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Current recycling doesn’t work. Australia, the UK and USA send more than half their household recyclable material to landfill, and of that less than 10% is remanufactured into its original product. In all, only 2% of the world’s waste is recycled. We spend a huge amount of resources and efforts to clean the oceans when we could just do the right thing in the first place, right from our households, businesses, events and even hospitals. Knowing that the majority of citizens do the actual recycling and understanding their frustration of trash/treasure going to waste, this Lasso team have come up with a technology that will solve the closed-loop recycling from the moment we bin an item. And even better, this waste will become a valuable asset to incorporate in the closed-loop system.
We interview Aldous Hicks, inventor and CEO of Lasso (previously called ReCircle as the brand has recently launched a rebranding campaign). He explains all you need to know about this technology, how to use it and why it is really important we support this initiative. You can invest as little as £10 on their equity crowdfunding campaign and become a shareholder of Lasso technology!
What is Lasso and what is its mission?
We are developing the world’s first domestic recycling machine so people can process recyclable materials in their own homes and know that they will be 100% closed loop recycled – which means a bottle can be remade into a bottle, a can into a can.
Current domestic recycling systems just don’t work. People make huge efforts to recycle, yet more than half of what we put in our recycling bins ends up as landfill – and of the materials that are recycled, less than 9% is closed-loop recycled. The main reason for this failure is that once you mix two different materials together — for example, leaving the ring around the top of a plastic bottle — the value of these beautiful materials plummets. It’s not economically viable to separate recycling once it is mixed, so the materials cannot be closed-loop recycled and will, if recycled at all, be ‘downcycled’ to create lower-value products like road base and so on.
The Lasso technology will empower people to collect and process recyclable materials, keeping them separate and pure from the start, in a way that maintains its value. The products processed by Lasso appliances can be closed-loop recycled, which means less pressure on virgin resources to create, for example, the million new plastic bottles we currently demand every minute!
Not only will people be able to take responsibility for their recycling in their own homes, but we expect to have Lasso appliances installed in hospitals, entertainment centres, businesses, factories — you name it – so they can all start contributing to a truly circular economy by getting maximum use from these beautiful, valuable materials.
Tell us a bit about who is in the team and what was the tipping point for you all to start this invention?
The Lasso team is amazing – we have highly skilled technicians, engineers, computer experts and number-crunchers, many of whom have remarkable past and present lives, including a surgeon, a human rights journalist, a songwriter, a sex therapist, a burlesque entertainer and comedienne.
Aldous: “For me, it started 25 years ago when I was developing software and I realised that the value of something going into a system is hugely reduced if it is mixed with other pieces of information. After a frustrating day, I went home to put out our recycling and I saw the problem was the same – mix items together and you create waste instead of retaining the intrinsic value of these lovely materials.
I mapped out the bones of the Lasso technology, wrote it in a letter to myself and posted it to myself. I still have the unopened letter. The world wasn’t ready and the pressure to recycle was years off. But the time has definitely arrived and ten years ago I began to seriously work on developing a technology that processes recycling materials to such purity they can be closed-loop recycled.”
Lasso co-founder, journalist and psychotherapist Alison Richardson has taken time out from relationship counselling to address the crisis the world is facing with recycling:
“So many people are trying to break their toxic relationship with single-use plastics and other disposable items and it’s hard. The world is in trouble and I believe I can do more to address this existential crisis by working on Lasso than by spending time in the therapy room.
“Lasso offers real and tangible hope that, instead of seeing our recycling as trash that needs to be disposed of or at best down-cycled, we can retain the value of these wonderful materials and actually start to achieve a real circular economy.”
Shareholder Ian Davison has seen firsthand the urgent need for recycling in our hospitals in his work as an orthopaedic surgeon in NSW, Australia. “As the agents of a profession that is creating so much global waste, we have an ethical duty to seek and support initiatives that will address that impact. That’s why I am part of Lasso, which offers a pathway for hospitals to genuinely closed-loop recycle materials that are currently sent to landfill or incinerated.
What is the problems with recycling today you wish to highlight through Lasso?
