Quiz time. Grab the closest single-use plastic container to you (perhaps it’s the soda bottle on your desk or a frozen lunch tray in your freezer). Check for the little triangle recycling symbol.
Can you name the type of plastic it is? Or, more importantly, do you know how easily that piece of plastic can be recycled?
The 1-7 recycling code is ubiquitous on consumer packaging today. But that doesn’t make it any easier for the average consumer to understand what the numbers actually mean.
That’s where advanced recycling companies like Nexus Circular come in.
Carla Toth, Nexus Circular’s new Senior Vice President of Business Development, explained that Nexus has become a leader in pyrolysis-based advanced recycling.
Here’s where your plastics quiz knowledge comes in handy. Pyrolysis recycling is best used on low-density polyethylene (#4 recycling code) found in flexible packaging films, grocery bags, and stretch wraps; polypropylene (#5 recycling code) from medicine bottles, yogurt cups, and microwavable plastic trays; and polystyrene (#6 recycling code).
“One of the main reasons residential curbside recycling programs don’t take those materials is that there hasn’t been a well-defined end-use application for them,” added Toth. “What Nexus has been able to demonstrate is that we can provide a consistent, stable, secure outlet for those types of harder to recycle plastics so that they can be collected.”
Nexus turns those traditionally hard-to-recycle materials into a liquid product that is sold to global offtake partners like Shell, Chevron Phillips Chemical, and Braskem to help them reduce their dependence on fossil based materials.
Nexus’ business model is about creating a circular supply chain, since the company gets “hard-to-recycle plastics out of the landfill and then they go back into making new virgin quality plastics through our process, and then the relationship we have with our offtake partners,” added Toth. “These supply partnerships enable companies to meet their waste reduction and zero-waste-to-landfill goals which represent a win-win-win for Nexus, our supply partners and the environment.”
Cashing in on advanced recycling
Atlanta is home to Nexus’ headquarters and is home to upwards of 90 of the company’s employees. Many of those working in Atlanta are on the engineering, supply chain, operations, and commercialization parts of the business.
The concept for Nexus dates back to 2007, when founder Jeff Gold read about a company using pyrolysis to convert single-use plastic bags back to their original molecular building blocks.
“An entrepreneur at heart and armed with curiosity and a background in practical chemistry, Jeff founded Nexus in 2008 using a bench scale process to develop the conversion technology. Nexus expanded from bench scale to a pilot production facility at its headquarters in Atlanta, GA in 2011,” Toth told Hypepotamus.
Cox Enterprises soon came knocking.
The global conglomerate invested in Nexus back in 2015 in order to help the startup scale its commercial expansion efforts. By producing and selling commercial volumes of its liquid product, Nexus has helped divert 7 million pounds of plastics from landfills.
Cox is boosting its commitment with the announcement it is pouring in an additional $150 million into Nexus.
With the equity round, Cox Enterprises becomes the majority owner of Nexus Circular.
“Cox is uniquely suited in the cleantech space to partner with companies in the commercial demonstration phase, because of its passion alignment as well as it willingness and ability to provide incremental capital to companies in this stage to further develop and validate their technology. [It] has supported Nexus through the stages of commercial execution as the Nexus team consistently achieved progressive performance milestones that demonstrated the economic viability and scalability of the technology,” added Toth.
Cox Enterprises is certainly a known entity entity around the Atlanta startup community. It not only powers Techstars Atlanta, it is also a corporate sponsor of the Engage program.
“Recycling is a team sport”: Where advanced recycling goes next
Advanced recycling is one of the major areas in the wider sustainability tech scene. That scene has expanded particularly rapidly across the Southeast, as states like Georgia and North Carolina have become innovation centers for clean energy.
That sustainability focus means good things for companies like Nexus.
“Recycling is a team sport and everyone plays a part,” added Toth.
“Companies are committed to changing the trajectory of plastics in the environment and sustainability pledges are driving real change and investment. This is having a flywheel effect that brings collaboration across the plastics value chain to create innovative, new recycling technologies and incentivizes additional investment in recycling infrastructure and the overall ecosystem,” Toth told Hypepotamus. “We also see the companies and consumers alike are valuing plastics as a resource that can be used again and again. As we collectively understand the inherent value of plastic, we also become aware of the need to design plastic packaging for its 2nd life so that it can be continuously recycled.”