MBA Polymers set for an overground resource boom

MBA Polymers’ latest processing innovation reinforces its status as a leading multinational plastics recycling company with ongoing success in recovering value from plastic waste streams.

MBA Polymers announced 
in April that it had opened the world’s first commercial production line recovering a particular plastic from highly-mixed shredded e-waste.

This is the latest in a string of achievements and innovations by the multinational plastics recycling and technology company since founder Dr Mike Biddle started investigating how to separate plastic from complex waste streams from the garage of his California home in 1992.

“The main difference between our process and that of others is that we found a way to separate plastics at
 a particle level, by type and grade,” says Mike.

Mike says MBA’s various processes were developed and refined over seven or eight years thanks to research projects by the automotive, electronics and polyplastics sectors, and grants from government agencies. The company then developed the technology to scale and automate those processes to achieve better purities and economies of scale.

“The technology has been the enabler to the game-changing things the company’s achieved,” Mike states.

MBA reimagined and revolutionised the large-scale recycling of plastics from complex, widely-available post-consumer waste streams, such as e-waste, end of life vehicles and, more recently, household mixed plastics waste.

With this unique approach and technology, the company has become an acknowledged, reputable global leader in recycling plastics from these sources, with the capacity to process more than 125 million tonnes a year at its facilities in China, Austria and the UK.

The re-processed products are sold back into the automotive, electrical, industrial and consumer markets
for manufacturing. Its premium trademarked EvoSource ABS and HIPS (high-impact polystyrene) grades are currently used in products including electronics, computer peripherals, cars, and small household appliances.

“The companies whose products we recycle often become our customers, in what is a true circular economy process in action,” says Mike. “The reason we’re process e-waste in southern China, for example, is because it’s the largest manufacturing base for electronics in the world – it’s convenient for supplying our product back into the market.”

The point of difference

What MBA has achieved, few have done in the past for plastics. Recycling plastics used to mean “down-cycling” the material for use in items like plastic benches or crates, which have low appearance and strength requirements.

“We have been able to take extremely complex mixtures and create grades of plastic that are replacement quality for virgin material,” Mike says. “Just like the transition with steel products over generations: the recovered product was first used only in applications such as reinforcing bars in concrete, but the quality improved to be used in high- spec applications, like cars.”

Most of MBA’s products are 
now based on 100 per cent grade post-consumer plastics (minus
small amounts of additives used to achieve colour other properties some manufacturers require.) They can be used for products requiring a quality appearance.

However, Mike says the difference between MBA and other material recyclers was developing the technology to enable the processing of a wide range of mixed materials to in turn produce new material at scale. This provides the economics required to drive the business.

“If you’re using plastics from one source, this usually limits your ability to scale,” Mike explains. “For example, for a PET bottle recycler, the bale has to be predominantly that material with low contamination to run cost-efficiently. As we can take mixed plastics, we can build larger facilities, and access much larger quantities of feedstock.

“The big companies wouldn’t use us if we couldn’t supply hundreds of tonnes of one given type and grade of material with consistent and high- quality properties,” he adds.

MBA’s international facilities

After starting the business and opening his first small-scale commercial facility in the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1990s, Mike then looked outside the US for opportunities to expand.

“Waste management policies were much stronger overseas than in the
US, and our model was to handle waste responsibly, which depended on suppliers and customers to do the right thing as well,” says Mike.

In 2004, the company created a joint venture with Guangzhou Iron and Steel Enterprises for a recycling facility in China. It commissioned
 the plant in early 2006, which now employs around 75 people. The site is in the Nansha Economic Development

Zone District of Guangzhou, within easy reach of many major global manufacturers of consumer electronics and IT equipment.

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