The New York Times has just reported: “Philadelphia is now burning about half of its 1.5 million residents’ recycling material in an incinerator that converts waste to energy. In Memphis, the international airport still has recycling bins around the terminals, but every collected can, bottle and newspaper are sent to a landfill. And last month, officials in the central Florida city of Deltona faced the reality that, despite their best efforts to recycle, their curbside program was not working and suspended it.”
And the story is much the same all over the world where local authorities are cancelling recycling programs, limiting collections and increasing our taxes.
China’s decision to refuse to buy any more of our “recycling” because it is so contaminated has exposed just how badly flawed our current systems are.
The crux of the problem is that once recyclable materials are mixed together, for example, a bottle is placed in the recycling bin with its lid still on, it is not economically viable to separate these materials and they cannot be closed-loop recycled. So, despite massive investment in the development and promotion of recycling countries like Australia, the UK and USA send more than half their household recyclable material to landfill, and of that less than 10% is remanufactured into its original product. In all, only 2% of the world’s waste is recycled. (Terracycle, New York City, 2017)
Recyclable materials are only ‘waste’ when they are mixed together – kept separate, they are valuable resources which can be closed-loop recycled. Lasso technology is designed to guarantee materials are kept separate from the start, in the home. The appliances will process PET and HDPE plastics, different coloured glass and aluminium separately and to a high standard so that these now-valuable products can be sent straight from the home to remanufacturing factories to be made back into bottles, cans and other single-use containers.
Not Trash, It’s Treasure! Read the full article on how you can take back control of your recycling, converting rubbish into valuable materials!
In your honest opinion, do you think folks had realised about the insurmountable technical difficulties in the technology needed to separate mixed and contaminated recyclables?
The waste industry has done a brilliant job with handling waste – picking up rubbish quickly, hygienically and cheaply and sending it directly to the landfill. The problem is that we have tried to apply the same ‘maximum throughput at the cheapest price point’ model to recycling and it just doesn’t work – there’s a dramatic difference because it’s no longer about volume and doing things quickly and cheaply. To effectively recycle we need purity and, with the best will in the world, the current systems cannot deliver.
And why do you think governments in all levels have continued to push this system, even though they had known for a long time it was broken?
The current domestic recycling systems are rivers of gold for industry participants and are perceived to be vote-winners. People want to believe cities and councils are recycling their used materials so they are happy to pay, as part of their compulsory rates, for the service. The people emptying the recycling bins are paid per pickup, so they just want to do that as quickly as possible. Their best pickup is when we don’t put out our bins. They don’t care if the bins are full or empty. Much of what they collect will end up in the landfill. So there is no incentive for change at these levels – that has to come from the grassroots.
It seems so unfair for those people who have been making the effort of recycling for more than half of the recycling ending up in landfill anyway! How is Lasso going to encourage consumers to go back to recycling?
As more and more people realise current systems are failing, they are getting increasingly frustrated or simply despairing. Most people want to do the right thing but it’s so frustrating knowing their efforts are largely a waste of time and energy.
But there is a will to recycle if there is clear evidence it will make a difference. Lasso technology can deliver by:
- Ensuring materials placed into the appliance will be closed loop recycled. Bottles will be able to be remade into bottles, and not end up as road base or other downcycled materials.
- Providing financial incentive to recycle and deliver environmental benefits by taking the pressure off using virgin materials.
- Allowing people to take personal responsibility for their recycling, knowing it will be done as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Could you explain to us from a more technical level, what is the engineering behind Lasso?
Actually the only engineering behind the development is effectively re-engineering. Most of the components already exist but require downsizing, simplifying and lowering the cost via mass-manufacture. Downsizing mechanical systems — whether it be motor cars, washing machines, or mowers — are all engineering activities that have evolved over hundreds of years. Lasso will do the same with sensors to identify materials, wash cycles to clean plastic to stringent food and beverage industry standards, grinders and granulators to process the glass and plastics, and the logistics systems of on-demand home pickup and delivery (as pioneered by Uber and Amazon).
And, easily explained, how should we use it? How is this “quality” rubbish – such as packaging – going to be collected and what goes on next?
It’s not rubbish – it’s valuable used material! It’s only “rubbish” when we choose to mix two or more materials together – like mixing the ingredients to make a cake it then becomes too hard to separate. Our technology intervenes before that happens.
