The Open Secret: Lasso's Recycling Master Plan

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CEO and Co-Founder Aldous Hicks outlines Lasso's long term plans, including future functionality and additional revenue opportunities
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As you may already know, the initial Lasso product is a brand-new high-performance closed-loop recycling appliance. However, most readers may not be aware that our long-term plan is to build and roll-out a wide range of models, including a Lasso service-styled business model, so every household and office on the planet can a?ord to operate a Lasso.

My day job for 40 odd years until 2018 has been mechanical engineering and small business computer software development. Part-time since 1993, I have been the Lasso Loop Recycling Ltd CEO and primary funding source until a successful CrowdCube crowdfunding campaign in London in May 2019. Lasso is currently building a prototype appliance.

Lasso offers so many environmental, economic and domestic benefits that that I have been willing to fully fund the company for the first 24 years of its existence, working part-time on the project with zero remuneration. For the last three years I‘ve worked full-time for an options-only remuneration. This is how much faith I have in the project.

The overarching purpose of Lasso is to deliver a new smart domestic recycling system that closed-loop recycles your valuable used-containers and materials. In the current model, led by industry and government, over 95% of what you put in your recycling bin ends up either “downcycled” into less valuable products, or just sent to landfill. Lasso will deliver a domestic system of closed-loop recycling that will allow used-materials to regain their original value. Every Lasso household will contribute to and benefit from the planet’s must-have circular economy.

Critical to achieving a circular economy is Lasso, a stylish and really useful home appliance. Lassos in homes will beat every domestic recycling system currently in existence, even those in the best recycling countries in the world - Germany, Austria and South Korea. Lasso households will deliver 100% closed-loop recycling performance of the used-materials they place in their Lasso appliance. They will help to deliver the CO2 emission reductions the planet needs. Lasso will be the only appliance in your house that over its cradle-to-grave life will produce a carbon-negative footprint.

There is no question, about whether reducing emissions is good for the world. But will the Lasso actually make a difference to global carbon emissions?

The answer is definitely yes. But Lasso needs some years. This brings me to the secret master plan alluded to above. Almost any new technology initially has a high unit cost before it can be optimized. This is just as true for the very first closed-loop domestic recycling appliance as it is for those spectacular Tesla cars. The Lasso strategy is to be the first and only entry in the market for as long as possible. Yes, as with Teslas, Lassos will be at the high end of the everyday domestic appliance market. But early-adopter customers who are prepared to pay a premium will enable Lasso to drive down the market as fast as possible, achieving higher unit volume and lower prices with each successive model.

Without giving away too much, I can say that the second Lasso model will be able to accept paper and cardboard, plastic film and food scraps. By the time the second model is delivered, Lassos will also be offered as a service model, with an affordable annual service fee rather than an upfront appliance purchase cost. In keeping with a fast-growing technology company, all free cash ?ow is plowed back into R&D to drive down the costs and bring the follow-on products to market.

Now I would like to address two repeated arguments against a domestic recycling appliance. Firstly, there is the “We already have a domestic recycling system”. And secondly “the service is free”. The answer to the ?rst question is relatively straightforward though a little long. The second requires a lot of searching, and more is needed.

Yes! In the western world most households have a domestic recycling system. But the systems do not truly recycle. In reality, the current domestic systems are collection systems. They empty into the collection truck your mixed-up and contaminated “potential” recyclables from your recycling bin. The truck then squashes your dutifully collected “potential” recyclables, ingraining contamination. For example, glass shards are impregnated into cardboard. Your recyclables are now even harder to separate out later, which must be done if any of your “potential” recyclables are to be recycled, let alone closed-loop recycled. Sadly, the amazing and clever materials recovery systems (MRFs), which are the heart of the current domestic recycling system, are always on life support. The MRF’s smart separation systems do not work well enough. Possibly 30% of your blue or recycling bin might be down-cycled – where, for example, a glass bottle is used as road base. Certainly, a much lower figure is closed-loop recycled.

What does closed-loop recycled mean? It means that a used material, packaging or container is processed back to an item of equal value. Simply, closed-loop means recycling a glass bottle back to a glass bottle, or a plastic PET bottle back to a plastic PET bottle. Turning a glass bottle into road base dramatically reduces the value of the recyclable glass – by factors above five! Closed-loop recycling avoids the need to keep mining or extracting resources from the ground, transporting them, and then processing them into virgin materials – all of which emits large amounts of CO2e. It is essential to reduce this wasteful cycle if the world is to hit its planned carbon-reduction targets. Closed-loop recycling is one of the many must-have mechanisms available to substantially reduce emissions.

I wouldn’t recommend your “potential” recyclables as a dessert topping, but these beautiful used-materials should definitely not go anywhere near land?ll. Putting them in your recycling bin is throwing money away. But in the future, your used-materials, when closed-loop recycled, say by your Lasso at home, can be profitably sold to recycling companies.

A common objection to the Lasso domestic recycling appliance is that the units would be better applied in locations where there are more used-materials, like the basement of apartment blocks, or restaurants etc. Or, in other words, larger scale used-materials opportunities are better. The answer to this is that the essential factor in closed-loop recycling is avoiding contamination. This will be easier to achieve in houses and offices that have committed to buying a Lasso. Machines in public spaces or in the basements of apartment blocks or restaurants would require more complicated checking to work efficiently. One tonne of closed-loop recycled products, which can be sold for more than they cost to produce, is better than having millions of tonnes of landfill which cannot be sold profitably due to contamination. One tonne of closed-loop recycled products significantly reduces CO2e emissions. Landfilled waste is the clear measure of seriously high CO2e emissions never to be captured, nor stored nor sequestered and never reduced.

