Capturing the true value of recycling

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Introducing ReProduct®
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Would you ditch your dirty socks in the bin or pitch out your pants at the end of the day? Do you throw out your glasses, plates and cutlery after every meal? Of course not. Yet you, like most of us, probably think little of throwing out the plastic wrappers and packaging from around our food, drinks and other items.

Clearly there’s a difference between your used dirty clothes and dishes and your used packaging - but that difference is not as big as you might think!

The key to all three being re-used effectively and sustainably is to process each used item in such a way as to deliver the exact same value that they provided before they were used; in other words returning them to their maximum re-use value.

Clothes line

Do you use your clothes and dishes just once? No! We don’t stop for one second to consider whether we will wash our clothes or clean the dishes after use. We are accustomed to and accept without question that we should re-use our clothes and plates many times over. They are valuable so we are happy to invest thousands of dollars in purchasing home appliances like dishwashers and washing machines, dryers and irons to assist us in ensuring we can re-us our clothes, sheets, towels, cutlery, crockery, pots and pans. And then when these items have been processed for re-use, we store them in our conveniently designed en-suite wardrobes, laundry cupboards, kitchen cabinets and drawers.

We are happy to pay substantial sums for state of the art domestic appliances like dishwashers, washing machines etc because they deliver real value in allowing us to use and re-use the items we place inside them.

But, what if we could have an appliance that could process our used packaging so the materials they are made from can be used time and time again – just like our socks or metal cutlery? A Lasso domestic recycling appliance will do exactly that!

The main difference between processing used-packaging and processing dirty clothes and dishes is that you won’t directly re-use the processed used-packaging yourself. Instead the items you place into your Lasso appliance will be processed in a way that guarantees the purity of each material thus allowing the processed, recycled products to be sold at a profit to manufacturers who will re-use the materials to make new bottles, plastic containers etc.

Not only will you have a convenient, hygienic and energy efficient way of dealing with your recycling materials but you will know that 100% of the things you put into your domestic recycling appliance will be closed-loop recycled, ie. bottles will be remade into bottles, cans into cans etc. And, once the system is established, you will stand to benefit financially from using your recycling machine.

A suburban neighborhood with curbside bins on the street

So how does the Lasso system differ from current recycling practices? The domestic “recycling” we currently perform at home is essentially just a collection process. The actual recycling has not yet started. When we do our home “recycling” we are collecting our recyclable items and putting them in our recycle bin. This is analogous to putting our dirty clothes into our laundry basket or stacking the dirty dishes beside the dishwasher. There is a lot more work to be done before our clothes and dishes can be re-used. Similarly, with our currently collected recyclable used-packaging in our recycling bin there is a lot more complicated and costly work to be done to enable these items to be recycled.

Placing our recycling into designated bins is just the start of a complex and currently inefficient and expensive system that ultimately delivers only a small amount of mostly low grade material capable only of being “recycled” into lower grade products, such as road base or backing for carpets. Once materials are mixed together it is very expensive to separate them and thus, the amount of your collected recycling material that is actually recycled is very low – in fact it’s closer to zero percent (0%) than to 50%. Yes! Closer to zero percent. Using the analogy of washing your clothes and plates, that would be like using machines that smash nearly all your plates and damage most of your clothes so they can only be used as rags. Can we really call this process “recycling”?

The key to your clothes and plates being re-used is that you process them to their re-usable form with the assistance of domestic appliances. Hence the appliance delivers real value to you. Just as your dishwasher and washing machines ensure continued value so too will a Lasso by ensuring that 100% of the materials placed into your appliance will be re-used. None of the items placed into your Lasso will be “damaged” or “smashed” and rendered useless.

Not only will the Lasso system guarantee re-use, it will guarantee closed-loop re-use or what the industry calls “closed-loop recycling”. Closed-loop recycling is analogous to what you currently expect from your washing machine, dryer and dishwasher. Clothes and dishes come back as good as new and ready for re-use. Closed-loop recycling means a used PET plastic container or bottle can be processed into a PET plastic container or bottle and likewise for glass and metals.

The Lasso system will guarantee that the plastic flakes, ground glass cullet and other products resulting from processing recycling materials in the home will be of the highest quality to ensure that packaging manufacturers can produce, for example, a PET bottle from the Lasso PET product to food and beverage standards.

The family tree of products that the Lasso proposes to produce are trademark registered as ReProduct®. Please refer to the diagram below of the currently proposed ReProduct® family tree.

reproduct family tree.jpg

As we mentioned earlier, washing clothes and dishes delivers the same usage value as if your clothes and plates were new. This “same value” or “maximum value” is key in any re-use process. And it applies to the re-use or recycling of used-packaging. The question is how to deliver maximum value?

