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Let’s Recap: 2020 according to can recycling specialist Mike MacKay

The aerosol can recycling unit recently installed at US Ecology's site in Nevada.

Packaging represents a huge waste stream worldwide. While beverage cans are easily recycled, recovery rates for aerosol cans are well off double digits. Mike MacKay of tech company DeSpray Environmental in The Netherlands is confident it won’t be long before innovative technologies start to make a big difference.

How would you describe the global metals recycling market right now? 

‘Positive, on the whole. I have to say, though, that metal is only a small part of our environmentally friendly recycling work. We are involved with the entire recycling of aerosols, which means the metals, gas and liquid contents. Thanks to Despray technology being able to safely capture what’s inside the cans, the net result is that more are being recycled instead of being landfilled or incinerated without proper waste-to-energy solutions.’

How do you view the market for end-of-life aerosol cans?

‘More than 15 billion aerosol cans are produced worldwide each year. Although efforts are made to reclaim the metal with existing recycling methods, less than 2% of these cans (including liquids and gases) are being completely recycled. I believe the recent publicity and focus on environmental concerns will have a very positive result for the remaining 98% of aerosol cans. Despray is positioned to provide a solution to help meet future requirements.’

What have been the highlights for DeSpray this year? 

‘First of all, we have joined forces with US Ecology, based in Nevada, to enter the USA market. This partnership is in place to install Despray units across the USA for 100% aerosol recycling. The US consumes an estimated four billion spray cans per year so this market provides lots of opportunities for us. Secondly, we just completed and commissioned an installation remotely from start to finish. Thirdly, we have designed a series of small “micro” systems that will suit small recyclers, cities and even on-site recycling for aerosol filler companies.’

It must be hard to present solutions for a recycling niche such as aerosols during a global pandemic?

‘Actually, there seems to be more opportunity for our technology. Some recyclers are looking to get ahead of the curve and are more open to exploring niche markets like aerosols. You could say that the market for most other recyclables is quite saturated with solutions. Aerosol recycling, however, is in its infancy.’

Many companies have been affected by the pandemic; what has been the impact on your day-to-day operations?

‘We had to adapt remote technology for customer support to monitor and adjust our machine installations across the Atlantic. The pandemic pushed us to bring forward this remote machine monitoring much more quickly then we would have normally have achieved. Without the luxury of sending technicians to sites, we had to adapt smart monitoring technology to hook up to our machines remotely. We managed to finish the commissioning of one of our systems completely across the Atlantic despite a nine-hour time difference. The project is very successful.’

There have been so few trade shows this year. What was that like and did it hit sales? 

‘Indeed, we are not travelling at all which makes for many more online meetings. Luckily, we have seen greater interest in our technology. A niche market with global pressure on the environmental impacts seems to be trending so strongly that recyclers now recognise the importance of proper recycling methods. To boost business prospects, we are planning on doing more video meetings as well as digital advertising and building a stronger search engine presence.’

If you could go back and do one thing differently in 2020, what would it be? 

‘Nothing really, apart from spending more time with my family to show how much I appreciate them. Covid-19 has kept us apart.’

What do you think the aerosol can recycling market will look like in the near future?

‘At Despray, we believe that the aerosol can market will grow exponentially with public pressure over the environment, which is being met by technology like ours. It is a perfect storm of technology meeting public demand at the precise moment it is needed. Once the public realises that this technology exists, it will be difficult to go back to old recycling methods that release gas and hazardous liquids into the atmosphere.’

With the holiday season here, do you have a Christmas message to share with your fellow recycling players?

‘There are always ways to improvise or take advantage of global recycling trends. Things are moving fast in many aspects of recycling, bio-technology and even hydrogen power. The faster we adapt to changes coming at us, the better our chances of surviving and taking advantage of requirements for better fuel sources and better recycling methods. The future of recycling is changing rapidly but the opportunities are just as great for companies with the vision and willingness to change accordingly.’

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