Chris Graff, an Indiana native and manufacturing entrepreneur, was on his first visit to New York's Governors Island when he spotted a set of Polywood-brand Adirondack chairs. Polywood is based in Syracuse, Ind., near Graff's former companies.
He knew the chairs had been made from recycled milk jugs that were processed into pellets, then planks. Having recently moved to New York, Graff also knew the city had plenty of its own plastic waste.
"I thought, There's got to be opportunities to take all this raw material in New York City and use it to manufacture products and then market them here," he said. "But I couldn't find anything that would accomplish that."
Graff's solution was to enlist a panel of experts and fund a contest for turning recyclables into locally made goods. The two winners of the NYC Curb-to-Market Challenge, Anthropocene.Design and Arqlite, are splitting a $500,000 investment and will receive mentoring from Graff and access to advisers and investors.
The firms are arriving at a fertile time for recycling-technology startups. They also might mesh with the city's goals for creating jobs.
Arqlite, based in Buenos Aires, turns flexible and laminated plastics, including grocery bags and other film, into gravel for construction. Flexible plastics are not collected as part of New York City's residential recycling program, and once they become contaminated with food, they are considered too expensive to clean and overwhelmingly wind up in a landfill.
Spurred by the contest award, announced in July, Arqlite Chief Executive Sebastian Sajoux says his company is planning a New York facility that can process 1,500 tons of recyclables per month.
The other winning idea involves Bushwick, N.Y.-based Anthropocene. The firm would use solar-powered rotational molds to turn milk jugs and detergent containers into traffic bollards, street furniture and other products. The molds could be placed in vacant lots or brownfields and would not need to be connected to conventional power sources. The plan is still in the conceptual stage.