Mike Biddle is turning junk into money.
Cacophony reigns inside Michael Biddle's 45,000-square-foot recycling plant in Richmond, Calif. Pieces of fax machines, telephones, keyboards and cell phones are fed into green hoppers atop 20-foot-tall chutes. Pipes and conveyor belts run everywhere. Amid the whirring fans and clanging grinders, you can pluck out the sounds of metal clinking as it gets sucked out by ejectors, plastic pinging as it is pulled away from foil and paper, air jets whooshing as they separate light-color plastic from dark. Out the end come gray pellets, sorted into six or more grades of reusable plastic.
To Biddle it's a symphony, the result of nearly two decades of hard work. He claims to be the first to figure out how to take nearly any kind of plastic trash, which is usually a mongrel blend of up to 20 different plastics, and separate it by chemical type. Biddle's factories make the three important plastics used in durable goods and electronics: polypropylene, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (alias ABS) and polystyrene. "We're changing the way plastic is made, just like minimills changed the way steel was made," he says.
Biddle says he can build more 45,000-ton recycling plants for between $14 million and $23 million each, half the cost of erecting a virgin plastics factory with the same output. And, because he's not making the plastic from oil, his energy consumption is only 5% to 10% that of a virgin plastics plant.
Maybe I'm naive, but I believe there is a business solution to almost any problem. This is a perfect example. Why complain about the environment and waste? Mike Biddle solved the problem and make some money out of it too.