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Plastic fantastic: The big business of clever recycling

Phones, televisions, drinks bottles – plastics are used in numerous aspects of daily life.

They also account for a lot of garbage; according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the U.S. alone, 33 million tons of plastic waste were generated in 2013 – that's nearly 13 percent of all municipal solid waste.


Thomas Samson | AFP | Getty Images

In an effort to address this issue, California-based MBA Polymers has developed technology that it says enables it to recycle plastics from complex waste streams. It describes its U.K. plant in Worksop as the "largest and most advanced plastics recycling plant in the world."

"The main problem with recycling plastic is the number of different types of plastic within the (garbage) feed," MBA Polymer's Global Sourcing Manager Paul Mayhew told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.

"Our challenges here in Worksop are taking those plastics and separating them out and putting them back into their own families, so they can be used in the applications they came from."

The plant's core focus is aimed at recovering rubber and waste plastics from what MBA Polymers describe as "shredder residue" destined for landfill, which includes "contaminants" such as rubber, wood and foam.

"The first challenge is actually to remove that material from the product stream. The second challenge is to purify the plastic into its different types, and then the third challenge is to add the correct additives to give the performance that our customers require," MBA's Quality Control Manager Peter Mackrell told CNBC.

The company estimates that its proprietary process requires 20 percent less energy than it does to create virgin plastics -- new plastics -- from petrochemicals, "saving enormous amounts of greenhouse gases."

The potential of recycling plastics is vast, according to MBA. The company says that while globally around 250 billion kilograms of plastic are used every year, less than 10 percent of plastics from complex waste streams – such as durable goods, for example – are recycled.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the company has big expansion plans. Its U.K. plant has a processing capacity of 60,000 metric tons per year and Mayhew said there was potential to take it to 80,000 tonnes.

"We estimate that we could have another six plants in the next five years," he added.