Ground-breaking up-cycling invention to launch in South Africa

South Africa currently consumes 1.5m tonnes of plastic annually, of which only 21 per cent is recycled. The rest ends up in landfill, in rivers, on beaches and in our oceans. A recycling programme is urgently needed. “

15 March 2019, Cape Town: Imagine if all South Africa’s unrecycled plastic waste, at 1 100 000 million tons per year, could create thousands of jobs, clean our environment and help build our houses, hospitals, schools and roads.
Don Thompson, the CEO of The Center of Regenerative Design and Collaboration (CRDC), is about to make this a reality. He is the inventor of a process that can turn any plastic – dirty or clean and in any form – into the very building blocks of sustainable development. The product, EcoArena PRA (Pre-Conditioned Resin Aggregate) and Ecoblock are innovative environmentally friendly products which incorporate regenerated waste plastic particles combined with a standard sand-cement mixture to produce a highly resistant, durable cement or cement block while providing a viable up-cycling usage of this waste material.
The product has been tested and applied by PEDREGAL in Costa Rica for the past two years with great success. CRDC is also collaborating with international US chemicals giant, Dow in the development of EcoArena in a bid to develop a lead initiative for the alliance to end plastic waste.
In South Africa, CRDC has partnered with a leading operations company that has extensive expertise and a long track record in on-site waste management, plastic recycling, waste to energy and implementation of zero waste to landfill solutions.

Donald Thomson and PEDREGAL introduced EcoArena PRA to South Africa in April this year.

  The case study. In Costa Rica, Mr Thompson has been working with PEDREGAL, the largest cement and concrete block company in Costa Rica and in collaboration with DOW, the American multinational chemical corporation, over the past two years. The aim is to use 4 000 tonnes of plastic waste per month for the EcoArena technology. The feasibility of the product as an environmental break-through is proven and as a commercially viable and profitable commodity it also meets sustainable development requirements on all levels.

PEDREGAL began testing the use of EcoArena in their CMU concrete blocks, having achieved successful technical results and compliance with international standards (ASTM and C90). PEDREGAL then introduced EcoArena to all their concrete products under the prefix ECO. Sales and marketing director of PEDREGAL, David Zamora says: “This breakthrough in transforming plastic and using it in the same way as you would conventional aggregate is a game-changer. Not only can we conduct our business in a more sustainable way but also we can also help solve one of the biggest problems we have created as human beings – that of plastic contamination. This is the very essence of our circular economy – one in which the construction industry is helping the plastic industry solve a waste problem by turning it into a raw material that can be used in any construction on the planet.”

The case for up-cycling plastic now: The UN wants individual countries to sign up to “significantly” reduce plastic production, including a phasing out of single-use plastics by 2030 – a goal inspired by the 2015 Paris agreement on voluntary reductions of carbon emissions. “Plastic is a very good material, it’s durable, flexible and light,” said Siim Kiisler, President of the United Nations Environment Assembly. “This means we should make the best out of it for as long as possible instead of disposing of it.”
Cleaning up plastic is not an easy task and it costs money to manage waste. All this bad news does not make for happy reading. At the same time, industry and commerce, retailers and consumers are seeking better ways to work with plastic and most assume that the abolition or drastic reduction of the culprit plastic would be the best solution. Don Thompson himself used to be consumed by a hatred for plastic, until he realised that it was necessary to work with and within the plastic industry in order to combat the enormous waste problem. After an arduous and interesting journey of anti-plastic activism, Mr Thompson, an engineer, entrepreneur and environmentalist, invented a product that uses plastic – all and any waste plastic.

At a time when the world is in outcry about ‘tragic plastic’ in our oceans, CRDC, which works with the Ocean Recovery Alliance, has created not only a fool-proof solution but also a game-changer for using plastic waste in a commercially viable manner. By delivering an effective environmental solution, EcoArena also provides a compelling answer to some of South Africa’s societal problems. CRDC will be testing EcoArena PRA with two major concrete manufacturers in the Western Cape as well as a major South African cement producer. “In South Africa, there is an established and sophisticated cement industry. Against this, we need to create jobs, we need to clean up the environment and there is an urgent need for housing. Our plan is to use the Costa Rican model initially to launch in the Western Cape before rolling out the initiative nationally.”

Mr Thompson explains that Costa Rica is a small market (five million people) compared to South Africa, which is more developed and has as many, if not more, pressing social needs. The long-term plan for EcoArena is to then take it to the first world. The South African government has recognised the role that waste can play in creating jobs and socio-economic opportunities and in moving South Africa towards a more resource-efficient economy. This is evident in the number of initiatives and legislative reforms that have been proposed by government to boost growth in this sector.

(Source: Green Cape 2018 Waste Market Intelligence Report)