When we buy our food and beverage products the paper, plastic and glass packaging that comes with them is at or near the highest economic value attributable to the materials. If a greater economic value could be achieved for the packaging material in another form or application, then the material would be used in that application. The Lasso goal is to return this maximum value back to the plastic, glass and metal packaging that comes with our food and beverage purchases.

Material or substance value is normally related to purity. The higher the purity the higher the sale $-value. This rule of thumb applies whether the material or substance is gold, copper, wool, wheat, water etc. or recycled materials.

An MRF in Australia
A MRF in Australia – Image Source

This rule applies equally well to domestic recycled material. For example, take PET which is the plastic in most soft drink and water bottles. PET bales (like hay bales except made up of used and squashed PET bottles and containers) are the output from Material Recovery Facilities. They are known by the acronym MRFs (and affectionately as Merfs), and it is MRFs that process the contents of your household recycling bin. The PET bales might have a PET purity of say between 85% and 90%. The remaining 10% to 15% non-PET is contamination. The contamination might be made up of caps, tamper rings, paper and non-PET plastic labels, metal, dirt and other non-PET substances. This contamination substantially lowers the price that can be achieved when selling PET bales.

Market graph titled, "Virgin & Recycling Prices per ton PET Bottle Resin Pellets Vs. Baled Pet Bottles" showing Virgin Pellets have a higher market value than Reycled Bottles
The relationship between the price of recycled and virgin PET – Image Source

If the bale PET purity level was closer to say 99% then the $-sale value might be two or three times higher. If the 99% baled PET was washed and flaked and approached 100% purity the value might increase again by say two times. And if the washing process could guarantee the PET flakes were to the US Department of Food, Drug and Alcohol (US FDA) food and beverage PET specification, then the value of the washed PET flakes might double again. The maximum sale $-value of recycled PET washed flakes to US FDA food and beverage specification is estimated at between five and ten times the value of the baled PET material that is being produced by MRFs today.

The current PET recycling system can take PET bales from MRFs and process then to recycled PET washed flakes to US FDA food and beverage specification. However the multitude of material handling steps and the sophisticated mechanical and chemical processing required to remove the 10-15% of contaminants along with the material losses through the processes means the PET flakes produced are prohibitively expensive. This uncompetitive cost base means the amount of washed PET flakes to US FDA food and beverage specification currently produced in western countries like Europe, US, Canada, Japan etc is, on average, less than 5% of PET packaging used.

The Lasso domestic recycling appliance will set the goal for ReProduct® Plastic PET at close to 100% purity and to US FDA food and beverage specification. The Lasso technology and process makes this achievable. This Lasso ReProduct® Plastic PET will deliver maximum sale $-value. This valuable product will be stored in the Lasso appliance in one of the eight dust and moisture tight compartments in the product storage container (PSC) at the bottom of the unit. When the PET compartment or any other compartment is full the PSC is ready to be emptied by the Lasso logistic system.

The Lasso ReProduct® Plastic PET maximum sale $-value will be replicated for HDPE (the plastic used for milk bottles) and glass containers. The potential uplift in $-value from the current domestic container glass recycling process to the maximum sale $-value that ReProduct® Glass BROWN, ReProduct® Glass GREEN and ReProduct® Glass CLEAR plans to deliver is also in the order of five to ten times.

There are three ReProduct® groups; Plastic, Glass and Metals. For the first Lasso appliances commercial roll-out eight ReProduct®s are planned – three plastics, three colours of glass and two metal cans. In the future, there will be additional ReProduct® groups and ReProduct® products. For example, ReProduct® Plastic LDPE (plastic film, such as plastic bags or plastic sachets) is a likely product for the future. ReProduct® Paper and ReProduct® Organics are additional foreseen groups.

A financially sustainable domestic recycling system demands high purity, $-valuable products. The Lasso system is specifically designed to meet these stringent requirements and to deliver a truly circular economy that is financially viable and self-sustaining.

The components of the Lasso appliance (crushers, washers, grinder etc.) already exist, but we now need to show they can work together in a Lasso domestic recycling appliance prototype. The prototype will confirm claims made in this blog. More specifically the prototype development will determine more accurately what ReProduct® purity and quality levels can be achieved. This information will then allow a more reliable forecast of the maximum sale $-value for the ReProduct®s, which in turn will enable an estimate of what amounts and when $-cash financial benefits can be delivered to Lasso households.

Aldous Hicks

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