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Meet the plastic pioneers of our TOP 100

Congratulations to Plastic Whale for securing spot #88!

Our recently published TOP 100 of recycling innovators lists leading companies, entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists from all over the world. Though metal scrap is an important category, we can definitely see plastic scrap claiming a much bigger spotlight. Who made it into our 2021 ranking?

#31 [email protected] (India)

In recent years, south India’s Kerala State has seen quite a few small and medium size plastic recycling operations pop up. Among these is the [email protected] NGO. In the hills around Kochi, [email protected] collects all kinds of materials door-to-door from some 20 000 households. Seventy tonnes of scrap in total is collected every month, of which at least 10% is plastic bottles while the rest is metal, glass and paper.

The scrap is either shredded and sent to bigger plastics recyclers in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, or is upcycled and transformed into new products, mostly bags for sale. This work is done by local people at the organisation’s workplace.

[email protected] has six trucks permanently on the road for collection of materials while 20 trolleys to get to areas and unpaved alleys the trucks cannot reach. In 2018, Kerala was hit by heavy monsoons. It rained for eight days without respite and there was severe flooding. More than 400 people were killed in the disaster. Among the parties that offered relief was [email protected], who retrieved thousands of tonnes of lost furniture. 

#38 Boyan Slat, founder of The Ocean Cleanup (The Netherlands)

It’s impossible to talk ocean plastics without mentioning Slat. The Dutch entrepreneur gained fame after developing a floating system that catches marine litter. Recycling International met him at the beginning of his journey, shortly before the system was deployed off the coast of San Fransisco and has tracked his progress since.

His story includes partnerships with local recyclers to transform plastic waste into eye-catching products such as sunglasses. Slat proudly wears them to press events to demonstrate that the collected material is not, in fact, worthless. His latest system, The Interceptor, is being deployed in rivers in Malaysia and Indonesia, as these have been pinpointed as the origin of much of the ocean plastics.

#48 MGG Polymers (Austria)

Formerly known as MBA Polymers Austria, the Müller-Gutenbrunn Group’s plastics recycling facility in Kematen is thought to be the first in the world able to produce post-consumer recycled PC/ABS, which represents roughly 10% of contemporary e-waste plastics mix. ‘There are not many recyclers that know what to do with this material,’ says MGG Polymers’ director Chris Slijkhuis. ‘It’s an expensive plastic that looks very polished and stylish, making it popular amongst manufacturers. But it is very difficult to separate and process.’

Protecting the environment is a top priority at MGG Polymers, For this reason, the family-owned company has covered the roof of its facility with a solar panel system – the biggest in the region – to provide green energy.

#49 Carlos Ludlow-Palafox, owner of Enval (UK/Mexico)

Mexican entrepreneur Ludlow-Palafox is determined to boost the recovery of laminated packaging and has a lifetime goal to take his patented technology back home. Mexico has none of the extended producer responsibility schemes seen in Western Europe but Ludlow-Palafox believes this will change and Enval will become a key partner for brands concerned about sustainability.

‘My personal mission is to make Enval a commercial success and, through Enval, to show that pyrolysis is a waste management solution but not THE waste management solution,’ he told RI in April 2021. ‘Pyrolysis has suffered from over-promising and under-delivery with people saying “we can take anything; just throw it at us and we will deliver plastic and oil and run the world”. That won’t happen because we are not alchemists.’

#52 Miranda Wang, co-founder of Novoloop (USA)

Wang started Novoloop straight out of college together with her best friend Jeanny Yao. The young women felt compelled to find a method to treat plastic scrap more efficiently after learning that most material in the US was either incinerated or landfilled. Their ‘breakthrough’ accelerated thermal oxidative decomposition technology harvests carbon-rich feedstock from polyethylene scrap to produce high performance materials that rival virgin plastic. ‘We want to help double the size of the circular economy,’ Wang tells us.

‘Our flagship product, XIRC, is designed to help planet-conscious brands accelerate the adoption of sustainable performance materials without compromising quality and durability,’ Wang says. XIRC contains up to 50% post-consumer recycled content.

#77 Gjenge Makers (Kenya)

Materials engineer Nzambi Matee’s company recycles plastic scrap and sand into low-cost construction materials. She was one of the winners of the Young Champions of the Earth prize, which is part of the United Nations Environment Programme to engage young people in tackling the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges. Gjenge Makers creates bricks and tiles in various colours (currently red, blue, brown and green) and manhole covers. Mattee says her bricks hold up to five times the weight of comparable concrete blocks.

#88 Marius Smit, founder of Plastic Whale (The Netherlands)

Some companies offer fishing trips and some offer tours of the Amsterdam canals. Smit combines the two by putting plastic waste into the mix and inviting people to resolve a problem facing us all. Scrap collected during expeditions differs greatly – from countless plastic bottles and shopping bags to bulky items like toilet seats and bicycles. The scrap is cleaned, ground down and transformed into colourful pieces of furniture. ‘Desks, garden chairs, you name it. We even use the material to create recycled fishing boats to host new fishing trips and collect more plastic!’

#91 Dave Hakkens, founder of Precious Plastic (The Netherlands)

Hakkens is an engineer inspired by sustainability and the sharing economy. He founded Precious Plastic in 2013 to provide proven recycling equipment for plastic scrap that can easily be built and operated at home. The Dutch entrepreneur made sure the blueprint for his machinery was available online as ‘open source’ documents so that anyone could become a recycler. Hakkens says he identifies more with the word ‘inventor’ than ‘businessman’ and is excited that more people are ordering a ‘starter kit’ to begin recycling line at home.

#92 Oso Polymers (UK)

Driven by China’s scrap import ban, Chinese investors are developing new scrap processing plants elsewhere in South East Asia and also in North America and Europe. Based in Leeds in the north of England, Oso Polymers is said to be the UK’s first Chinese-owned recycling operation. The pellets produced in Leeds are shipped to China to make new plastics. Establishing OSO Polymers to manufacture pellets in the UK was an obvious development: ‘We saw the opportunity because China shut the market,’ says plant manager Teng Shen, who watches over the processing lines producing some 500 tonnes of materials a month operated by eight people on 12-hour shifts to ensure a 24/7 operation.

#95 Recyclene Group (Russia)

The only Russian company in the list, Recyclene is a rapidly-growing specialist in plastics recycling founded and run by Evgeny Galikhaydarov and Rodin Nikita. Headquartered in Moscow and with subsidiary plants in Kaluga and St Petersburg, Recyclene lays claim to a 15-20% market share for recycled plastics in central Russia.

Galikhaydarov is ambitiously looking to move his business and operations forward – which in Russia can be quite a challenge. ‘The major problems for recyclers are the same as for many other private enterprises in Russia: unpredictable government regulations and pressures, an unstable currency rate, lack of affordable bank financing,’ he summarised earlier in an interview with RI.

#97 DGrade (UAE)

DGrade delivers closed-loop solutions with collected plastics reused in the fabrication of clothing, uniforms and accessories for customers across the UAE and beyond. One project is Simply Bottles which connects schools and businesses to educate and boost plastic bottle recycling in the UAE. Since its inception, the initiative has engaged hundreds of thousands of students and employees, recovering more than 34 tonnes of PET.

DGrade also works with the Formula 1 Yas Marina Circuit to collect plastic from the race and other events which is then recycled into uniforms for staff at the circuit. A new UAE based facility will use flakes from PET bottles in the production of yarn and new bottles.

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