Closing the loop is a responsibility for all, says ReCircle’s Alison Richardson

ReCircle co-founder Alison Richardson is tackling the recycling problem for the next generation. 

In this interview, Alison tells us that closed-loop recycling is essential to kick start a circular economy. ReCircle’s patented recycling technology is designed to do just that. 

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Interview transcript:

I’m one of the co-founders of ReCircle. I’ve been involved for about the last five years, although Aldous came up with the idea about 15 years ago. In fact he was so prescient, I think is the right word, that he predicted that there would be a big crisis with recycling. He wrote himself a letter and said that he would open it down the track. He hasn’t as yet, it’ll be interesting to see what it says, but it basically heralded the advent of the ReCircle technology.

I was working in a completely different background. I’m a relationship and sexual health counsellor. I was getting increasingly worried by the stories that we read in the news about the crisis with recycling and the crisis that the planet is facing, and starting to feel more and more that I needed to do something a little bit more meaningful when it came to trying to solve the crisis. I also really think that our generation, my generation, has a big responsibility towards the younger generation to clean up the mess that we’ve made. 

So I decided that I would join forces with Aldous and support him. Many years ago, before I went into counselling, I was a journalist. I started off with just writing a few blogs and gradually got so taken in with the whole ReCircle experience that I’ve now decided to work full time trying to promote the message.

I think as far as getting something done, I think we have let this latest, youngest generation down. But they are taking the power into their own hands and I think that it is absolutely fantastic that these school kids are out on the street trying to get some sort of leverage and get our governments and our councils to actually put their money where their mouths are, and to do something concrete about this problem that’s facing us. Yeah, I think the kids will make a huge difference, and I just hope that what we’re doing is going to be something that we can start to tackle the problem in time for them. 

I’ve also recently been lucky enough to become a grandmother. That really changes the way you look at the world too. So I feel really really strongly, looking at my two little grandkids. One of them is only about 6 months old, and the idea that already he’s got very likely particles of plastic in his body is just appalling, absolutely appalling. So I guess that sort of brought it home too and made me even more dedicated to try and do something about this problem.

Until we start implementing closed-loop recycling, all we’re going to do is continue to add to the mountain. Unless we’re actually making bottles out of bottles and cans out of cans, we are going to continue to have to use virgin materials to make more to fulfil the huge appetite that the world has got for more consumables in plastic and in tins.  

I love it because it empowers people in their own home. The ReCircle technology gives people a chance to actually do something at the grassroots level.  In the end, when you’re bombarded with so many negative stories, it’s often tempting just to throw your hands up in the air and say ‘well, what the hell can I do?’. And, at least I can stand up and say, ‘well, actually there is something you can do.’ You know, we’ve got a fantastic technology that will mean that you can genuinely recycle, as opposed to just change the state of something. 

One of the things I love about the ReCircle system, is that it is simple. It’s something that you do in your own home. It’s something the whole family can do. It’s very straightforward, once you’ve learned to load the machine. It’s practical. I think, down the track when people start getting money back for all the stuff that they’re collecting, that it’s going to make recycling, exciting even! I can imagine families encouraging their children to recycle more things so they can increase their pocket money or whatever. But, what I like about it is the simplicity and the fact that it is, it’s something that empowers people at a very local and grassroots level to do something. Because let’s face it, our governments and our councils are really fiddling while Rome burns.

The ReCircle appliance is going to be about the size of your dishwasher, or maybe slightly larger in the beginning. You’re going to be able to put the vast majority of your recycling straight into this machine. You will have different sections in it to put your green glass and your brown glass and your clear glass, and your different types of plastic. It will have sensors that will tell you that if you try to put a green glass bottle in the clear glass section, it will say no you can’t do that. So very quickly you will learn exactly where to put all of the materials. 

Once it’s full up, just like your dishwasher, you will press the start button and the processes will then begin. The materials will then be washed to a very high standard so the final materials can then be used for food and beverage containers again. The glass will be ground up, the plastic will be flaked and the tins will be crushed. Each one of those materials will then be stored in a separate container at the base of the machine. Whenever one of those containers is full, the machine will automatically call up an Uber-type collection service which will come along and will pick up your box of green glass cullet, for example, which you will put out on the street. It will weigh it and work out how much you’ve contributed, and you will eventually get money back for the amount of recycling that you have actually done. Instead of taking that to a council depot, then having it processed and then taken somewhere else for recycling, that green glass cullet will go straight to the glass company and the glass company will then be able to make it straight into new bottles. And they will pay for that. They will be very happy to pay a good amount of money for pure cullet – and the same for all of the other materials, the plastic flakes will be picked up separately and will be sent to the plastic bottle making factory, or whatever it is that they’re making out of the plastics. And the same for the tins.

One of the things I’m really excited about with the ReCircle technology is that we have so many people who are involved who are so passionate about what we’re doing. It’s not just people of my age generation and Aldous’ generation, but we’ve got a lot of fantastic young people who are very savvy who have come onboard with the most incredible passion and dedication to actually get this technology off the ground and they’re very, very invested in what we’re doing. So, I’m very proud of that.

We’ve now got to the stage where we’ve done an enormous amount of work. We are about to go to crowdfunding and we’re going to be asking people to join us in actually being able to produce a prototype. We have sourced many of the sensors and grinders and the cutters and the washers and everything that go into this machine – they already exist in other technologies in other capacities, but they don’t all exist in one machine. We now have to prove up what we’ve been saying, and we believe very strongly that we can. So, we’re starting a crowdfunding campaign and we’re hoping that people will jump on board because they realise that this is really going to be a very effective way of starting to tackle what is a really shocking problem that we have left behind us.