Michael Vincent believes plastics aren't the problem when it comes to achieving sustainability. Rather, plastics can lead the way to a solution, he said.
"Plastics are not the issue. It is our irresponsible use and disposal of plastics that is the issue," said Vincent, CEO and president of OPT USA Inc. in Chattanooga, Tenn. "I believe that rebuilding a proper circular supply chain for plastics is the solution that is a must. It is necessary for today and for the success of all of the nascent technologies of promise."
OPT USA, which Vincent founded in January 2022, is a subsidiary of Ocean Plastic Technologies Pty. Ltd. of Hillcrest, South Africa. The parent company, founded in 2016, collects and recycles ocean, ocean-bound, waste and multilayer plastics in the Caribbean.
Initially, to demonstrate the viability of the business, Ocean Plastic Technologies used the collected material to produce laminate boards, sheeting, agricultural and promotional products, and consumer products. Now it is moving away from manufacturing and instead focusing on material collection, processing and logistics. Vincent thought he could help.
"I felt that I needed to use my 35-plus years in logistics to find a way to help solve the issues of plastic waste management," he said.
Vincent's recent experience includes working from 2017-22 as executive vice president of commercial solutions for Chattanooga-based FreightWaves Inc., a provider of global supply chain market intelligence and price reporting. During the same period, he also was on the membership committee of the Blockchain in Transport Alliance, also in Chattanooga.
"I've done it all [in logistics] … and I was looking to do something with plastics recycling," he said.
Vincent said he is "kind of an amateur musician," having played with a some local bands. He saw an opportunity to make guitar clips, capos and other accessories out of ocean plastics. After learning about Ocean Plastic Technologies' mission, "I quit my job and just went all-in," launching OPT USA. "I'm really glad we did it. We're starting to make a difference."
Vincent has a partner, Ken Martin, who sold his business in South Africa and moved to Chattanooga to join the effort. The men formed a 50-50 partnership with Ocean Plastic Technologies in 2022 and secured the right to use its technology in the Americas and Southeast Asia as OPT USA, Vincent said. The parent firm has fit its technology into what it calls micro recycling pods, or MRPs, so it can bring recycling to the places where waste is generated.
Ocean Plastic Technologies notes on its website: "The challenge with ocean plastics is the mix of different plastic types, and the cost of separating them for recycling is prohibitive or restrictive. Currently, less than 70 percent of reclaimed ocean plastic can be recycled, and this requires either expensive equipment or a large, skilled workforce."
At some point, Vincent said, the MRPs will be made in the United States, but currently they are made in South Africa and shipped where they are needed. "Our machines fit in 20-foot ocean containers," he said.
The portable MRPs are small enough to be set up in stadiums, schools, grocery stores and the like. Vincent envisions having multiple machines available at each site so materials can be sorted, washed and recycled at the same time.
Vincent said they can be taken to farms to capture agricultural waste such as bale wraps and weed-prevention film and sheet used to cover acres of ground. Such plastics are dirty and hard to recycle and usually end up in landfills, he added.
The machines can also handle shrink wrap and polystyrene products, he said. The company has one machine in Chattanooga for demonstrations and is looking into doing toll work there.
Martin is working to "evangelize" the process, partnering with universities, governments, economic development groups and other associations as well as indigenous people in the Caribbean. The Caribbean is an especially rich market for boat wrap and fishing nets, Vincent said. Fisheries turn in end-of-life nylon nets, and OPT's machines can actually process them on-site, he said.
He said he's had no problem finding markets, "even stuff nobody else will buy."
"Just about anything we can recycle, we've found demand for it," he said enthusiastically. "If you can produce clean plastics, the demand is definitely there, even for polystyrene and expanded PS."
OPT's machines have completely contained water for washing, which needs to be changed once a month, depending on use.
Since "freight" is known as the f-word of recycling, providing ground, washed, dried and flaked material that goes directly to local manufacturers gives OPT USA an advantage.