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Durable goods recycler MBA Polymers expanding in US, relocating R&D

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July 12, 2013

MBA Polymers Inc. plans to expand operations in the U.S. while moving R&D to the United Kingdom.

The recycler is closing its R&D facility in Richmond, Calif., because the plant is too small and the lease is up, said President Mike Biddle.

The pilot-scale, 43,000-square-foot plant was MBA's first facility and serves as the company's headquarters.

MBA is making the move because Europe does more recycling than the United States and offers more opportunities, at least in the short-term, Biddle said in a July 2 webinar on China's "Green Fence" operation.

MBA already has a 126,000-square-foot plant in Worksop, England.

According to MBA, the Worksop plant is the "largest and most advanced plastics recycling plant in the world" that focuses on recovering plastics and rubber from shredder residue. It has processing capacity of 132 million to 176 million pounds per year.

Despite closing the Richmond plant, the company, which specializes in recycling durable goods from difficult waste streams like electronics and auto-shredder residue, is planning to make a big move in the U.S. market.

MBA plans to build full processing plants in the U.S. once it develops sufficient U.S. sourcing.

Biddle said the move is in response to recent developments in the U.S. and abroad, namely:

  •  In April, the Environmental Protection Agency gave a green light to mining plastics from the more than 10 billion pounds of auto shredder residue generated annually in the U.S. That translates to about 1.5 billion to 2 billion pounds of plastic.
  •  Electronics recycling is also continuing to grow in the U.S., despite a lack of legislation like that in Europe, which requires electronics to be recycled, he said.
  •  EPA estimates more than 65 billion pounds of plastics are discarded in municipal solid waste streams (MSW). And single-stream municipal recycling programs and mixed recycling is growing dramatically in the U.S., he said.

"There's a huge opportunity of extracting more plastics in MSW," Biddle said, adding that the plastics recycling rate is estimated to be about 8 percent.

Meanwhile, in China, higher environmental standards are here to stay as the country gets serious about pollution.

"I applaud that," he said "I think it has to happen."

MBA has a facility in Guangzhou, China, to recycle waste electrical and electronic equipment. The costs of operating that plant have gone up for a variety of reasons, including the higher cost of importing material and policy changes.

In response, Biddle said MBA is encouraging its customers to upgrade their materials before shipping.

Recycling mixed-waste streams is at least a two-stage process. Stage one processing may or may not get material to the point where it meets Green Fence requirements.

Stage two processing creates a plastics concentrate that's over 95 percent plastics with very little extra material in it. That material can travel farther, travel economically, meet Green Fence requirements and has a higher value, though it does take extra processing, he explained, in response to an audience question.

Once there's enough volume of that material, processors like MBA will invest in the capacity to bring that material through the final stages of recycling — separating, pelletizing, compounding and so on, he said.