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Modern consumer-led society is wasteful. Plastic packaging is reaching epidemic proportions while the ability to effectively manage and dispose of it is lagging behind.
While a few people were sounding the alarm, for most of us it was a case of out of sight, out of mind. We’ve been encouraged to sort organic waste from recyclable and dutifully dumped the right items in the right bins where we can.
It comes as bit of a shock to realise that isn’t really good enough and much of our plastic waste is being exported abroad where it was just dumped in huge plastic mountains, or simply buried in landfill sites.
The easy way out is to hope governments will deal with the problem more effectively. But with most governments deeply in debt, the likelihood of that happening is less than non-existent.
There’s an age-old saying in the UK “where there’s muck, there’s brass” – meaning that money can be made from cleaning up someone else’s mess.
We’re seeing the same beginning to happen in the fight to combat waste plastic.
On the one hand consumers are demanding that single-use plastic is reduced and that the plastic that is produced can be recycled more easily – currently less than 10% of plastic in use can be recycled with the rest being consigned to landfill or incinerated.
But for the plastic waste that has been discarded, private companies are starting to introduce ways of returning waste plastic to its oil state and then mixing this with crude oils for refining.
Globally about 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950s, the majority of which has been manufactured in the past 20 years alone. Much of that plastic is still around, and this is where plastics-to-oil businesses can make a significant difference.
This sort of operation is best suited to smaller, niche players who are more nimble than their multi-national corporation counterparts and have much lower operating costs.
But because of their size the usual financial resources are harder to come by. Each pyrolysis plant, to give it its technical name, costs something in the order of $750,000-$1 million and ever since the financial crisis over 10 years ago banks have been reluctant to lend money.
Despite this, new businesses still need start-up capital and investment to bring their projects to life. So over the past few years there’s been a significant growth in alternative financing schemes, like crowdfunding for example.
With the banks out of the picture, it often means more money gets put into the project as costs are lower, and those who have invested gain a better return from the share of profits.
It does mean a potential investor needs to become more knowledgeable about a particular project before investing. But spending time to learn how to do proper due diligence could mean the difference between a double-digit return on invested capital, or a single digit return.
Ethical investments are certainly popular among a growing group of people, and if you’re able to secure your own personal financial freedom while also helping the wider community then it certainly ticks the right boxes as far as I’m concerned.
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