Plastic pollution does not have a simple solution and Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao haven’t let that stop them.
Wang and Yao are pioneering a new way in which plastic can be diverted from a landfill or from ending up contributing to a patch of garbage in the ocean.
Their team at BioCellection has developed a way to turn plastics that are not recyclable like polyethylene back into other chemicals.
These chemicals are for things like car parts, electronics and textiles, Yao said in an interview with People Magazine.
The pair met in their eighth grade recycling club and at the age of 18 they took that passion for reducing waste and started to think about what else could be done with it.
It was there that the women learned that bacteria could break down plastics. In an interview with Rolex.org,Wang said that this was just the beginning:
“If cells can find biological ways to change the structure of these carbons then there are possibly chemical ways to be able to do that as well, but much faster and with much greater efficiency,” said Wang.
With this idea BioCellection was born.
Where the Company Is Today
Their lab uses polystyrene, especially low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) flexible plastics, which are usually in the form of grocery bags, bubble wrap, food wrap, and packaging.
They sort, shred it up and then run a chemical process on the plastic that reduces it to a useful product that can be sold.
They are opening up a processing plant that would have the capacity to recycle 45,500 tonnes of otherwise unusable plastic by 2023. This size of an operation would reduce CO2 emissions by 320,000, than if the plastic had gone anywhere else.
BioCellection is currently working with other companies to try and make this technology available in strategic areas around the world so that it can tackle pollution on a larger scale than one operation in California would be able to.
How It Works
Scientists at BioCellection’s lab and produce several different kinds of acid with these plastics that are used for things like solvents and coatings.
These acids, called chemical intermediates, are the first ones made from plastic waste whereas usually these intermediates are made from petroleum.
In this way, the founders solution could not only help to solve plastic pollution but will also offer a valuable product that isn’t produced from fossil fuels and can be sold.
Awards and Accolades
Elle Magazine also named Wang and Yao and one of “27 Women Leading the Charge to Protect Our Environment.” In the same article, the magazine also named women like Greta Thunberg, Shailene Woodley, Dr. Sylvia Earle and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Solutions to New Problems
BioCellection comes at an opportune time. Not only are oceans becoming burdened by plastics, but also just about a year ago China announced it was no longer going to accept plastic from the United States, Australia, or other countries.
According to an article by NPR, the U.S. used to export about 700,000 tons of plastic a year.
In Europe, 95 percent of their plastic was recycled in China before the ban.
This plastic could be recycled in China. However, in places like Indonesia and other destinations for plastic waste, they don’t have the same recycling abilities.
However China did account for about a 25 percent of “mismanaged waste” and if a better solution is found than what was supplied by chinese companies plastic pollution could go down, according to the Yale article.
With one facility processing 50,155 tons of waste, several strategically-placed facilities using BioCellection technology could drastically reduce the amount of unuseable plastic.
In her interview with Rolex Wang said that she thought that there was hope and a solution.
“Humans have an incredible ability to innovate, to survive at times when it matters,” She said, “Now is one of those times.”