The Plastic Problem
How to Make Recycling a Business

Reduce, reuse, recycle. That phrase has become the motto for any responsible steward of the environment in the modern day, but it’s always had a moralistic bent to it—it’s something you ought to do. But a UK company has a plan to make money off of that green mantra by recycling plastic back into usable oil. Bloomberg reports:

At a garbage dump about 80 miles west of London, Adrian Griffiths is testing an invention he’s confident will save the world’s oceans from choking in plastic waste. And earn him millions. His machine, about the size of a tennis court, churns all sorts of petroleum-based products — cling wrap, polyester clothing, carpets, electronics — back into oil. It takes less than a second and the resulting fuel, called Plaxx, can be used to make plastic again or power ship engines. […]

Factoring in a cost of 3 million pounds to install and 500,000 pounds annually to operate, Recycling Technologies expects revenue of 1.7 million pounds per year per machine, thereby recovering its initial investment in 2-1/2 years, he says.

“That was always the objective, to make a machine that could pay for itself, because then people will make the investment decisions and it can scale very quickly,” said Griffiths, 48, who aims to have 100 RT7000s up and running by 2025.

If we’re going to tackle the issue of plastic waste—a problem that environmentalists promise us is going to trend towards dire levels in the coming decades—this is our best bet for doing so. Greens are most comfortable when they’re moralizing at a skeptical public, encouraging others to don the hair shirt they so proudly wear, but there are real limits to that approach, and they hamstring the ability of the modern environmental movement to achieve its stated goals.

But if companies like Griffiths’ can find a way to make money while simultaneously accomplishing these green targets, then sustainability suddenly becomes, well, sustainable. It’s not enough to point to a problem and demand a solution, just as it’s not enough to settle for a solution that requires people to sacrifice creature comforts or accept a lower quality of life. Economic growth and responsible environmental stewardship aren’t mutually exclusive, and in fact the latter can be best looked after when solutions are framed in the context of the former.

Here’s to Griffiths’ plastic recycling business, and all it represents.

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