Itasca, Ill. — Alex Fassbender wants your used plastic bottle caps. He has a plan.
The CEO of EcoVia Corp., and a self-described inventor, has developed an approach that uses existing wastewater treatment technology and incorporates used bottle caps to help in the cleaning process.
“I was walking in the grocery store and I looked down this aisle,” Fassbender remembered. “I just saw all these bottle caps and I just started thinking, ‘Look at these things,'” he said.
“They are exactly the right shape, the right size, the same material, everything. So why not?” he said.
After some real-world testing and patent filing, he's now out trying to drum up interest, and bottle caps, for his CapBiome business.
Wastewater treatment relies on bacteria for decomposition and cleaning, Fassbender said at the recent Plastics Caps & Closures 2015 conference in Itasca. He sees a system that uses post-consumer caps as a substrate at wastewater treatment plants that allow for the growth of the bacteria.
“It's basically using post-consumer caps and closures to grow bacteria biofilms. High-value upcycling of this product. We don't need to clean it. We don't need to grind it. You just need to collect and use as is. And if it's dirty and scummy and loaded with budding biofilm, all the better,” he said.
Used caps can serve as a cost-effective alternative to other materials used as substrates at certain wastewater treatment plants, such as gravel, to allow the biofilm to grow, Fassbender said.
“Biofilm is omnipresent. It's everywhere. Any place it's humid, wet, you can actually grow biofilm. They are very complex communities of microorganisms. They lock on to surfaces and they create little biofilm towns. And that's basically how we can use these biofilms,” he said.
Picture giant treatment tanks filled with plastic caps. Wastewater is cycled in and out of these tanks allowing the biofilm a chance to grow and do its job both in water and in the air. The caps, Fassbender said, can be periodically cleaned and used over again.
He told attendees of the conference, organized by Plastics News, that his small. Vienna, Va.-based company is looking at sourcing both bottle caps and investors in the fledging approach.
The idea of using a substrate, including different plastic products already on the market, to host the growth of bacteria in wastewater treatment plants is not new, Fassbender said. The idea of dropping the cost and finding a new use for old bottle caps is what's unique to his vision, he said.
“I need reliable sourcing of these kinds of materials, so that when I get an order I can fill it,” he said about post-consumer caps. “I need several operating units up and running and I think at that point we'll get published in the journals where you need to get published and them we've got a marketable product.”
Fassbender estimated his idea requires a cubic meter of used caps to handle the waste water of two to five people per day.
He said his approach is “something that is sort of on the edge of imagination,”
“Caps and closures, as you know are just very useful, ubiquitous products however they have a down side. They are part of the plastic pollution problem that is out there. It's everywhere and it's growing and it's a menace. It's a menace to the environment and it's a menace to your industry,” he said. “To keep your fantastic industry going strong, we need to find solutions to this ugly problem.”