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Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Visionary "Mines" Trash

In his July, 2011 TED, Ideas Worth Sharing video, We Can Recycle Plastic, recorded in Edinburgh, Scotland, Michael Biddle  gives an inspiring presentation on the technology evolution that may change the way we dispose of "our stuff".  With plastic integrated into most products ranging from automobiles to electronics to home appliances, bits and pieces of plastic along with whole plastic items are scattered throughout the waste stream.  The vast majority of this plastic is landfill destined.

piles of crushed autos filled
with plastic parts
Realizing steel has a higher recycling rate than more valuable plastic, Michael embarked on his journey to determine how to extract plastic from trash piles and recycling company reject streams.  The many grades of plastic present a sorting challenge as they have similar characteristics and density and may come in the same colors.  Bottom line:  current separation methods used in recycling facilities do not work for plastic.

Mike with valuable plastic
ready for separation
The initial stop in his journey was mining companies.  After all, Michael knew he was going to "mine" trash piles for valuable products and why not learn from the experts in the field.  

Mining the waste stream for plastic was the first and easier step.  The next phase was separation of  plastic by grade and color to deliver a pellet of greater value than virgin pellets.  Greater value comes not necessarily from the pellet themselves but from a production process that uses 5 - 10% of the energy used in virgin plastic manufacturing AND no new petroleum is required.

Valuable MBA  plastic pellets
ready for their next product
MBA Polymers, the company Michael founded, has three factories globally (California, China & Austria) with a technology suite that spins plastic into MBA's version of gold.  The system separates, sterilizes, melts, pelletizes and remolds recovered plastics from shredded electronics, computers and cars into a product as pure as virgin plastic.  No other additives are required for further production. 

Visionaries like Michael Biddle are the pioneers taking humanity into a new frontier, a necessary frontier as our Earth's resources are diminished at astonishing rates.  See the June ZWZ Blog post, Is Plastic Really Kin to the Devil?, where Michael is featured from an article Plastic Fantastic in Ode for Intelligent Optimists.

Michael ends his ten minute TED presentation with a clever statement about our disposable habits:  "If it is broken, It's Mike's stuff".  Watch the video to appreciate his conclusion and be inspired by Michael's ingenuity, tenacity and integrity.

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