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Closed loops rely on collective strength

It’s easy to get lost in statistics and negative headlines without seeing any silver linings. People are part of the solution, not just the problem insists Joseph Klatt, ceo of Precious Plastic. He and many other innovative thinkers took to the virtual stage during the first online Circular Materials Conference.

Whether you’re talking about the growing e-scrap mountain, ocean plastics or how to sort small fractions of rare earths and precious metals from the world’s chaotic, heavily contaminated waste stream, one thing is clear: recycling is a challenge. But it’s important not to lose hope, speakers declared at the e-conference in late April organised by Sweden’s Chalmers University.

Researcher Tatajana Kapenja of Sweden’s RISE Institute laments what she sees as the many phases of a transition to a circular economy. ‘It starts with the cold shoulder, followed slowly by the circular dawn, then stuck in the mud and eventually the blame game,’ she maintains. ‘The last phase happens when people feel that innovation isn’t going fast enough. This often leads to governments enforcing even more strict regulations. They don’t realise that doing so doesn’t necessarily incentivise the right behaviour.’

Joseph Klatt, ceo of Precious Plastic, adds: ‘Let’s not forget about the power of collective effort. All of us are facing the same problems. To make a change, we have to tackle them together.’ For Precious Plastic this means creating open source equipment that anyone can use to transform plastic waste into high-value recycled products.

Everyone is a recycler

According to Klatt, Dutch entrepreneur Dave Hakkens came up with this ‘free blueprint’ for recycling technology. ‘Our journey started six years ago when he founded the company. Since then, our machines have been studied, copied and tweaked by many individuals around the world,’ he says. ‘At first, our solutions were small, lab-scale machines. Our current ones are semi-industrial recycling units with a lot more capacity.’

This network is connected globally with everyone sharing knowledge and improving the equipment to work even better. ‘I call this a “precious plastic universe”. This vision is based on the thought that everyone can be a recycler,’ Klatt asserts with a smile.

‘We even created start-up kits for those who want to create their own collection hub. Launching a business may sound scary but we can help show you the way.’ The starter kit contains all the information and tools needed to start up a small workspace, he explains. For example, the choice can be a plastic sheet press workspace or one that centres on a shredder turning plastic into flakes.

Klatt suggests building machines to sell to others. ‘Of course, not everyone is an entrepreneur so you simply share the idea about open source, modular recycling equipment with people in your neighbourhood. Someone else may feel inspired to take action. This way we all have a role to play in the circular economy.’ And he concludes: ‘Sometimes we need creative ideas and vision to stir innovation and build towards a better future.’

*Read the full conference review in our new issue!

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