Plastics recycling operation raises $6.6M

Faith Merino · September 14, 2010 · Short URL:

MBA Polymers receives financing from Honeywell and Citi

As Mr. McGuire says in The Graduate: "One word: plastics."

MBA Polymers, a company that recovers and recycles plastics, on this week raised $6.6 million in financing, according to a filing with the SEC.  The financing was led by Honeywell Capital Management and Citi’s Sustainable Development Investments, with participation from Less Plastics Limited from Hong Kong, Doughty Hanson Technology Ventures, and Balderton Capital.  MBA Polymer’s last round of funding raised $40 million in 2008, which brings the company to a total of $46.6 million.

MBA Polymers has made a name for itself in its plastics recovery process.  Most recycling organizations start out with a pure stream of plastics -- essentially, plastic materials that don’t require any sorting or separation.  But MBA Polymers, founded in 1994 by Michael Biddle and Trip Allen, starts with a complex stream of goods, which translates to mixed materials.  The Richmond, Calif.-based company recovers plastics from engineering goods like computers, appliances, and cars. 

The recovered plastics are then sorted, cleaned, and formed into tiny little pellets that can then be used to create new parts for the same complex goods that they came from.  Non-plastic items (like metal bits) are sent to local recycling centers for those specific materials.

And MBA has an advantage in the plastics field: plastics are a lot cheaper to recycle and reuse than they are to create in the first place.  First, the process of actually creating the plastic starts with oils, which costs quite a bit right there.  Second, the actual manufacturing process to turn those oils into plastic is even more expensive.

“To make that pellet from petrochemicals takes about 20 times as much oil and energy than it does to start with our garbage to make the same product,” said MBA Polymers CEO Michael Biddle in an interview with Manufacturing Today.  “Chemical companies to the hard work of getting molecules to combine in exact ways into specific plastics.  We just separate the plastics from one another.”

And MBA Polymers’ process is considerably more environmentally friendly.  But the company does run into a couple of problems with this process, one of which is the product’s appearance.  Because MBA cannot remove or change the color of the plastics it separates, it can only do its best to color-sort the plastics and thus cannot provide the same aesthetically pleasing product that a plastics manufacturer can. 

And then there is the question of quality.  Other recyclers typically start off with a pure stream of raw materials that have met certain quality standards, but MBA’s raw materials—because they come from mixed sources—tend to fluctuate from batch to batch, so the company has had to work that much harder to adapt to fluctuating feedstreams and occasionally has to buy materials to supplement.

To process all of this material, MBA operates a 90,000 square-foot plant that includes an identification lab to identify and characterize plastics, shredding and screening equipment, storage silos, and a quality assurance lab.

In 2005, MBA opened a plant in Guangzhou, China, and another in Kematen, Austria in 2006.

MBA Polymers could not be reached for comment.

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