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Guest Post by Scott Foley
Each year, over three millions tons of laminated paper products are produced in the United States. Of that total, less than twenty percent of those materials are successfully recycled. The rest ends up in landfill or incineration facilities.
The challenges associated with recycling laminated paper products are well known in the recycling industry. These items contain a nasty mixture of paper, plastic, and occasionally aluminum – all of which are bonded to each other by strong adhesives. This combination makes it very difficult to separate the valuable raw materials from each other through standard processes. Paper recyclers are forced to use extremely high heat, heavy mechanical processes, and even strong chemicals in their attempts to separate the materials for recovery and reuse. All that mechanical and chemical intervention, however, results in a very time-intensive process which also produces a very low yield of recovered material. Due to the inefficient and unprofitable nature of the process, the majority of recyclers simply refuse to accept laminated paper products in favor of other materials that are easier to recycle and thus more profitable.
Thailand-based Flexoresearch Group has changed the equation for recycling laminated paper products. Flexoresearch CEO Paijit Sangchai has developed a new enzyme based technology that breaks the bond between the different layers of materials by neutralizing the adhesives that connect them. A veteran of the paper mill industry, Mr. Sangchai witnessed first-hand the challenges of recycling laminated paper products and the mountains of waste they create. He then relied on his scientific background to begin his search for a solution to the problem. After several years of research and testing in his Bangkok laboratory, Mr. Sangchai finally found the solution in the form of microscopic enzymes – naturally occurring organisms which can efficiently do the work that man-made machines and chemicals simply cannot. This new process allows for fast, efficient separation of laminated paper components with a very high yield of recovered materials. The valuable raw materials recovered from the laminated paper, such as paper pulp, clear plastic, and aluminum, can then be easily sold to manufacturers who will use those materials to generate new consumer and industrial products.
For his technology breakthrough, Mr. Sangchai has received several awards, including recognition as the Technology Pioneer of The Year at the 2011 World Economic Forum. During his acceptance speech for the award, Mr. Sangchai remarked “We have a technology which did not exist until now. This technology will help us recover and reprocess many valuable resources from impossible materials which would otherwise be lost forever.”
The Flexoresearch technology is currently in use on an industrial scale at three plants in Asia, and the technology rights have already been sold throughout the European continent. Flexoresearch has partnered with Hong Kong based Virgo Environmental Technologies to bring their development to the world market.
Upon learning about this new technology breakthrough, the owners of California-based Green Flash Recycling traveled to Thailand to see the process in action. After visiting two of the plants that are using the technology, Green Flash Recycling acquired the rights to the US market. The company is currently in the early stages of establishing a pilot facility at its Richmond CA headquarters. Based on the quantity of laminated paper waste in the US market, Green Flash Recycling anticipates opening between 15 and 20 large scale facilities throughout the country within the next 10 years. Annually, each large US facility will have the capacity to successfully divert over 27,000 tons of laminated paper products from landfill.
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