Recycling What Others Can’t: Plastic Innovator Mike Biddle

One of the guest speakers at #ZWC2014 is one of the world’s foremost plastics recycling innovators.

Gothenburg Awards 2012Mike Biddle, Founder and Director of MBA Polymers Inc., has dedicated himself to solving the central dilemma of plastic – why is so little recycled?

The reason: sorting.

Plastic is a valuable resource and all of it can theoretically be recycled and but less than 10% of it is recycled worldwide.

Compared to virgin plastic production, recycling uses 80% less energy, and therefore accounts for much less greenhouse gas emissions. Properly recycling plastic is a key step toward zero waste and global sustainability.

Sorting Before Recycling 

You can only recycle one material at a time, so you have to get all the other materials out of the way if you want to produce a high-quality product for manufacturers to use again. This is why source separation is a cornerstone of recycling in Metro Vancouver.

Waste – whether from a home, business or industry – is a mix of many kinds of materials. Metals are widely recycled because their differing properties like density, electrical conductivity and colour make them easy to distinguish from other garbage and from other types of metal.

This is not the case with of plastics. Different types of plastics have overlapping or identical characteristics, making them difficult to sort. So most recyclers rely on a clean and well-sorted supply for their operations.

Biddle’s Mission

Distinguishing plastics and avoiding contamination, is the #1 challenge of plastic recycling, and meeting this challenge has become Biddle’s mission.

Starting in his garage, Biddle began developing novel techniques to sort mixed plastics. Now, 20 years later, Biddle’s company, MBA Polymers Inc, has grown into the world’s leading multi-national company recovering plastics from end-of-life durable goods, such as computers, electronics, automobiles and now household waste. MBA has over 300 million pounds per year of processing capacity in Europe and China.

Sorting the Un-sortable

MBA’s process starts with waste materials from metal recyclers called “shredder residue,” made up of small, mixed-up chunks of various plastics, rock, foam, rubber, glass, leather, carpet, wood and even dead animals. Once the non-plastics are filtered out, there remains a mass of mixed plastics. Through proprietary methods developed by Biddle and team, those are sorted from one another by type and by grade before being melted down and converted into plastic pellets for sale to manufacturers of new products.

Mike has received numerous international awards such as the prestigious 2012 Gothenburg Award (previous winners include Al Gore, Kofi Annan and Gro Harlem Brundtland), 2010 Economist Innovation Award, Intel Tech Museum Environmental Award, Tech Pioneer Award from the World Economic Forum, Thomas Alva Edison Award for Innovation and many others.

“Most people would look at this pile and see garbage. I see an above ground mine.” – Mike Biddle

We’re really excited to have Mike be part of our Zero Waste Conference and hope you will join us.

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