UK startup Recycling Technologies has unveiled a new machine, which can be mass produced and transported to waste and recycling sites, which transforms discarded plastics back into its oil form.
Starting from the perspective that plastics are enormously useful materials that have helped keep food fresher for longer, made cars lighter, insulate homes and several other critical functions for people and the economy. Recycling Technologies identified that creating good substitute materials across the entirety of these functions would be difficult, if not impossible, and so focused attention on the way in which plastic flows through the economy.
Their solution is to collect all the waste plastic available and to convert it into a material called Plaxx, the oil form of plastic, a hydrocarbon compound with low sulfur content and high calorific value. The intention is that these could then be used as a feedstock for creating new plastics, cutting demand for the creation of new plastics and reducing reliance on fossil fuel sources.
Recycling Technologies recently successfully built and tested a near-commercial scale pilot to demonstrate viability. The first machine is expected to begin life in Scotland at an Advanced Plastic Recycling Facility (A-PRF), which has a world-first recycling rate of over 90%.
It’s an example of innovation that aims to convert waste into significant value, and it will be made more effective if it incentivises more innovation upstream during the design and use phases of plastic products. If the quality and economics of these kinds recycling technologies continues to improve, then it could play a significant role as part of a plastics economy that works in the long-term.
At the time of writing, the new feedstock from these technologies can only theoretically be converted back into plastics and the economics, energy and technical capabilities to produce material of the same quality is not yet established. Converting plastic waste into oil that is used as fuel is better than landfill, but doesn’t really address the underlying systemic problems, and potentially creates a strange inefficiency where oil (a source of energy) is turned into a material, and then turned back into the fossil fuel, all while using more energy in all parts of the process.