- Plastic waste can take up to 1,000 years to break down.
- Every year, manufacturers burn $80 to $120 billion worth of fossil fuels to make single-use plastic items, like water and soda bottles.
- Even if plastics are recycled, the process requires additional energy which releases even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
- Loop Industries is a Canadian company reinventing the process of upcycling, which has been around since the 1960s, but until now, was very expensive.
- Instead of using petroleum and natural gas, Loop takes existing plastic items and polyester fibers and turns them into new plastic.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: This pile of scraps is actually shredded plastic and clothing, and it’s about to be turned into bottles. We all know plastic waste is a problem. It can take up to 1,000 years to break down, which can lead to things like this. Every year, manufacturers burn $80 to $120 billion worth of fossil fuels to make single-use plastic items, like water and soda bottles, meaning it’s used once and then discarded.
And even if it’s recycled, that requires additional energy, which releases even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. One company rethinking all this is Canadian-based Loop Industries. Instead of using petroleum and natural gas, Loop takes already existing plastic items along with polyester fiber materials, like carpets and T-shirts, then breaks them down to be turned into new plastic products. And the upside? It doesn’t require the energy conventional recycling centers need, which helps reduce greenhouse gases.
Daniel Solomita: Not only are we using waste plastics, but we’re using waste plastics that have no value today. So, those are the plastics that end up in the ocean and your rivers and landfills, because no one can do anything with the material. So, Loop’s technology is built to take very low-value material and create a very high-value product out of it.
Narrator: This isn’t really recycling; it’s upcycling. This concept of upcycling has been around since the 1960s. However, it is traditionally done with heat and pressure. It’s very expensive. So, how exactly does Loop’s process work?
Solomita: Everyone else in the world that manufactures those two monomers starts from fossil fuels, either natural gas or crude oil. We make the exact same petrochemicals, except we don’t use the petroleum; we use waste plastic. And then we rebuild those monomers back into brand new plastic.
Narrator: Imagine the waste plastic is a chocolate cake. Loop’s process pretty much breaks down the chocolate cake into its basic ingredients: the eggs, the flour, the sugar, and the chocolate. Each ingredient is broken down and separated into its purest form. For our cake metaphor, that means going so far as putting the egg back in its shell. Then, Loop takes the purified ingredients and bakes a brand new cake. To start, they load these massive reactors with a bunch of waste plastic and add in Loop’s own proprietary catalyst.
Solomita: What our catalyst that we’ve developed does is it goes in and it cuts the bonds between those two chemicals and releases them.
Narrator: The catalyst breaks down the waste into its two base monomers: DMT, dimethyl terephthalate, and MEG, monoethylene glycol. After that, the separated DMT and MEG monomers are purified to remove additives, like dye. The purified DMT and MEG are then turned back into PET, polyethylene terephthalate, which is the base material for many plastic products. These PET pellets are then sold to bottling and packaging companies. The pellets are loaded into their machines, which molds them into the final packaging shape. And after it’s used as a plastic water bottle, color container, polyester fiber, or more, it can be broken down and built back up again, a continuous cycle that doesn’t require fossil fuels. Loop’s finished products are currently being used by Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Evian. And they’re currently building their first American facility in South Carolina. Let’s hope it’s sustainable enough to make this disappear.