As for current domestic recycling systems providing a “free service”, after years of asking, I have found only two people, one person in Atlanta, GA. USA, and another in Scone, NSW, Australia who actually know the amount levied in their taxes to cover the cost of their domestic recycling service. I cannot find the recycling fees levied by Wingercarribee Shire Council in my home Australian state of NSW. OK. A few of us understand it is included in our council rates and taxes. But how much is included? One thing some of us know for sure is, it is 100% guaranteed not to be a free service.

The domestic recycling bin must cost more to service than your waste or trash bin or cart. The contents of your waste bin receive a one-way ticket direct to landfill – cost-effective and efficient, but environmentally hugely damaging. Your landfill-bound waste must pay the taxman-levied landfill fees before being dumped into the landfill. And you know who picks up that tab. It’s not the waste delivering company.

On the other hand, the contents of your recycling bin enjoy a more varied, longer and expensive journey. A real attempt is made to separate and sort the contents using capital- intensive and expensive-to-operate MRFs. The sorted material is baled and stored before being loaded and transported to the recycling factory premises, where it is unloaded and warehoused before being loaded into the next multi-staged recycling process. On and on it goes. Every part of this complex process comes at an economic and environmental cost, each piling on top of another. Very sadly, in the end, this wasteful process ensures the recycled products cost substantially more to produce than they can sell for. Hence, it’s obvious why very few of your beautiful used-materials are recycled. It is not profitable!

It is estimated that the average cost of dealing with domestic used-material or waste produced is US$240 per tonne (Ellen MacArthur Foundation report). Except for aluminum cans, which make up a small component of the domestic waste stream, the average sale price per tonne of other recycled materials produced by MRFs is much lower than US$240 per tonne. That is, if they can actually be sold for anything. The business case for the current system does not stack up.

And even sadder is that the environmental case for domestic recycling does not stack up either. There is one reason why we “recycle” at home and every quarter pay costs when we do not even know how much they are! It’s because for decades, we’ve all been told mistruths by cities, counties, councils and the recycling industry. We take comfort that we are doing the right thing, because we believe what we’ve been told.

If the current system delivers neither financial nor environmental value, why on earth do we pay for “recycling”? Why on earth do we have the system? The current domestic recycling system needs to be totally scrapped and all those beautiful used materials and waste should be sent direct to landfill. And every household should receive a reduction for the rates and taxes levied that cover the cost of their “not-recycling” service that their Lasso replaces.

The Lasso system has many fewer material handling steps than the existing recycling system. Closed-loop recyclable products are produced in the home, ie. in the kitchen, laundry, garage or shed, and deliver positive measurable environmental value. The key to Lasso also delivering financial value to households is the rate at which Lasso penetrates the household market. The quicker Lasso sales can be ramped up, the quicker cash can be returned to households for their closed-loop recycling efforts.

The CO2e reduction resulting from closed-loop recycled products replacing virgin materials has been calculated. While there is not 100% agreement by experts on the exact reduction amounts, it is significant.  The Lasso domestic recycling appliance, by delivering closed-loop recyclable products, will deliver an infinite environmental improvement for Lasso households over those households that continue to use the current domestic recycling system.

Becoming Cash Positive

Lasso will be marketing and selling the closed-loop recycled products produced by households. The products’ sale prices, from the very first Lasso product on-demand home collection should cover the logistics costs and handling charges.

The rate of uptake of Lasso appliances will be the key to also delivering cash returns to householders from the profits generated by selling the recycled materials. The more Lassos in households, the more home-collection costs reduce. Further, the more Lassos in households, the greater the volume of closed-loop products Lasso has to sell, ensuring marked stability and the possibility of increased cash returns to households.

Over the next five to seven years there are many factors that will influence the purchase price of a Lasso and the cash return to households from recycled products. Actual numbers are hard to quantify just yet. We are working on them. The sale price of the Lasso recycled products will vary due to future market forces.  Laws about recycled packaging content in new plastic containers (already enacted in California and coming in EU and UK) should drive up the demand and purchase prices for recycled plastic products. Lasso will allow owners to reclaim bottle-deposits direct from their machine. Leasing and hire-purchase agreements that reduce the up-front purchase cost of a Lasso will become available after three years of successful operation. The addition of extended producer responsibility (EPR) to the obligations of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies should add a small value to each recycled container. Eventually carbon credits for CO2e emission reductions will be generated. Then there may be council and city rebates for the recycling service that Lasso replaces.  To obtain these rebates will be a very hard-fought and long political battle.  

So, in short, the master plan is:

  • Build and sell separate dwelling Lasso domestic recycling appliance for plastic, glass and metals
  • Use the money generated to add plastic film, paper, cardboard and food scraps (compost)
  • Use that money to build the Lasso model for apartments – smaller, smarter and cheaper

At the same time, we will develop and deliver Lassos for specific environments – restaurants and bars, hospitals, building sites, factories, airports, events and educational institutions, public places – wherever humans place two items made of a different substance together in a bin.

And that is the Lasso open secret!

Aldous Hicks

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