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Bid to deal with our own plastics moves apace

prototype machine

When MRW last featured Recycling Technologies (RT) in 2016, the company was in the midst of working with Swindon Borough Council to launch a prototype machine capable of turning any plastic waste into an oil-based product called Plaxx.

At that point, RT focused on using Plaxx to create low-sulphur marine fuel, with the idea of further refining it to produce diesel for vehicles at a later stage. It is now poised to open a factory capable of assembling 200 RT7000 machines, each of which will be capable of turning 7,000 tonnes a year of plastic waste into feedstock for chemical firms – a true circular economy idea of plastic back into plastic.

RT has very high ambitions indeed, and wants to build enough RT7000s to quadruple the capacity in Europe to recycle plastic within 10 years. But chief executive Adrian Griffiths said that, despite fuel-from-waste initiatives being backed by the UK Government, European policy-makers were not keen on the idea.

“The reality is that people were not happy to regard plastic into fuel as a recycling approach. It’s regarded as energy-from-waste (EfW),” he said. “We have made the decision that, wherever we can, and certainly in mainland Europe, we would sell the material back to the likes of Dow and BASF as steam cracker feed, which means that it goes back into being more plastics.”

A phrase Griffiths often uses is “chemical recycling”, and he sees this as a key weapon in tackling plastic waste: “The UK has the capacity to recycle 350,000 tonnes a year of plastic [but] we use five million tonnes of plastic – there’s a massive dislocate. Within a couple of years, we could process all the UK’s plastic.”

The trial machine in Swindon has received a further investment of £750,000 to facilitate the move from fuel to chemical feedstock. The first full commercial RT7000 model will soon be delivered to the Binn Eco Park near Perth in Scotland, as part of a Tay Eco Valley initiative called Project Beacon. This is being backed by grant funding from the Scottish Government.

Griffiths thinks that Scotland’s drive to hit below 5% for landfill by 2025, along with restrictions on the input to all EfW facilities, has been a boon for his company. So have policies pushed forward by Scottish MSPs proved more helpful than the current policy environment in England?

“I think that is fair to say – they are much more grown up, in a sense. They have identified the need for 27 of our machines in Scotland. It’s an emerging deal – clearly everyone wants to see the first one running. Given the success of the first one, the plan will be to roll them out quite quickly afterwards.”

Griffiths is fond of another slogan: “Stop exporting waste, and start exporting the technology to process waste.” To this end, RT has held preliminary talks with waste specialist Deborah Sacks at the Department for International Trade, who he said had been “very supportive”. It has also struck a deal with a Dutch company to send six RT7000s to the Netherlands.

“We are rather keen that all the production doesn’t go to Scotland, and we’ve got multiple sites in England that we have been doing the planning and permitting on.”

Recent media focus on single-use plastics has focused people’s minds and helped to drive interested in RT.

“We are happy with the laminates, the crisp packets, the pouches – all that sort of stuff is fine for us,” Griffiths said. “Now the Government needs to start to think about how we increase capacity of UK plastics recycling. It can’t be right that two-thirds of what we call ‘recycled’ means take it on a ship and send it out to Vietnam, Indonesia or Sri Lanka.

“My message to Michael Gove is to get our own house in order before criticising people overseas.”

Earlier this year, RT announced a £1m equity investment from InterChem. InterChem is a global commodities trader that specialises in the financing, storage, blending and logistics in the worldwide petroleum and petrochemical industry.

RT also attracted support from more than 1,400 investors on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube. Together with InterChem’s investment, which is on the same terms as existing and new Crowdcube investors, the total amount raised to date is just under £3.7m.

Robert Langstraat, InterChem chief executive, said that RT had the “potential to scale rapidly”.

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