Episode 4: As Good As New
The innovation in the recycling industry shows that recycled materials are not necessarily of a lower quality. Asia is only starting to embrace the many things that can be made from recycled plastic.
Brian Thurston, Senior Advisor, Plastic Disclosure Project
Jose Lopez, Senior Architectural Designer at Miniwiz Sustainable Energy Development Co. Ltd.
Kian Hoe Seah, Managing Director at Heng Hiap Industries Sdn Bhd
Ellen Jackowski, Global Head of Sustainability Strategy & Innovation at HP
Doug Woodring, Founder and Managing Director at Ocean Recovery Alliance
Marcy: Hi! My name is Marcy Trent Long. Welcome to Sustainable Asia.
This is The Plasticity Podcast, made in collaboration with Ocean Recovery Alliance.
We began this series by learning how the circular economy in Asia is gaining momentum through recent commitments made by governments and brands. Next, we saw how we can improve the collection and sorting stage, through better monitoring and infrastructure. In episode three, we talked about removing contamination from the waste streams, to make recycling easier and more profitable. But, lastly, in this episode: in order to make recycled goods a part of our daily lives, we need to do away with some misconceptions first.
Brian: With consumers there tends to be –even to this day– a common misconception that recycled material, or recycled content, is somehow an inferior quality.
Marcy: That’s Brian Thurston, Senior Advisor to the Plastic Disclosure Project, co-organisers of the Plasticity Forum.
Brian: I think the brands have a more important role to play on the education around what those materials are. In order for the circular economy to scale, recycled material isn't labeled 'recycled material'; It's just material. It's not of less quality. It's not of higher price. It's not all these things that are relegating it to being exclusive. That's never really going to get to the heart of the problem of getting volumes of those materials back into the supply chain.
Marcy: I met a lot of people who are working on changing the way we see and how we use recycled material. Jose Lopez is one of them.
Jose: I'm Jose Lopez. I work at Miniwiz. I’m from Ecuador originally.
Marcy: At Miniwiz, Jose is working on a material library, a collection made from recycled elements, demonstrating what is possible, with a little creativity.
Jose: Creativity and design are very important because people think that by using recycled materials you are cutting the design wings, cutting the creativity. Of course it's a challenge because it requires a lot of effort, requires a lot of engineering. You don't want to break the creativity, the design concept of building, of an interior required, of a projection you have in your mind.
Marcy: The objects we use in our daily lives are made of materials that have specific, necessary properties: the elasticity of nylon in clothes, the lightness of styrofoam. If we want to recreate those properties with plastic recycled content...
Jose: You need to do a lot of research to see how the key elements can actually be sorted out and have the property that you need to get that effect. So that is why we have our material library. That is why we created 1200 materials. Because every single material will obey to a specific case, a specific finish that we want.
Marcy: Kian Hoe Seah of Heng Hiap Industries, who spoke in our last episode, also experiments with the recyclable material he collects in Malaysia.
Kian Hoe Seah
Founder and Managing Director at Heng Hiap Industries
Kian Hoe: I look into washing machines. I look into the washing machine drums and I study the property, the uniqueness of that inherent property. We collect that back and together with other compounds that have similar, we basically convert all these specifications into a spider web chart. And then we try to pair with more base materials, which have similar spider web charts. From there we stretch that: we start to see that spikiness on the spider web chart and through our own formulation we push that further.
Marcy: By combining recovered materials with similar properties, he can create new materials with custom characteristics.
Kian Hoe: In that upcycling process, we actually make something that is double –if not triple– in terms of its strength compared to new material. From there we create a material which is perfect for pin buckets. So it goes from one and it transforms into the other. All simply by aligning the inherent property and to actually transcend that and give it a second life, or if not a much better second life and upcycle the product.
Global Head of Sustainability and Innovation at Hewlett Packard
Ellen: When you return your ink cartridges to HP, and we hope everybody does, we disassemble that cartridge, and take all of the individual materials and either sell them back on the material's market, for example, the metals in the cartridge get sold back.
Marcy: Ellen Jackowski, Global Head of Sustainability Strategy and Innovation at Hewlett Packard
Ellen: Until we are left with just the plastic case of that ink cartridge, we shred that case, and then we mix it with water bottle plastic, PET plastic, or hanger plastic to strengthen it back up again, so it has the properties of virgin plastic; create another ink cartridge out of that recycled content, put ink back in it, and put in on the market. And the idea is that the plastic that we create or our products get reused over and over again.
In this process, we're upcycling bottle plastic, which doesn't typically have tremendous value to it, and we're putting it in HP ink cartridges, one of our high volume products, one of our most valuable products.
Marcy: Innovation in the recycling industry shows that recycled materials are not necessarily of a lower quality. Instead, when there is sufficient supply of post-consumer waste, recycling facilities can produce quality products in larger quantities.
Brian: Once those barriers are going down, then I think you are going to see a much larger adoption of this material in products.
Marcy: Brian Thurston
Brian: And it's not going to be because of some environmental issue; It's not going to be because of some regulatory requirement; It'll just be because it's good business. And ultimately I think that's what gets you to scale.
Founder and Managing Director at Ocean Recovery Alliance
Marcy: Doug Woodring, who organises the Plasticity Conference, agreed
Doug: I think people are now realising that wow, there's so much stuff you can do with plastic, of course we don't want to use unnecessary plastic and just create the need for transportation and waste collection but we are gonna be using plastic in our next few decades, and the challenge and opportunity is how to design for this and make all kinds of new things from it, and this is what the world is only just starting to embrace.
Marcy: Better collection and sorting of plastics in Asia means that more plastic will be available to recycle; removing contaminants before they enter the recycling facilities will also make it cheaper and faster to process. And when brands and consumers globally recognise that we can make pretty much anything we want out of recycled plastic, then the demand for post-consumer recycled plastic will grow. Eventually we’ll achieve the economies of scale needed to reduce costs and make plastic recycling in Asia succesful. The circle will be complete, and we will have broken the straight line that leads to so much plastic leaking into our oceans.
Thank you for listening to the Plasticity Podcast. I want to thank all the people who took the time to talk to me about this fascinating process. For those of you who want to be a part of the growing Plasticity movement: The next Plasticity conference will be in Fiji!
Doug: The reason we're doing Plasticity Pacific in Fiji in March, is because the island nations are looking for ways to solve their plastic waste problem. They have problems with economies of scale and equipment and technology that is sized appropriately for their communities, which are not so big. We expect the island nations to be a case study example for many small communities around the world. Because whether they are an island nation or not, many small communities also have this same challenge of economies of scale and not getting the right equipment to get up the value chain in recycling.
Marcy: Special thanks to our sponsors The Swire Group Charitable Trust- creating positive change in Education, Marine and Arts though supporting registered non-profit organisations, primarily in Hong Kong and mainland China.
If you like what you hear, subscribe to the Sustainable Asia podcast, and please give us a rating! You can also find Sustainable Asia on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Show notes are posted on our website sustainableasia.co.
The Plasticity Podcast is produced by Sustainable Asia, in collaboration with Ocean Recovery Alliance. The series was created by me, Marcy Trent Long; written, edited and mixed by Sam Bekemans. The music in this episode is made from repurposed and recovered waste items by Alexander Mauboussin; Learn more at kalelover.net
Marcy Trent Long