Swindon, UK — In 2016, Recycling Technologies was part of the first cohort of the Barclays Unreasonable Impact accelerator, which supports entrepreneurs that are providing solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. Two years on it has booked £65m of future sales and is opening a UK factory with capacity for 300 employees. Founder and CEO Adrian Griffiths tells us the story of his company and how it plans to change the world of plastic recycling.
The idea behind Adrian Griffiths’ company, Recycling Technologies, first came to him in 2010, when he was looking at a Warwick University project on plastic waste. “I was one of those people who would put plastic into the right bin, then a chap would take it away, and I thought it was all done. But when you dig beneath the surface, you realise only 10% of plastic is recycled, and only 2% is recycled back into the product it came from – it dawned on me that there’s an enormous amount of material with which we can do something better. Plastic has a great place in the environment in cutting down on food waste and carbon emissions – just as long as you do something sensible with it at the end of its life.”
In 2016, Griffiths was invited to join the first cohort of Unreasonable Impact – an accelerator partnership between Barclays and Unreasonable Group – and accepted out of “a degree of curiosity common to start-up companies”. While on the programme, he says: “We met a lot of great people. We stay in touch with most of the other nine companies: there’s a collegiate sense still there. And we can tap back into Barclays to some of the people we met.”
Fast-forward to 2018, and Griffiths’ company has booked £65m of sales of their future output, while opening an assembly facility in Swindon, South West England with plans to take on 300 employees.
The technology behind Recycling Technology’s proposition – processing recyclable plastic into oil that can be re-used in plastic production – existed, says Griffiths, a former management consultant, but the economics couldn’t work until his company found a way of “shrinking down the process”:
“Petrochemical companies had been doing this at the end of the 90s, so it wasn’t so much the process that was difficult to conquer, it was how to get it to work economically. They wanted to build big central facilities and transport plastic large distances, but plastic is very lightweight and very low cost – that’s why it’s fantastic packaging material – but when it’s waste it’s still lightweight and zero value, so you don’t want to transport it any distance. So, with high capital cost and high operational cost, they couldn’t make the economics of it work.
“I thought: what if you shrink this thing down and build a machine rather than a refinery? We’ve designed a mass-produced machine that we can take to waste facilities around the world. We sell the machine to the facility operators, who can use it to turn the materials back into oil. You can then sell the oil back to the petrochemical companies, who can make more plastic from it. It makes plastic a circular economy.”
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