Industry Case Study
Insights on companies on-the-ground
Getting Creative: Novel Molecular Recycling Products Allow for Increased Resource Efficiency in New Sectors
In November 2021, Closed Loop Partners released its latest report on molecular recycling, Transitioning to a Circular System for Plastics: Assessing Molecular Recycling Technologies in the United States and Canada. As part of this study, our team released a series of case studies meant to highlight best practices and lessons learned from molecular recycling companies advancing these technologies on-the-ground.
Building a circular economy for plastics means addressing all kinds of plastic waste, including and beyond single-use plastic packaging waste.
In the United States and Canada, two-thirds of the plastic produced, from children’s toys to lawn chairs, do not currently have end of life solutions and end up in landfills, incinerators, or worse, the natural environment. Meanwhile, companies across the world have made ambitious sustainability pledges to limit their waste and increase their use of recycled content in products and packaging, but many are struggling to source enough recycled plastic to meet demand. There are two primary reasons for this. First, federal regulations limit the use of recycled plastic content in specific applications, especially with regard to food grade plastics, making it difficult for recycled content to re-enter the industry it came from and maintain its highest economic value. Second, incorporating higher levels of recycled plastic content can be challenging for plastic producers who struggle to process highly variable plastic waste that could cause performance issues in the final products.
Increasingly, innovative molecular recycling technologies are being recognized for their ability to (1) expand the scope of what we can recycle, processing a wider set of plastic waste feedstock into like-new materials without compromising quality or being downcycled and (2) upcycle waste feedstocks into materials suitable for new markets that were not previously open to using recycled plastic, thereby incentivizing collection and diversion from landfill.
GREENMANTRA is a Canadian-based molecular recycling company that uses a patented catalytic depolymerization process to transform discarded plastic into unique polymer additives and specialty waxes. The company creates novel specialty products from plastic waste, bringing end-of-life solutions to plastics that are currently overlooked, and increasing the sustainability of industrial sectors like construction and infrastructure.
Because GREENMANTRA molecularly transforms plastic waste into new materials, the company can design the products for specific markets that did not previously utilize recycled plastics. For example, GREENMANTRA’s specialty waxes are engineered to easily mix into asphalt formulations that are ultimately used to build pavements, roads, and roofing products etc. The products are completely compatible with asphalt and can displace other petrochemical derived products to enhance and strengthen the durability of asphalt formulations. Furthermore, the products can reduce the overall carbon footprint for asphalt product manufacturers by reducing paving temperatures and energy demands.
GREENMANTRA prides itself on the company’s ability to reduce overall manufacturing costs for customers — a market advantage they have had time to develop and validate since their first paving project with the City of Vancouver in 2014. Since then, the company has partnered on other recycled plastic modified (RPM) asphalt paving projects with companies including, most recently, Nova Chemicals and Shell Polymers, which together expect to divert more than the equivalent of three million single-use plastic bags.
GREENMANTRA targets recycling hard-to-recycle plastics that don’t currently have end-of-life solutions like markers. The company has partnered with Crayola to turn post-use markers into additives that are used by companies like Malarkey, a major roofing product manufacturer.
A major part of the company’s success has been its ability to perfect the technology to create consistent products out of inconsistent waste feedstocks and deliver value to a wide range of customers: from roofing product manufacturers all the way to paving companies. They have been a formidable force in building new end markets for recycled plastics in the paving and roofing industry, and they have been able to do so through thoughtful communication, consistent customer education, and successful pilot projects along the way.
Call to Action
Innovators, entrepreneurs, and corporations striving to increase sustainability in manufacturing all have a role to play to ensure that we explore and expand ways to maintain resources in our economy for multiple cycles. Policymakers can spur end market development too. For example, the Save Our Seas Act 2.0, which passed in December 2020, allocates a large amount of funding to finding new uses for recycled plastics in infrastructure and road applications. And the recently passed ~$1 trillion Infrastructure Bill, combined with the pending Build Back Better Act, offers an unprecedented opportunity for the United States to upgrade our highway systems and infrastructure resilience with climate friendly technologies, encouraging construction companies to reduce their carbon footprint in their supply chains and manufacturing operations. GREENMANTRA and other innovative companies in the molecular recycling space will be ready to support these exciting initiatives in the coming years.
It begs the question of what circularity will look like in the future where resources are maintained in the system for multiple generations, but not always in the same sector. New end-markets for recycled plastic waste will continue to develop as technologies mature, and it will take creativity, innovation, and patience to unlock the economic value from plastic waste in our collective transition from a linear to circular plastics economy.