Feb 7, 2024 - News

Phoenix plastic recycling facility touted as the first of its kind

A man speaks to a crowd from an elevated walkway alongside a large piece of industrial equipment.

Tyler Eglen of ASU's Rob & Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service leads a tour of its new microfactory. Photo: Jeremy Duda/Axios

A new microfactory in Phoenix will manufacture products from plastic waste it has collected and processed.

Why it matters: The Circular Plastics Microfactory takes plastic waste that may otherwise end up in landfills and converts it on site.

  • Rather than being shipped to other states or countries for recycling, as is it in many cities, the waste can now be reprocessed locally to create products for use in the area.
  • The collection, processing and remanufacture of local plastic waste for reuse in the community make the facility the first of its kind, organizers say.
  • "We're trying to create a local circular system," Raj Buch, a business development director at Arizona State University's Walton Sustainability Solutions Service, which runs the facility, told Axios Phoenix.

Be smart: "The technology's existed for decades. ... But nobody's actually brought all of this together where you're creating local jobs, using local waste, and into local end markets," Buch added.

Zoom in: Once processed into pellets, the plastics are pressed into new products, ranging from "plastic lumber" and furniture to skateboards.

  • "Anything that you can design and turn into a mold, we can extrude that plastic into it and make that product," Tyler Eglen, a project manager associate with Walton Service, told a group during a tour on Tuesday.
  • For example, if you know how many soccer shin guards are purchased in the area annually, the facility could determine how much feedstock is needed to make and sell them locally, Alicia Marseille, a senior director with Walton Service, told Axios.
  • The facility has already connected with others locally in the plastics industry who want to buy the pellets it'll produce.

State of play: Officials from the City of Phoenix, ASU, Goodwill and Hustle PHX gathered for a ribbon-cutting on Tuesday, near 51st Avenue and Van Buren Street.

  • The facility is supported with some funding from the city and primarily uses plastic "feedstock" provided by Goodwill — though some also comes from the city, including signs leftover from last year's Super Bowl.
  • The facility is also collaborating with Hustle PHX, a nonprofit that empowers entrepreneurs in underserved communities, to connect with people in its workforce training and entrepreneur development programs.

Between the lines: Buch said the Phoenix microfactory will process between 500-1,000 tons of plastic per year.

  • Finding enough plastic for larger-scale facilities can be difficult, but the Goodwill partnership provides enough for this scale.

Reality check: There's lots of plastic waste available, but it's not sorted.

  • "We throw it all into a blue bin and magically it's supposed to be separated and processed and re-manufactured into a product," Buch said.

What's next: The ultimate goal is commercialization, though there's no timeline for that, Marseille said.

  • She suggested Walton Service could eventually operate 10 microfactories, each employing 10 to 15 people, in the region.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to say the microfactory will process 500-1,000 tons (not pounds) of plastic annually.

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