February 5, 2013
Reduce, reuse, recycle—it’s a phrase that we’re taught from early childhood. According to Statistics Canada, people are increasingly taking the lesson to heart, with residential recycling rates (the percentage of generated waste that is diverted to recycling programs) increasing from 19 to 27% between 2000 and 2004.
By weight, organics are the highest recycled material, amounting to 22% of all recycled materials, though they are followed closely by newsprint and cardboard/boxboard, which both amount to 17%. Between 1994 and 2006, access to glass, paper, plastic and metal recycling programs improved, leading to increases in the recycling rates of these materials across the country.
The production of plastics is energy intensive, using high quantities of fossil fuels. As such, programs and technologies that recycle plastics reduce our demands on fossil fuels and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. GreenMantra Technologies, one of the many companies that MaRS works with, is tackling recycled plastics, turning them into high-value refined products, namely wax, grease and lubricating oils.
GreenMantra is the first company to synthesize waxes from recycled plastics and, according to Global TV British Columbia, is “paving the future of Vancouver,” where their waxes are being used in asphalt.
GreenMantra has already kicked off 2013 with a bang, with Phil McColeman, member of Parliament for Brant, Ontario, announcing a $750,000 investment from FedDev Ontario ’s Investing in Business Innovation initiative at GreenMantra’s production facility located in Brantford, Ontario.
I sat down with Pushkar Kumar, president and CEO of GreenMantra, to discuss the funding successes his company has had, having previously secured $500,000 from the Investment Accelerator Fund and $1 million from the MaRS Cleantech Fund. I also wanted to seek his advice for fellow entrepreneurs.
What inspired you to tackle plastic waste and develop GreenMantra?
I grew up in India, where I witnessed a world with almost no recycling or waste utilization. It seemed as if plastics were piling up everywhere, but nobody could find a use for them. Knowing that plastics contain hydrocarbons, I wanted to find a way to recover the energy within them, but to do so in an environmentally friendly way. After years of experimentation and development, GreenMantra’s innovative depolymerization process can finally put to good use the millions and millions of tonnes of disposed plastics found around the world.
Can you explain your technology and the benefits it offers?
GreenMantra’s catalytic depolymerization process converts recycled plastics into industrial products such as waxes, greases and lubricating oils. We are currently focusing on the $10 billion wax market, where our waxes are displacing the need for fossil fuel-derived waxes used in applications such as asphalt and wood boards. GreenMantra’s benefits challenge the notion of “green” premiums. We can produce environmentally friendly waxes that meet industry standards while remaining cost-competitive with existing wax manufacturers.
What is the return on investment of your technology?
We are the first new wax manufacturer in North America in decades and the only wax manufacturer to produce waxes from recycled plastics. We can produce cost-competitive waxes that put an economical use to a variety of recycled plastics, including plastic films, creating a great return not only for our investors, but also for the environment and society as a whole.
GreenMantra has been very successful in obtaining various types of funding, including the recent investment from the federal government. How important has it been to your company’s success to combine various funding sources?
Raising funding from a variety of sources brings tremendous benefits to a growing organization such as GreenMantra. For one, it provides credibility in the market that the technology has merit. But even more so, a diverse funding group brings a diverse network of contacts and skill sets. For example, our funders have backgrounds in waste management, resource utilization, chemicals, construction and company growth from early-stage businesses to Fortune 500 corporations. This has helped us to gain from the breadth of their knowledge and connections, and to grow more quickly than a single financial commitment would have allowed on its own.
GreenMantra has received a lot of media coverage recently with your waxes being used in asphalt in Vancouver. How has this helped your company?
We’re very grateful to have the City of Vancouver as a GreenMantra customer for asphalt paving. It often takes a first-mover to provide credibility to a new product or process. With Vancouver’s success, we’re seeing more interest and adoption from other Canadian and American municipalities.
What are the biggest challenges facing companies in the recycling space?
The recycling space is challenging, particularly “guesstimating” the rate at which the recycled materials market will continue to grow. For instance, the United States’ market is currently at an 8% plastics recycling rate, while most European Union countries exceed 50 to 60%. At what pace will the US market grow?
We believe that companies must premise their businesses on being profitable within the existing volumes of the recycled materials market, otherwise they are poised to disrupt or disturb the supply-demand balance in order to achieve profitability. Conversely, municipal recycling programs must ensure that a market exists for their recycled materials prior to expanding recycling programs; otherwise, the financial burden of an uneconomical recycling program can hinder its longevity.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs who have recycling or waste management innovations?
I would advise entrepreneurs, first and foremost, to keep at it and to enjoy both the ups and downs of developing and commercializing innovations. Second, when developing an innovation, try to keep flexibility in mind. Waste streams can be quite diverse and can change over time, so maintaining the ability to adapt is key. Finally, keep in mind that the waste management industry has been around for a long time. It takes time for such an established industry to change course or to adopt new innovations. Plan timelines accordingly and find the right balance between persistence and patience.