to the latest edition of the MBA Polymers newsletter. As you may know, I rejoined MBA Polymers as CEO in July 2015, at the request of the company’s Board of Directors. I had previously led MBA for 12 years between 1999 and 2011, growing the business from its early stages to a multinational enterprise with commercially proven, internationally recognized technology in three separate locations.

At this time, MBA Polymers, along with the wider virgin and recycled plastic sectors, is facing challenging economic conditions due to low commodity prices. This is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, placing the business under considerable pressure. Additionally, we face challenges in securing a sufficient supply of automotive shredder residue (ASR) and electronic shredder residue (ESR) for our UK and China plants, respectively. Our UK plant in Worksop was designed to process up to 60,000 tonnes of ASR annually, however, we are currently operating at under 50% capacity. Similarly, our China plant, which can accommodate up to 40,000 tonnes of ESR per year, received less than 30,000 tonnes of material to process in 2014.

While difficult times lie ahead, I have gladly returned to MBA Polymers due to the passion I have for the company and its mission. I will work tirelessly to maintain our leading market position as the largest and most advanced plastics recycling company in the world.

Indeed, the core premise of MBA Polymers remains unshaken. We believe that high quality resins can be profitably extracted from huge global volumes of ASR and ESR to produce post-consumer recycled plastics that compete with virgin resins on price and performance. We know that this is of interest to global manufacturers, having already attracted the attention of major companies in the electronics and automotive sectors. As businesses continue to adopt circular-economy principles, having the ability to source high performing, low carbon secondary raw materials from multiple locations globally will only grow in importance.

I will do the very best job I can for MBA and its many stakeholders, and I look forward to working with all of our constituents—our suppliers, our employees, our partners and our customers—as we navigate some tough challenges.

Yours respectfully,

Richard McCombs

This month, we speak with Kristof van Mieghem, a production operative and deputy shift supervisor at MBA Polymers Austria, the JV plant we operate with Müller-Guttenbrunn. Kristof has worked with us for three years. Here, he gives an insight into the complex technical processes we use to create high quality recycled plastic from electronic waste, and what it means to contribute to a company making a positive difference in the world.

Could you describe your role in detail?

I’m working on two major production processes – our high tech separation system and the extrusion of recycled plastics. I spend most of my time on the separation process, whereby the cleaned and shredded plastic flakes derived from e-waste are sorted into pure polymer flakes. Once separated, these flakes are melted into thin strands and cut into 3mm pellets. Knowing that our customers use these purified and extruded plastic pellets for the production of low carbon vacuum cleaners or coffee machines makes me feel proud.

So your work sounds technically very interesting?

Absolutely. It is often difficult for outsiders to comprehend how everything works. It’s a great technological feat to be able to make a new material from complex waste streams. Some of the recycled material goes through five different installations, some of which are three floors high. It’s fascinating to learn how materials can be recycled in the Müller-Guttenbrunn Group. An old electrical appliance could be recycled almost entirely into secondary raw materials for new products, for example.

How do you find working shifts?

I work four days and then have four days off. By working shifts, we are able to keep the factory in operation 24 hours, seven days a week. We only stop production for a short time at Christmas. As with anything, shift work has pros and cons, but I’m happy, as as I have four days with my family and time to dedicate to my work as a paramedic with the Red Cross.

What do you like best about your job?

Since the waste material we process is never quite the same, you always have to find new and creative solutions. It has a lot to do with understanding how to adjust the machines during operation to achieve optimum performance. This means I have constant variety in my work, and I learn something new every day.

It sounds as though contributing to the company’s goal of recovering raw materials from waste is rewarding work?

Yes, indeed. In addition to knowing that the recycled plastic is used in new products, we’re also preventing waste from being sent to landfill, incinerated or deposited in the ocean. Just imagine, at MBA Polymers Austria, we process more than 100 tonnes of waste material every day. For me, this is a significant contribution to making the world a better place. We save 4.5 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of recycled plastics, which is huge when you consider that we only need to produce two tonnes of plastic to save the equivalent amount of CO2 emitted by an Austrian citizen annually. Our production process also uses less than 20% of the energy used to create virgin plastic.

To hear Kristof speaking to Austria’s P3TV about his work at MBA Polymers (in German), please click here. To read more about our JV with Müller-Guttenbrunn, please click here.

Pioneering tech start-up ObjectForm has just won a prestigious Plastics Industry Award for its 100% recycled ABS 3D printing filament and is gearing up to develop more new recycled plastic filaments under its Fila-CYCLE brand. The award win follows hot on the heels of positive feedback already received from the Innovate UK Board, a UK government initiative to support talented technology start-ups.

Here, we explore the company’s journey to date and ask one of its founders, Scott Knowles, why he is confident in the future of recycled plastic 3D printing filament.

