US businessman and scientist Dr Mike Biddle is living proof of the old saying, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." He has turned trash into a billion-dollar recycling business.Now he's calling on Caribbean businessmen to capitalise on the money-making opportunities that recycling offers.Biddle, founder and president of MBA Polymers, a company based in Richmond, California, told the Sunday Guardian: "Garbage is profitable in sufficient volumes."
He said MBA Polymers, is the largest recycler of plastics from complex waste streams–electronics, appliances, automobiles and even municipal solid waste that nobody wants to use.In a recent interview in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Biddle said Caribbean businessmen have ample opportunities in environment-related businesses like recycling.
"In the Caribbean there is a lot of plastic and there is a strong desire to see it be recycled instead of throwing it to waste and I suspect there is a business case to be made," he said.Biddle suggested a recycling industry in the region with concentration points on various islands, including processing plants on one or two islands fed by several islands.
Biddle, who was in Jamaica to speak at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Land-Ocean Connections (GLOC-2) conference on marine litter, nutrients and waste water management, admitted that plastic recycling requires a hefty investment.However, he said, there is profitability in the industry as MBA Polymers has established operations in China, Austria and the United Kingdom.In the Caribbean, he said, consumer awareness is key to making a recycling business successful.
"I think the challenge is first awareness that it is possible to recycle these highly complex and mixed plastics and secondly figuring out how to aggregate sufficient quantities of it so that you can do it cost effectively," he said.Biddle said there is no single figure that can be used in starting a recycling business since it could range from US$1 million to US$40 million and depends on the size and how sophisticated the processing of the materials would be.
About MBA Polymers
MBA Polymers started in Biddle's garage in 1992. Back then he was working in the plastics industry and always felt there was a better way to make plastics using waste rather than oils.With 15 years of experience under his belt, Biddle convinced his then employer to give him a shot at researching and developing his idea. He was successful in his research in using waste to make plastics, but the employer turned down his idea.
"They said they were not in the business of garbage, so I went out on my own about 20 years ago and since then made about three evolutions in the company as R and D (Research and Development), as a demonstration company and finally now as a global producer of recycled plastics," he said.Biddle said the company still has some way to go before it is "successful."
"I have to make a lot of money. These are very expensive plants and we are still working on getting all that investment back. It takes a long time. It is huge investments," he said.He said one of the main obstacles his company faces is getting access to sufficient amounts of material.
"It sounds a little crazy because there is so much plastic in the world but our biggest challenge is making sure we can secure sufficient material to feed a very large scale plant. These plants have to be large to do it in a way that protects the environment and in a way that protects people," he explained.Biddle said his hope is that plastic recycling takes off and the global problem of plastics waste is solved.
"I think I am no different from anybody else. I want to make difference and I am happy I am able and feel extremely lucky to ne able to leverage my educational training and my business training in an area that can make a difference," he said.He added that as a father of two he wants to ensure that his children get to enjoy the environment for years to come."I hope I can have an impact on future generations and I can leave them in a better place than I found them and I can motivate them to follow their passion.
"It is not just about getting more people to care about the environment, it is trying to tell people to follow their passion even if it is not the environment," Biddle said.