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Interview with Steven Burns

07 julio 2017

Steven Burns

Steven Burns: "Our technology is producing 99% pure feedstocks that create more value for everybody in the supply chain"

Steven Burns: "Our technology is producing 99% pure feedstocks that create more value for everybody in the supply chain"

Steven Burns Steven Burns is Commercial Director at Impact Solutions, focusing on the 'green' and innovation sectors. He is also a co-inventor of the BOSS technology, and comes from a background in international recycling, with extensive experience in electronic recycling in Asia. His recent work has seen him heavily exposed to the European recycling markets and the problems facing the recycling industry. Scotland, where he comes from, has introduced a ban on plastic to landfill, and EU targets dictate that 60% of plastic should be recycled by 2020. However, the diverse range of plastics used daily make these goals seem impossible, given the difficulties in processing a mixed plastic waste stream. Existing technologies fill certain niches, but innovative technology is needed if these goals are to be met. Burns describes in this conversation how his company has developed a new way to separate different grades of plastics, turning something worth nothing into materials worth as much as £500 per tonne. According to Burns, the EU sends over 12 million tonnes of plastics to landfill every year, enough to fill 500,000 double-decker buses, but Impact Recycling has come up with a novel solution oscillation technique to sort out the plastics in water.

What is in your opinion the best way to prevent plastics from going to landfills?

Make them valuable! Right now, you must pay to get rid of waste either you pay the incinerator or the landfill tax. That is why a lot of plastics leaks out of the system and end up in the oceans. The only way to create a circular economy is by encouraging people to keep value in the system given financial incentives to recycle.

You are involved in the development of the BOSS technology. Could you explain what is the most interesting point about this technology?

The most interesting thing about it is that BOSS has been created to separate mixed polyolefins. A Polyolefin is an odourless, non-polar, and non-porous material that is used in structural plastics, consumer goods, industrial products, and food packaging. Polyolefins are the 70% of the plastic we use and the same percentage of the mixed waste we produce. Traditionally, it's been very hard to separate polyolefins. The low-cost technologies that can be used for separating plastics cannot be used for polyolefins. There is a report in 2015 from Deloitte which said it was the most expensive feedstock to separate. So, we looked for a way in which we could cost-effectively separate polyolefins.

How does it work?

We use a technology which originally comes from the pharmaceutical industry called baffled oscillation separation system and that makes the acronym BOSS. What it does is removing the surface tension from the plastic and it allows plastic to move where its density will take it and we can manipulate the process to separate the polyolefins into very high purity PP and PE streams, which can go into high value up-locations and product rather than low end-up locations.

Is this a new and disruptive technology?

Yes, it is. It changes the marketplace. Right now, a lot of plastic recyclers, even if they have invested in optical technology, are producing a lower-grade PP or PE that go into low-end uses. Our technology is producing 99% pure feedstocks that can go directly into a manufacturer therefore they can create more value for everybody in the supply chain: from the person who collects the plastic, the person who does the separation right through the manufacturer.

What are now the possibilities of BOSS to hit the market and become widely used?

Our challenge, as a small company, for promoting the technology is to prove to people that it works. We don't have the budget to build 20 units. We are working with some independent recyclers at the moment and we have one full-scale operational unit in London which is proving it can work in a commercial setting. A company came to us. They had invested 2 million euro in a plastic separation plant and they were losing money because they couldn't produce the plastic the customers wanted to buy. So, they tried our technology and then they could supply their customers. They invested much less in BOSS than in optical technology and BOSS clearly outperformed optical. We have been using BOSS for some time and the facts prove that it is works and it helps to make money. This is important because if people can see the return of the investment they will buy it.

Do you see zero waste as a feasible goal for the plastics industry in the next years?

No, there will always be waste. There will always be products that can't be recycled. What we must do is to recycle as much as possible those that can be. We must also put policies in place that allow to develop good designs and financial incentives for sorting and separation technologies.

Impact Solutions

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