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Creating holistic waste solutions amid pandemic

Brightmark CEO Bob Powell joins Yahoo Finance's On The Move panel to break down how his company is reimagining waste-to-energy solutions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

- --your plastic recycling out, you don't necessarily know where it's going. And in fact, a lot of municipalities have suspended plastic recycling, because it is costly to recycle. But our next guest wants your plastic. He wants to actually turn it into other things like fuel, for example. Bob Powell is joining us here. He is the Brightmark CEO. He's joining us from San Francisco.

So Bob, this has been sort of a problem over the past several years, that even municipalities that went all in on plastics recycling had to suspend their programs, because it was costly. So is part of your aim here to make it make economic sense to recycle the stuff?

BOB POWELL: Absolutely, it is a part of her plan to make it economic to recycle plastics and other forms of waste. You know, what you talked about, Julie, there is what we call wish cycling, which is we put plastics into containers that we think are actually going to be recycled and reused. And unfortunately, 91% of what we throw away in terms of plastic waste isn't reused, but now can be reused thankfully with our patented technology, that now can operate on a cost effective way at a full production scale so we can begin to tackle this issue globally with plastic waste.

- When we're talking about plastic, we're talking about different types of plastic is there one particular, perhaps, level of plastic that is predominant in the recycling stream?

BOB POWELL: In recycling currently, there is sort of a predominant use for the only 9% of plastics that are recycled. The water bottles-- and the number 1s-- if you've seen on the bottom of your bottles, a little numbering system there-- the numbers are 1 through 7. So typically, the water bottles, the 1s and then the 2s-- like your laundry detergent bottles-- are recycled, can be turned back into things like tennis shoes.

The issue is the rest of the stuff. The 3 through 7s are actually not recycled. But we can take those and we can actually take all of those, 1 through 7s, 3 through 7s that are most difficult to recycle-- and do it in a cost effective way. That's what's so powerful about our technology and our projects, the first of which is actually based in Ashley, Indiana, that's currently under construction.

So we can take it all-- in fact, we want it all. And we just recently issued a call for the next set of projects that we intend to build in the east coast US to source 1.2 million pounds of plastics-- or tons of plastics, excuse me-- each year so we can solve the problem on a broad based way.

DAN ROBERTS: Bob, Dan Roberts here. Just as we wrap up, you know, Julie alluded to the fact that amid the pandemic, in general, broadly, the efforts to recycle have kind of been crimped. And obviously, that's understandable. It's a shame, but it's understandable that people's minds are elsewhere. I mean, just locally, our supermarket, for example, they're not letting you bring your own reusable canvas bags anymore. And that's after-- right before the pandemic, they set a city-wide ordinance, that everyone has to bring reusable bags. But because of the pandemic, they're not letting you do that, and they're using plastic bags. Not as great for the environment.

And then similarly, I remember that, you know, one of the hottest issues pre-pandemic was the death of plastic straws and chains phasing out plastic straws. And you don't hear about it right now, because there are sort of bigger fish to fry. Have you noticed that and how long do you think it will take to get back to a point where, you know, doing away with certain plastic things that are bad for the environment becomes top of mind again?

BOB POWELL: Well, I think as we get through the pandemic, clearly, we're gong to refocus and on the environmental issues. But we've still been focused in the midst of the pandemic. And you're absolutely right-- we've seen an increase-- a lot of is related to the public health crisis, plastics being used. And we, actually-- the good thing is with our solution, we can take the plastic straws, we can certainly take the IV bags-- all of those types of things.

But I think it's-- it's at least a two-pronged attack. Ours, which is take what is post-use, and create it back it into useful products like more plastics, fuels, waxes. Those types of things. But I do think eventually, we need to look at the demand side, as well, because we all waste so much. And our broad based mission is the round sort of reimagining waste and creating holistic solutions around that.

So as we come out of the pandemic, I think we'll get focus back in on the demand side. But right now, we have a real need to deal with this. And thankfully we can recycle what's being created from a plastic waste perspective with our technology.

- Bob Powell, thank you so much. Let's keep in touch on that technology as you start to build out more. You are the CEO of Brightmark. Thank you.