Converting Plastics Back Into Oil

Tal Cohen, the Founder and CEO at PlasticBack, took some time to talk about what he’s working on, what the landscape of recycling looks like, and where the market is heading.

Can you describe what your company does and the impact?
PlasticBack has developed a unique and proprietary technology of plastic waste chemical recycling at far lower temperatures than current processes (below 100 degrees, compared to between 600 and 1000 degrees).

It can become a key in reducing plastic waste worldwide. Using chemical oxidation technology, PlasticBack is able to convert plastic waste (back) to crude oil and valuable chemicals which can be used to create new plastics and alternative fuels. In addition, PlasticBack can convert high density forms of plastics. The economical and sustainable benefits of the technology are enormous.

The world produces more than 330 million tons of plastic each year, a lot of which ends up as waste.

Since the beginning of mass production in the 1950’s, over 8 billion tons of plastic waste has been accumulated in landfills and natural environments. It can take up to 1,000 years for plastic to decompose. This huge accumulation of plastic in the environment adversely affects human and wildlife.

Shortage in landfill space, growing regulation and environmental awareness are driving innovation in the plastic recycling market. It’s a big business and current recycling technologies are limited, and exporting waste to be burnt in China is certainly not sustainable.

PlasticBack is creating value in waste and is working towards reducing landfills, ocean dumping and burn sites in an economic and environmental-friendly manner.

What does the current market look like?
There are three main plastic waste recycling technologies that are currently being used. About 8% of annual waste produced is mechanically recycled, 12% is treated by incineration processes, some is chemically recycled and the rest is landfilled.

The solution of choice is Mechanical Recycling.

It is about cleaning, grinding and heating without changing the chemical structure of the plastic. This approach is restricted to a few plastic forms. The second approach is Incineration, which is also problematic. The third approach is Chemical Recycling, which converts plastic to fuel (PTF) and requires high temperatures and hence a lot of energy, large facilities and tends to be economically inefficient.

What are the current and future trends in the sector?
Current trends in the market, driven by regulation and consumer demand, are pushing to circular technologies able to produce raw material and new plastics from plastic waste. The emphasis is on the production of new plastics, rather than electricity, fuels, and other non-circular applications.

China’s decision to limit plastic waste imports in 2017 and the EU’s new €700 per ton levy on plastic waste landfilling will be the driving forces in the near future for new technologies and business models in the plastic recycling industry.

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Daniel Kriozere

Daniel Kriozere

Impact Investment Analyst at One World | Startup Weekend Facilitator | Climate Tech Enthusiast