From now on Sunday is AcoZunday. We will update you every week (hopefully) about the latest news, share our progress, explain our ideas and present insights from the recycling world.
Today, we want to answer the question “How did we get to the point where we are today?”. It is by far the most frequently asked question we have received since founding AcoZystem.
There are two perspectives we want to explore a little bit more in detail. On the one hand we have the macro economic and historic perspective on plastic waste and on the other hand there is the journey we went through to ultimately found AcoZystem. Obviously we wouldn’t have experienced the latter without the ecological and economic disaster plastic waste and the way it is (not) managed all around the world, has become. So let’s start with that one.
Since its true mass market adoption in the 1950s the global community has produced more than 8 billion tons of plastics. Historically about 10% of this plastic waste has been recycled and another 12% have been burnt (in one way or another). The rest has been landfilled or discarded into the nature. Most of you reading this will have heard this, so we avoid counting down more mindboggling statistics. It is just a HUGE mess that the Global North has put together over 70 years for future generations to deal with.
Growing up in an ecologically minded German middle-class family in the ’90s I didn’t see that problem in my immediate surroundings. We only used fabric bags for shopping, we complained about triple packed biscuits and drank from glass bottles. Any waste we produced was separated in four different containers and collected by our local recycling company.
So I was stunned when I started traveling abroad and realized that entire school cafeterias for thousands of students are running on plastic plates and cutlery or that there are instructions on plastic containers to cut plastic rings before disposal so that they don’t strangle marine animals. All this seemed strange but when I was able to visit countries like Vietnam, China, Thailand or Mexico I finally experienced what this strange usage of plastics meant to the environment. Each time I researched for hours what possibilities there are to get rid of plastic waste in the Global South, but I didn’t find a truly satisfactory and scalable technological solution. What really frustrated me the most, was that while I was walking along the beaches collecting as much trash as I was able to carry, I found not a single item where I was able to see the unquestionable necessity to make it from plastic.
So finally, in late 2019, I came across several start-ups developing and building compact machinery transforming unsorted plastic waste into pyrolysis oil. Consequently, I dug deeper and got in touch with the inspiring leaders of these companies who helped me understand the technology and build the business model from the ground up.
At about the same time I read “The Divide” by Jason Hickel (highly, highly recommended). A book that shattered my worldview and reinforced my belief that there is a need for international collaboration where the majority of the value chain and the profits is set in the Global South.