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Samsara Eco CEO: Solving Australia’s waste crisis with AI-based recycling tech for low-grade plastic

#Samsara Eco CEO: Solving Australia’s waste crisis with AI-based recycling tech for low-grade plastic

Headshot of man.
Paul Riley, CEO and founder of Samsara Eco.

22 Jan 2024 — Samsara Eco’s technology upcycles low-grade plastic waste, unsuitable for other common recycling methods. Utilizing low-grade plastics as feedstocks, the method diverts materials from landfills or incineration before remaking it.

We speak to Paul Riley, CEO and founder of Samsara Eco, about how the technology compares to other recycling methods and how the company aims to “solve” the plastic waste crisis. We also discuss the company’s planned projects for the year ahead.

Could you introduce Samsara Eco, including its technologies and mission?
Riley: Samsara Eco was founded in 2021 with the goal to commercialize a revolutionary enzymatic technology that can infinitely recycle plastic waste. The technology breaks down waste plastic into its core components, which can then be reused, again and again, as virgin equivalent inputs into new plastics or upcycled into more valuable commodities.

Born from research at the Australian National University, the entire team is solving the plastic crisis by bringing infinite recycling to market. Samsara Eco revolutionizes the plastic recycling and production industries, solving the disastrous effects on our climate. It provides a clean, intelligent, technology-based solution to a growing waste and resource problem, tapping into an unprecedented demand for high-quality recycled products.

Man holding vial with reycled plastic resins.Samsara Eco aims to recycle 1.5 million tons of plastic per year by 2030.The technology behind Samsara Eco involves four steps and uses AI to design enzymes for different plastics for infinite recycling:

  • Prepare waste: Our plastic waste is sourced and prepared for recycling by cold washing. Hard plastics are chipped, textiles (like polyester) are shredded. Comparatively, many advanced recyclers require additional hot washing and pre-processing steps for hard plastics, resulting in higher carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Revert waste to original components: Samsara Eco enzymes revert the plastic waste from its complex state (polymers) back into its original monomer form. This is called depolymerization, and it’s how the company recycles plastics at the molecular level.
  • Purify original components: To prepare the brand new monomers for re-manufacture into new plastics, we separate them from any other additives, like colorants. This is a “game-changer” in comparison to traditional recycling, which cannot recycle colored plastics or mixed plastics.
  • Manufacture new from 100% waste: Samsara Eco recycled monomers can be used in remanufacturing brand new plastics, including food-grade packaging. Samsara Eco plans to lead a new era of plastics made from 100% waste for a circular plastics sector decoupled from fossil fuels.

Samsara Eco creates value out of waste plastics and textiles, providing a huge boost for the waste collection and recycling industries, and the many businesses involved therein. The commercialization of Samsara Eco’s technology will create new markets for waste that is not currently recycled — generating jobs, economic growth and sovereign capability.

What makes the Samara Eco recycling method special compared to existing technologies?
Riley: Mechanical recycling, the main form of plastics recycling in Australia, works by using heat to melt and process plastics into new products. Unlike traditional recycling methods, where plastics need to be washed, melted down and transformed into raw materials, Samsara Eco has created enzymes that break down PET plastic (polymer) to its core building blocks (monomers).

For example, with mechanical recycling, plastics can only be recycled a handful of times before the quality degrades. Bioplastics are also being proposed as a solution. While they are a better solution than virgin plastics in some regards, they are four-eight times more expensive and have their own environmental costs.

With Samsara Eco’s approach, plastic can be recycled an infinite number of times because it is broken down into its core monomers, which appear as a powder or liquid. Samsara Eco then turns them into resin beads, which can be used and molded by manufacturers.Man and woman working in lab.Samsara Eco’s tech will create new markets for waste that is not currently recycled — generating jobs, economic growth and sovereign capability, asserts Riley.

What industries is the company working with to tackle plastic pollution?
Riley: Our virgin-equivalent plastics can be produced anywhere and for any type of plastic or synthetic textile. Because of this, we anticipate our customer base to be primarily made up of FMCG and apparel companies, who are eager to replace their plastic packaging and textile products with more sustainable alternatives. Our virgin-equivalent plastics and textiles will be priced competitively. This means that no extra cost is passed on to the customer, making sustainability and circularity easy for both the customer and the producer and making Samsara Eco plastics and textiles commercially attractive.

In 2023, we announced our partnership with our first textile partner, Lululemon. With the support of Lululemon, Samsara Eco has expanded its library of plastic-eating enzymes to include textiles like polyester fabric and nylon 6,6. It means Samsara Eco can now break down apparel derived from these materials to its core molecules, which can then be used to recreate brand-new apparel again and again.

Likewise, the investment provided by Kanematsu will accelerate the commercialization and global scaling of Samsara Eco’s infinite recycling technology, closing the loop on plastic waste in Southeast Asia. These are all important stepping stones toward recycling 1.5 million tons of plastic per year by 2030.

How much funding has the company raised already and what investments are planned for this year?
Riley: In 2022, we raised AUS$56 million (US$37 million) in Series A funding, which is a huge milestone on our journey toward commercialization. Using this capital, we’ve been able to invest in R&D, scale our team and get serious about plans for our first recycling facility, which we’re keen to get up and running in the next few years.

What can you tell us about the upcoming R&D steps at Samsara Eco?
Riley: Samsara Eco, is creating Australia’s first infinite recycling R&D facility. Positioned within the Poplars Innovation Precinct at Jerrabomberra, Queanbeyan in Regional NSW, the new R&D facility will provide a new home base for Samsara Eco to scale its patented enzymatic capabilities and will serve as a key milestone for the company as it moves toward recycling 1.5 million tons of plastic annually by 2030.

The R&D facility will be solely focused on accelerating Samsara Eco’s scientific research, ready for commercialization in future facilities. Samsara Eco is working with Poplars, the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council and the local community to develop Australia’s first infinite recycling R&D facility, which is expected to be operational by late 2024.

By Natalie Schwertheim

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