Additive A Catalyst For Recycling Revolution

Feb. 4, 2021

Recycling is a hot topic in Cleveland, Ohio, these days. It seems that the city has been duping diligent dividers of plastics and simply dumping bins designated as recyclables into the general trash pit with all garbage. You can read about the controversy here. 

In addition to the shady practices in the city, suburbs of Cleveland also have a tough time getting folks to properly recycle. One rogue piece of non-recyclable material could jeopardize the entire bin and send it to the dump. My husband and I battle weekly on what is considered appropriate. He contends anything with the recycle symbol is fair game. I point out that it’s not true and show him the city’s waste management website that says otherwise.

Factor in all the litterbugs and a drive around the town showcases yet another trash failure -- stuff that gets cast off without any debate on its eligibility for a new life or a life at the landfill.

Meanwhile, a British company seems to have a partial answer to all this confusion. Polymateria has created a formula to transform plastic items such as bottles, cups and film into a sludge at a specific moment in the product’s life.

According to the company’s website, their work has led to the development of a new British standard for biodegradable plastic. The new BSI PAS 9017 addresses a significant gap in the plastics landscape to ensure claims about biodegradability can be independently verified without causing any harm to the environment. 

So how does it work? Per the site, a ‘drop-in’ additive, which comes in pellet form, is added to plastic resin during the manufacturing process. This additive contains catalysts and cocatalysts and after a period specified by the manufacturer, the catalysts in the masterbatch break down the hard crystalline and amorphous structure into a wax-like substance through multiple chemical reactions, achieving carbon-carbon bond scission and ensuring no microplastics are created. The company’s proprietary use of ‘synthetic’ prebiotics attract natural agents of decay like microbes, fungi and bacteria to fully consume the wax-like substance. The time-controlled feature allows for recycling and a ‘Recycle By’ date to empower consumers and encourage responsible disposal.

However, it doesn’t solve all recycling problems. The company points out that nothing biodegrades in landfill, and its technology is no different. For now, this is a great fix for litter.

An article from National Geographic sums it up well, “Although it can be recycled in the normal way, what’s more is that – should it get discarded as litter – instead of languishing on roadsides, at fly-tipping sites and eventually ending up in the rivers and the oceans like so much normal plastic, it will decompose into harmless waxes in a matter of months. Bacteria and fungi will digest these waxes, breaking them down into carbon dioxide, water and more microbes. Crucially, there are no microplastics left behind.” 

As for the problems in Cleveland, public shame will hopefully serve up a suitable remedy and ensure all the appropriate bottles, cardboard and plastics find their way to a facility that will give them new life.

Traci Purdum will continue to quietly remove the wrong recyclables from her home bin so that no bad actors slip by. 

About the Author

Traci Purdum | Editor-in-Chief

Traci Purdum, an award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering manufacturing and management issues, is a graduate of the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent, Ohio, and an alumnus of the Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

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