It’s no secret that the world has a plastic problem. As 8 million tons of plastic leak into the ocean each year, and we continue to accelerate the production of plastic, only 1% of plastic is recycled and still in use. 66% of so-called “recycled” plastic returns to landfills after being recycled, and a sixth is incinerated.
The reason most plastic isn’t actually recyclable is the mixture of chemicals in its makeup which can stymie the recycling process by making it harder to isolate a base material that can be recovered and reused.
Australian startup Samsara Eco is tackling plastic’s chemical problem with enzyme-based technology that breaks down plastic into its core molecules. Developed in conjunction with the Australian National University, the technology makes plastic recycling circular.
By breaking down plastics into their molecular building blocks, Samsara has the pieces necessary to produce new plastic products. According to the company, their tech enables “infinite plastic recycling,” for “100%” of PET and Polyester plastics.
As reported in TechCrunch earlier this month, the company announced it raised $54 million AUD (about $34.7 million USD) in Series A funding. The money will help the company build its first commercial plastic recycling facility in Melbourne later this year, with the target of full-scale production by 2023, and later expand operations into Europe and North America. By 2024, Samsara says it will be able to “infinitely recycle” 20,000 tons of plastic.
Right now, the company is preparing a partnership with Woolworths Group, an Australian and New Zealand retailer, and investor in the company. According to TechCrunch, Woolworths Group has committed to turning the first 5,000 tons of recycled Samsara plastic into packaging for its branded products, in line with its goal of recycling 1.5 million tons of plastic per year by 2030.
According to Samsara’s CEO Paul Riley, the company also plans to target the fashion industry. Because Australia is the second-highest consumer of textiles per person in the world, the company hopes to recycle discarded fast fashion pieces, reducing the amount of clothing that ends up in landfills.
“You can’t solve the climate crisis unless you solve the plastics crisis,” Riley said via Business News Australia. “Unlike other alternative recycling practices, our process is economical, with a low carbon footprint, and allows for the effective recycling of challenging plastics including colored, multi-layered, or mixed plastics and textiles.”
“We have enough plastic in the world already and with our technology you never need to produce plastic from fossil fuels again.”