Mike Biddle: Why plastic is still ‘the last frontier’ of recycling
This month, Mike Biddle, the founder and longtime CEO of a pioneering plastics-recycling company called MBA Polymers, stepped down as an executive at the firm, ending more than two decades of unrelenting effort to reduce plastic waste.
Biddle’s story is one of great success, as well as ongoing frustration. He sat down with me last week at the 2014 GreenBiz Forum in Phoenix to talk about MBA Polymers, the potential of the so-called circular economy, and why, despite all we know, the vast majority of plastics discarded in the US still wind up in incinerators, landfills or, worse, the ocean.
Plastics, he says, remains “the last frontier of recycling.”
Biddle, who is 58 and has a PhD in chemical engineering from Case Western and an MBA from Stanford, left a good job at Dow Chemical in 1992 in the hope of solving the difficult puzzle of plastics recycling. During the next seven years, he attracted about $7m in grants and loans from the state of California, the Environmental Protection Agency and a plastics industry trade group.
The money enabled him to develop a set of technologies needed to make high-quality plastic pellets – which can be used to make new products – from big, messy and mixed post-consumer waste streams, particularly electronic waste and junked automobiles. He calls it “above-ground mining.” (MBA Polymers doesn’t bother with PET plastics, the type used to make soda bottles, leaving that particular waste stream to the beverage industry.)