Sensors in the appliance will identify materials that can and cannot be processed. Those that can be processed will be placed into the machine (a bit like loading a dishwasher) into their correct bays, all the time keeping materials made of different substances separate. Once the appliance is full the operator presses the start button and the wash cycle will start. When the materials have been cleaned they will then be processed – different coloured glass will be ground into cullet, PET and HDPE will be flaked separately, aluminium tins will be crushed and the resultant pure materials will be stored in the product storage container (PSC) until one bay of the multi-container is full. When that happens, the PSC will be wheeled down to the street to be collected by dedicated pickup vehicles, which will take the products either to a transfer station or directly to the remanufacturers to be closed-loop recycled.
Have you partnered up or had meetings with institutions and businesses across different industries? What is their side of the story and perspective? What is that they need to make a radical change in the way recycling is done?
So far Lasso has partnered with the chemical engineering department of a leading UK university to begin work on developing the sensors. We have had discussions with world-leading industrial-scale component designers, manufacturers and suppliers. Their response has been extremely positive and, once we have funds, we expect a number of these organisations to work with us to develop a number of prototype components.
The is also planned to be a payback for the good action of recycling with Lasso, how does this work?
By ensuring your used materials are always kept separate, the Lasso technology will produce 100% closed-loop recyclable products. When one bay of the product storage container (PSC) is full, the Lasso logistics system will pick up the contents. We estimate that on average households will need a pickup service to their home between three and eight times a year. The pickup process will weigh each individual material stored in each compartment of the PSC that the household has generated, and the total value of products can be calculated. The cost of the logistics services and sales will be deducted, leaving a financial benefit to the householder.
It is not yet clear what the financial value that will accrue to householders will be but, after the first rollout, we should know within five to seven years. We forecast from day one that the Lasso pickup service will be free of charge.
What would be the ideal clients and businesses be for this new effective closed-loop recycling system?
Any household on the planet which consumes plastics, glass, metals — and eventually those who use plastic film, paper, cardboard and organics. Same, too, for businesses, hospitals, factories, building sites, entertainment venues, educational institutions…you name it! The Lasso technology can be applied to and will work in any and all of those.
Wrapping up, how do you expect the Lasso invention is going to positively contribute the Sustainable Development Goals?
- It will assign a financial value to your used materials, incentivising you to treat them the exact same way you currently treat your worn clothes and dirty dishes – you don’t throw out your socks at the end of the day and it will be the same for your used materials.
The Lasso domestic system will enhance government bottle deposit systems because the Lasso appliance will be able to process the deposits without you even leaving the kitchen. It will also mean no more bulging, unsightly bags of recycling and save you keeping yet another container of bottle deposit approved containers. And it will save on time and effort spent on delivering those containers to a public recycling processing/ reverse vending machine or manual return assessment services.
- By using a Lasso you will be directly contributing to and benefiting from the circular economy and businesses which sell products in packaging will be able to have their Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) measured and credited through the Lasso system.
If you could write a message on a big wall that the entire world could see, what would it say?
The future is circular!
How can everyone support Lasso?
We would love people to:
- Spread the word on social media and via word of mouth
- Invest for as little as £10 on the Crowdcube crowdfunding campaign (live now!)
- Register on our website if you would like to contribute technically, financially or commercially to the ReCircle system once crowdfunding has concluded.
Where can we find you and follow-up Lasso invention?
ALDOUS HICKS, CEO & CO-FOUNDER
Aldous Hicks is Co-founder and CEO of ReCircle Recycling Ltd. Aldous has over 30 years’ business experience as a technology and software developer, project manager and mechanical engineer, including developing water- and material-recycling technology. He developed the SOHO custom PC database software, and prior to that worked with Mannesmann Demag AG, a German multinational mechanical heavy engineering company. Aldous has now turned his attention and expertise to the recycling economy, founding ReCircle to create a solution that will empower consumers while reversing the current recycling system, which is unsustainable and inefficient.
ALISON RICHARDSON, CO-FOUNDER
Alison holds a Masters of Health Sciences and is passionate about the world of recycling. A former teacher, journalist and sexual health counsellor, she now dedicates her skills and energies to the ReCircle Recycling concept and developing the circular economy. She travels back and forth between Australia and the UK promoting awareness, raising funds, and ensuring that ReCircle is at the forefront of industry developments.
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