In the UK we throw away mountains of plastic waste and use lots of plywood. Apart from a small amount of plastic bottles and an even smaller number of plastic bags, pretty well all the rest of our plastic debris is discarded, never to be used again. Omer Kutluoglu, a half-Turkish entrepreneur and INSEAD graduate, thinks this is ludicrous. One of his previous businesses was selling small cheap electronics – phones, MPG players and similar – many of which are bought as disposable items.
I visited Omer at the site of his new factory near Luton. His business, 2k Manufacturing is setting up to start recycling large quantities of mixed plastic, including electronic waste, into a product called Eco Sheet.
The brilliant thing about this process is that it can take mixed plastic from pretty well any source and even contaminated material – bits of paper and metal for example don’t cause a problem. This avoids a huge amount of sorting and grading, which is a significant part of most recycling processes. It also means that the volume of raw material for the process is almost infinite and it will be diverted from the waste stream.
There are lots of products that could use Eco Sheet but 2k have decided to focus on replacing plywood for the building trade and signage industry, which gets through between 20 and 25 million 8ft by 4ft sheets every year. This is virgin wood – some of it from rainforest areas. The plywood boards, used as fascia for building sites are often discarded after a single use – they are damaged by getting wet. But the Eco Sheets are impermeable to water and can be used again and again. They are also lighter, don’t have splinters and are cost competitive.
The plant in Luton is just gearing up but, not surprisingly, demand from the building industry is high – it looks likely to exceed supply as soon as the product becomes available. Other plants are planned around the country. My view is that the sooner they’re up and running the better. The building trade is currently the most wasteful industry on the planet. Anything we can do to lessen that has to be a good thing.