BY KRIS ABEL
A secret Montreal laboratory has developed a breakthrough technology that may help save the planet – and keep your local taxes low at the same time.
While you dutifully separate household waste into a rainbow of colorful recycling bins, many cities aren’t able to recycle household plastics any more. Calgary recently found itself holding 1,400 tonnes of plastics — with nowhere to send them.
Even when cities offer to pay recyclers to take their plastics, most refuse. As a result, municipal waste management costs are increasing as towns struggle to manage unwanted recyclables. Ultimately, taxpayers foot the bill.
The market for used plastic is drying up, in part, because the quality of recycled plastic is too low to be used in many new products. Until now.
A Montreal company has developed a new technology that produces recycled plastic as good as the new stuff. And big-name companies are already reaping the benefits.
Tech company HP has had a recycling program for its inkjet cartridges in place for years, but recycled plastic has never been good enough for its printers. Recycling printers has also been too costly.
Workers have to be paid to take them apart by hand and then, after being ground up and melted, the result is a low-quality plastic potpourri which is unusable in new printers.
Four years ago, The Lavergne Group surprised HP with a system where printers could be tossed into grinders whole and the bits efficiently sorted into neat piles by colour and type – creating bins of all heavy black plastic, for example, or all light white.
When the Montreal-based recycler said it was working on a lab to make those plastic bits “as good as new,” HP was intrigued. When Lavergne proved it could recycle the same plastic item over and over again – seven times before tests could detect any loss of quality – HP agreed to invest and collaborate.
In Lavergne’s secret Montreal lab, engineers “heal” recycled plastic by “solving” it like a jigsaw puzzle.
Company CEO Jean Luc Lavergne uses the puzzle analogy to explain the process without divulging his proprietary technology. Traditional plastic recycling processes damage the plastic — like losing pieces of its puzzle.
“When you have a 100-piece puzzle and you’re still missing four or five pieces, you still don’t have your puzzle fully finished,” says Lavergne. He’s found an innovative way to repair the puzzle pieces and re-assemble them as good as new.
Lavergne’s new technology allows HP to use exactly the same plastic recycled from old printers to make brand new ones.
Since not everyone recycles, HP will always need more plastic than it can recover from its own products. But, instead of ordering new plastic, HP just purchased 65 metric tonnes of used water bottles and clothing hangers from Haiti.
They’ve shipped the “waste” to Montreal where Lavergne will recycle it into plastic for new HP products.
The printer company calls it a “double win.” They’ve solved a problem they faced, and it will help the planet.
In that spirit, HP waived its right as an exclusive collaborator and has encouraged Lavergne to sign deals with other companies, including HP’s competitors.
Many tech companies say they started out as two nerds in a garage – Apple, Microsoft and even HP, for example. For Jean Luc Lavergne, it was a bathtub in Montreal.
“I have no engineering degree, none whatsoever,” says Lavergne, who founded the company. “I was selling plastic resin for a distributor out of Toronto.”
Desperate for a better living, he decided to experiment with recycling techniques.
“I made my own bathtub, started putting in some jets … it started giving us some ideas and we started cleaning up some plastics and that was the beginning of our company.”
The Lavergne Group is currently looking to sign deals with other tech and automotive companies that have products where recycled plastic hasn’t been fit to use. The hope is that like HP, instead of buying new plastic supplies, they can finally use recycled plastic in making their cars, computers, and smart devices.
Lavergne recently opened a plant in Vietnam and has signed paperwork for another in Belgium.
“For a company our size to be a global company today — in my mind — I’m already there and it’s just a question of how fast is the world going to be able to accept what we do,” says Lavergne.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019