ISRI Member Helps Forward Projects that Drive Recycling, Sustainability, and Material Reuse

Jan 13, 2023, 09:08 AM
Content author:
Hannah Zuckerman
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NextCycle is a collaborative initiative that identifies, recruits, vets, and helps move forward projects focused on waste prevention, material reuse, recycling/composting, and developing end markets for materials. The initiative is managed and facilitated by Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Resource Recycling System (RRS).

The initiative includes a public-private partnership network of industry experts, operators, and investors to provide mentorship, advising, financial commitments, and implementation opportunities. The program uses investments from partners to help build regional sustainability that impacts the full supply chain from collection to local end markets and new products. Selected teams in the initiative receive access to business, industry, and investment experts to develop project plans, connect with partners and funders, and create projects that are ready for investment and implementation.

ISRI News had the opportunity to chat with RRS to learn more about how NextCycle’s work helps to ensure that more materials are recycled efficiently, to protect natural resources, and to reduce carbon emissions and waste.


How does NextCycle protect natural resources?

NextCycle supports the growth of businesses and organizations that work to capture and use more recycled materials, both common recycling along with hard to recover materials and organic material streams. The program connects entrepreneurs, companies, organizations, and communities to technical support, financial resources, and capacity building for recycling, recovery, and reuse initiatives. It promotes models focused on waste prevention, reuse, recycling, and organics recovery. These activities reduce the need to mine, drill, or extract natural resources while also reducing pollution caused when materials are otherwise mismanaged.

Program participants receive hands-on consulting support to improve their business plans, make connections with partners, verify their value propositions, and secure the public and private sector funding needed to grow their ventures. Currently three states are involved in NextCycle initiatives: Colorado, Michigan, and Washington.

NextCycle Michigan has supported 107 teams since its inception, including 56 teams in the accelerator-style program and an additional 48 teams supported through small grants. NextCycle Washington is supporting 16 teams in its inaugural cohort and is in the process of selecting 40 seed grant recipients. NextCycle Colorado has supported 24 teams to date and just finished recruiting for its fourth cohort.

How does the program work to reduce carbon emissions?

NextCycle projects in Michigan are helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving recycling, organics recovery, and building markets for recovered materials to be reutilized in the supply chain. Using recycled content in place of natural resources almost always shows a reduction in carbon emission compared to the alternative.

The City of Ferndale, a NextCycle Michigan team, is working to reduce its carbon emissions by expanding its residential program to offer free and accessible drop-off areas and invest in its composting infrastructure. This is just one of the many innovative projects working toward achieving a 45% recycling rate in Michigan.


How does the NextCycle initiative help reduce waste?

Many NextCycle participants focus on recycling, which helps provide a renewable source of high-quality materials for the everyday items and essential infrastructure people depend on. Some examples include supporting the expansion of a composting site, growth of a plastics reclaimer, and development of an electric vehicle (EV) battery recycling facility.

The first RIT Cohort during the boot camp hosted in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Some of the businesses and organizations that NextCycle supports focus on waste reduction through prevention, share, repair, and reuse models; frequently referred to as “upstream” approaches. Some ventures NextCycle has supported include food rescue organizations, companies deploying reusable packaging, tool libraries, and peer-to-peer rental models.

Michigan is currently working to recover more materials more efficiently. NextCycle Michigan teams receive technical and business support while fostering partnership opportunities to advance materials recovery. Food and wood waste, plastic, glass, textiles, and electronics are some of the materials NextCycle teams focus on.

How is innovation an important aspect of NextCycle?

At its core, NextCycle is as a lab for innovation. The companies supported are bringing in innovative ideas that need support to become commercially viable. The technical support, mentorship, networking, and access to funding pathways to improve upon their innovation, help ground it within the context of existing systems, and “de-risk” the venture in the eyes of potential investors, customers, and partners.

NextCycle Michigan offers a pathway for innovative solutions for recycling and waste recovery system so that more recycled materials circulate within Michigan’s economy, creating jobs, protecting the environment, and improving the quality of life. In NextCycle Michigan, funding is used for projects through partners across the supply chain, an innovative approach to increase investment by aligning the common mission of growing a more sustainable economy with the specific interests of funding partners.

Can you tell me about some examples of NextCycle projects?

Denver, Colorado-based Direct Polymers focused on expanding its operation to use post-consumer material by adding the ability to wash, blend, and pelletize difficult-to-recycle plastic streams containing labels, liquids, dirt, or other contaminants.

EGLE Director Liesl Clark (left) presenting the Shovel Ready pitch group award to the ROADS Innovation Challenge Track Team, American Classic, represented by Lola Harman (center) and Sam Flanery (right).

NexTiles is a Detroit-based textile recycling and secondary use company that specializes in manufacturing eco-friendly building insulation material made from automotive manufacturing recycled textiles. During the NextCycle program, the team connected with partners, initiated product testing for safety and performance, furthered their business model, and strengthened their in-person pitching skills. The start-up plans to explore using other material streams such as different automotive materials, carpet, and textile waste.

Detroit-based environmental services company VMX International is seeking to develop a recycling center focused on lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles. This expansion builds on decades of experience working as a total waste management service for auto manufacturers and suppliers.

Portland, Oregon-based Birch Biosciences is engineering a bio-enzymatic process to break down and recycle polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic. This process produces high-quality recycled PET that is equivalent to or lower in cost than conventional recycled PET. It also expands the variety of PET products that can be effectively recycled. The company’s goal is to build the first PET pilot and commercial facilities in the Pacific Northwest. Birch Bioscience joined NextCycle Washington for assistance to identify appropriate sources of materials and facility locations along with connecting with potential partners.

The San Francisco, California-based company Glacier joined both NextCycle Michigan and NextCycle Washington to use partnership connections to install AI robots in local materials recovery facilities (MRFs). The company’s flagship product is an AI-enabled industrial robot that automates sorting in recycling facilities. The team is working to ensure that their AI-enabled industrial robots are justifiable for all MRFs regardless of space or budget constraints. The design is half the cost and one-third the footprint of other robots and is installed with no downtime.

Photos Courtesy of Resource Recycling System.

NextCycle is a collaborative initiative that identifies, recruits, vets, and helps move forward projects focused...
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