The meteoric rise of 3D printing

The global 3D printer market is expected be worth $13.4bn by 2018, according to technology research firm Gartner. Worldwide shipments of 3D printers are set to double this year, reaching 217,350 units, up from 108,151 in 2014, and will continue to double every year for the next three years, the company predicts, reaching more than 2.3m units by 2018.

In particular, rapid prototyping – creating scale models of individual parts or whole products using 3D computer-aided design (CAD) data – is thriving, helping to streamline the process of designing of prototypes.

“3D printing is being used everywhere – in industry, in schools and colleges, and at home – it’s really taking off,” says Knowles. “It gives people the opportunity to be creative and helps to bring innovations to life more rapidly.”

Flying the flag for sustainability in an infant industry

Having researched the 3D printing market for several years, Knowles and his co-founders Chris Simpson and Stephan Hollingshead established ObjectForm in 2014 as a 3D design, printing and consultancy business. Founding a new company in a young industry, they wanted to take a responsible approach from the start.

“The 3D printing process requires a lot of plastic, and with the global 3D printing market expected to rocket, the demand for input material will only continue to grow,” explains Knowles. “We realised that something had to be done now – particularly given the global instability of oil – and set out to create a more sustainable filament.”

Determined not be dependent on a product derived from a finite natural resource, the ObjectForm team researched the recycled plastic market, seeking a company that could produce a recycled material in line with their requirements. MBA Polymers’ recycled ABS plastic fit the bill, offering the same level of performance as virgin ABS plastic. ObjectForm also purchased a small extruder in order to create spools of filament (1.7mm in diameter) from MBA’s recycled plastic pellets at its Sheffield site. The result was Fila-CYCLE, a 100% recycled filament offering.

“We’re one of the first 3D printing companies to launch a 100% recycled filament brand,” explains Knowles. “We’re helping to raise the bar for sustainability in 3D printing – to show a positive way ahead for an infant industry.”

Good for business and the environment

By replacing virgin ABS plastic with recycled ABS, ObjectForm is helping to conserve natural resources and divert waste from landfill while boosting the environmental credentials of its Fila-CYCLE brand. Sourcing recycled plastic locally instead of purchasing virgin plastic imported from China also saves carbon emissions and supports the UK’s domestic recycling industry, helping to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.

Importantly, the 100% recycled Fila-CYCLE brand is popular with ObjectForm’s customers. Customers rate the product highly for consistency and performance, particularly for rapid prototyping, regularly giving it score of 5/5. Business customers are glad to be offered a more sustainable material, thereby improving their own reputations, while the material is also popular with architects, Knowles explains. Having launched a high quality recycled filament offering in a short space of time, ObjectForm is now seeking crowd-funding to develop more 100% recycled plastic filaments to add to is now award-winning Fila-CYCLE brand.

To read more about Objectform’s services and its Fila-CYCLE filament, please click here.

A new study exploring the environmental benefits of plastics recycling has just been published by Elsevier. Penned by researchers P. A. Wäger and R. Hischier, it covers the environmental savings generated by recycling plastics derived from electric and electronic waste, compared to waste-to-energy or landfill.

Plastics play an increasingly important role in reaching the recovery and recycling rates defined in the European WEEE Directive, the paper explains. Through the study, the researchers explored the life cycle environmental impacts of post-consumer plastics production from e-waste shredder residues (ESR). The life cycle analysis (LCA) was based on MBA Polymers’ JV plastics recycling plant in Austria. We contributed data to the study, and our technical experts provided support and advice to help ensure the LCA was as accurate as possible.

Together with our JV partner Müller-Guttenbrunn, we unveiled the country’s largest e-waste shredder at this plant in 2013. We now process some 30 tonnes of feedstock per year at the plant, creating 20 tonnes of recycled plastic.

In reviewing the analysis, the researchers considered both the perspective of customers delivering the residues and customers buying the post-consumer recycled plastics. Importantly, they discovered that from both sides, plastics recycling offers significantly better environmental savings compared to alternatives such as municipal solid waste incineration (MSWI) and virgin plastics production.

Incineration at a MSWI plant generates an impact four times the size of our plastics recycling facility, while producing virgin plastics generates an impact of six to ten times that of post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics production.

Although the study clearly highlights the environmental benefits of plastics recycling (compared to existing alternatives), it concludes by suggesting that future research will also be needed to examine how hazardous substances are dealt with through the recycling process.

To read the full paper, published in Science of the Total Environment 529 (2015), please visit the Science Direct website. For more information on how MBA Polymers creates environmental savings through transforming waste plastics (including e-waste, end-of-life vehicles and construction waste) into secondary raw materials, please click here.