Brightmark Energy is a waste and energy development company based in San Francisco. They are the first company in the waste management industry to create a commercial-scale plastic-to-fuel plant. The company broke ground in Ashley, Indiana on May 22, 2019 to create space for employees to use plastics recycling technology to revolutionize waste and recycling in the United States.
After nearly two years of construction, the company has recently opened its doors for business. Company leadership estimates they’ll process 100,000 tons of plastic received from environmental groups, management companies, and manufacturing companies.
Plastics Recycling Technology to Recycle Waste at the End of its Lifecycle
The company’s Indiana plant uses a process that converts plastic from items discarded by consumers and businesses. Their technology subsequently turns old plastics into useful products such as fuel and wax. These products are difficult to recycle otherwise and include such items as:
- Children’s toys
- Flexible packing material
- Plastic film
- Styrofoam cups
This facility accepts single-use plastic waste such as water bottles. Their trademarked machine technology converts plastic on a commercial scale for mass distribution.
The BP Oil Company in London and the AM WAX company based in Santa Fe Springs, California were among the first businesses to express interest in purchasing recycled oil and gas products from Brightmark. BP was especially impressed with Brightmark’s oil made from recycled plastic. The oil contains diesel fuel with exceptionally low levels of sulfur.
The Problem of Plastic Overflow in the United States
Americans produce an average of 33 million tons of plastic waste every year. Many assume their plastic waste gets recycled once they place it in a bin for curbside pickup. However, the reality is that waste management companies currently only recycle approximately 9% of discarded plastic.
Brightmark’s solution is innovative at a time when the country is quickly running out of landfill space to store its waste. By giving new life to products that would otherwise sit for centuries in a landfill before decomposing, Brightmark hopes it has started a trend that other waste and energy development companies will follow.
90% of all the #plastic #waste ever created has never been #recycled. There's now over 6.3 billion tonnes of it.
We need to do better. It's time to end the age of single use items (whether paper or plastic).#Wasteless #buyless #GoReuseable pic.twitter.com/dwFPqv8fWm
— Mike Hudema (@MikeHudema) February 24, 2021
Plastics-to-Fuel Technology is not without Criticism
Brightmark is years ahead of competitors in developing solutions for America’s plastic waste problem. Nonetheless, some feel that plastics-to-fuel technology presents its own set of risks. For example, plants such as the Indiana facility operated by Brightmark can produce harmful emissions when employees heat plastic to prepare it for the conversion process. Diesel fuel can also contribute to air pollution.
Despite these minimal criticisms, company leadership at Brightmark insists its plastics-to-fuel technology poses less risk than the United States continuing on the path it’s on in terms of running out of room for plastic waste. If companies like Brightmark don’t step up to offer new solutions for the problem, oceans could contain more plastic waste than marine life within 30 years.
A Solicitation for Waste in July 2020
Approximately 14 months after initiating development of the Ashley, Indiana plant, Brightmark announced that it wanted other waste facilities to send up to 2.4 million tons of plastic for its employees to recycle. That number represented more plastic waste than all material handling companies in the United States combined process on a yearly basis.
In its nationwide announcement, Brightmark indicated it was especially interested in plastics with recycling codes numbered 1 through 7 that are typically the most difficult to recycle. Plastics 3 through 7 are the most challenging to recycle and represent plastic waste found most often in landfills and oceans. The response was overwhelming, and Brightmark was happy to convert so much plastic into practical commercial products.
#Waste solutions company @BrightmarkE is converting #plastic waste into #fuel. pic.twitter.com/MhlqoIshTt @techinsider
— Anja Hoffmann (@HoffmannAnja) February 10, 2021
Other Countries Using Plastics Recycling Technology
While Brightmark is the first commercial-scale plastics-to-oil company in the United States, it is not the first in the world. Similar businesses began operating prior to 2019 in Asia and Europe. Those energy and waste management companies may have expanded in the United States before Brightmark broke ground for the Ashley, Indiana plant if not for operational costs, access to necessary materials, and the cost of purchasing equivalent fuels.
Brightmark Plans to Expand its United States Operations
The demand for a waste management and recycling solution on a commercial scale has only grown in recent years. Officials from nearly 1,000 cities across the nation have contacted Brightmark. Their enthusiasm indicates the demand for such facilities and technology.
Although the company cannot build that many plants, its leadership feels encouraged by the enthusiasm. As such, they plan to open additional plants in several regions of the United States. Communitieswill have to wait just a bit longer until the company announces its expansion plans. Brightmark plans to begin its expansion of plastics recycling technology facilities by 2023.
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