By Andrew Tolve, Ode Magazine
This is part 1 of 2 in a series: Fantastic Plastic.
The final destination for most cars—after they’ve served their time in a scrapyard, that is—is a 10,000-horsepower shredding machine that, in about 60 seconds, rips them into fist-size chunks of stuff. This material is then whisked away on a conveyer belt and sorted for recycling. Steel, copper, brass, and aluminum are all separated and re-used.
But petroleum-based plastic—and there’s a lot of it in cars—presents a problem. Plastics range greatly in type and grade and therefore can’t be recycled together. That’s why they’re typically bundled together with other tough-to-recycle material (rubber, wood, fabrics, foam) and shuttled off to landfills or burned in incinerators.
Mike Biddle, president and co-founder of MBA Polymers, thinks that’s unacceptable.
“Burning [plastic] is obviously not the best thing to do for the environment and reburying it is a waste of a natural resource,” Biddle says. “Why pump oil out of the ground when we’ve already put so much energy into making these materials? Let’s just use them again.”
Mike Biddle is one of a growing number of entrepreneurs that reject the current environmental orthodoxy that “plastic is evil” and should be phased out. Eliminating plastic altogether, they argue, isn’t only unrealistic but undesirable. Without plastic, there would be no laptops, cell phones, refrigerators, toothbrushes, traffic lights or countless other products on which we’ve come to depend. Plastic is, in fact, one of the most valuable materials around. It’s durable, lightweight, adaptable to a dizzying array of applications, and—with the right mix of responsible re-use and non-petroleum-based alternatives—ecologically friendly.
“We should be celebrating plastic,” says Anthony Zolezzi, co-founder of Greenopolis and the GreenOps Recycling System, an interactive approach to giving “trash” a second life. “It’s how we abuse it and don’t re-use it that’s a problem. [Plastic is] an amazing ingredient that we should look at as a precious material, no different than we look at gold.”
Next: Turning plastic into gold