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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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  • FriendlyGoat

    This is good news. As for the implication that “greens” are against money being made in recycling——uh—-SAY WHAT? It’s not like we have not been celebrating the profitable (in free enterprise) re-use of metals, tires and glass for several decades.

    • Local trash companies have stopped taking glass for recycling. Too much hassle (broken bottles clogging/damaging sorting equipment) for too little reward – the price they’re getting for recycled glass has dropped considerably.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Well, if that’s free enterprise, that’s free enterprise. In my childhood, we collected used pop bottles, returned them to the stores for two cents each . They returned them to the bottling companies who sterilized them and refilled them with pop to be sold again in the stores. Times change. Methods change. My point is that sensible lefties (like me) don’t knock recycling for profit in free enterprise. (One caveat to that. We are not necessarily in agreement with toxic exposure to those who may be hired here or abroad to manually disassemble electronic items containing hazardous materials. If free enterprise gives people cancer or other dire ailments, then discussion is in order.)

        • Angel Martin

          When I was a kid in Vancouver, B.C. there was a private guy with a truck that used to pick up newspapers and bottles. Everyone on the West side just used to leave them in the alley for him.

          Then in the late 80’s the city decided that it had to get into recycling. And of course they set up a big program, put that guy out of business, and the city now spends millions every year on what people used to get for free.

          Gov’t. What can’t it wreck ?

          • FriendlyGoat

            Did the city use private-sector contractors?

          • Angel Martin

            Not until last year. And they are off to a bad start due to recycling piling up during the winter. Although the contractor blamed the city for not clearing snow…

            http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/city-of-vancouver-exits-the-curbside-recycling-business

          • FriendlyGoat

            The contractor is going to have to try to pick that stuff up with less labor cost than the city apparently. That’s maybe good for the city, not necessarily for the universe of payrolls in general. There are always trade-offs.

  • Fat_Man

    “Greens are most comfortable when … encouraging others to don the hair shirt they so proudly wear”

    When getting on their private jets to fly to Davos.

  • Fat_Man

    BTW: there is no reason to turn plastic into a liquid in order to burn it. It burns just fine by itself. But, if you were really worried about CO2 in the atmosphere, you would want to see the plastic buried in landfills where the C would stay safely in the ground.

  • ——————————

    It seems to be a step in the right direction. Here is a link that provides more details about what it does.

    http://www.pcmag.com/news/353516/new-recycling-process-turns-waste-plastic-into-oil

    I would like to know what it’s energy efficiency is; How much energy does it take to generate the energy that it produces….

  • Yeah, thermal depolymerization’s been tried before, which is what this sounds like. Economically, it doesn’t work even with oil at high prices.

    http://discovermagazine.com/2008/nov/25-anything-into-oil

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