Adam Starr and Maxwell Gauthier are two St. Francis Xavier post-grad students who want to eliminate plastic waste. To accomplish this lofty goal, they created Drastic Scholastic Thermoplastics (DST), a company which will divert plastic waste from landfills and the environment, through community-based recycling centers and value-recovery systems. Their plan is to identify and/or create new end markets for recycled plastic and plastic products.
The company, which started in 2019, has already gained a fair bit of traction. In October, it was awarded $25,000 in the Spark Nova Scotia program to further develop its business plan and this February, DST will be opening its first recycling center right on the St.FX campus.
A Plastic Crisis
What drives DST is its commitment to address the “plastic crisis”, a term which refers to the growing global catastrophe of plastic products polluting the environment on a mass scale. According to the 2019 Economic Study of the Canadian Plastic Industry, Markets and Waste Summary Report, 91% of Canadian plastic is not properly recycled.
One contributing factor to this gigantic problem is the plastic itself. Waste management companies are often unable to recycle the plastic we place at the curb because of contaminants such as stuck on food, glue from labels and non- recyclable materials.
“The main reason plastic is not being properly recycled is because waste management companies are receiving it contaminated,” said Starr.
“They are receiving more contaminated plastic than they are able to handle, and it’s is too large to adequately sanitize, so this is the immediate problem we’re trying to solve—contaminated plastic.”
Of the 20 waste management companies Starr and Gauthier interviewed in their customer discovery phase, 90 per cent said contaminated plastic was their number one pain point.
Decentralizing waste management
In Canada, waste management is often handled by one, usually municipality controlled, entity. DST envisions a decentralized waste management system that encourages the consumer to take a more active role in the recycling process.
“We’re trying to empower St.FX, and its surrounding community, to create its own waste management strategy and do its own collecting, sorting, and cleaning,” said Gauthier.
“We redefine traditional recycling models by empowering the community with the tools they need to manage their waste locally, so it doesn’t end up in our landfills or oceans.”
And according to Starr, all these tools are ready for the February launch of its first recycling center. Once it is up and running, the facility will thoroughly clean, shred and properly sort the different types of recyclable plastic by its grade and colour.
High Quality Plastic
Clean and sorted plastic material is a high value product for plastic manufacturers, who are also often deterred from recycled plastics because of its contamination.
Said Gauthier: “If the [recycled plastic] is properly cleaned and sorted when [plastic manufacturers] receive it, then the value of that plastic is astronomical. Once we have a clean product, we can either remanufacture and sell it as our own products or as raw materials to plastic manufacturers they can use instead of harvesting more materials from the ground.”
DST’s novel cleaning process is still in its prototyping phase, but the pair hope to have a working model (TRL Level 9) and be fully operational before September 2021.
In the meantime, they have been brainstorming different recycled plastic products they could manufacter in house, and gettting crafty with their prototyping methods.
“We went to value village and got a toaster oven and a panini press and we made a coaster,” said Starr. “I know it looks ugly, but we made it with a toaster oven.”
Starr and Gauthier have raised over $49,000 to fund their venture through various funding programs. Throughout the process they benefited from the expertise of Springboard’s one and only member representing St.FX, Andrew Kendall, who has been helping the pair explore new industry connections. They also credit Bob Hale, their university liaison, Dr. Neil Maltby, their faculty advisor and Terry Richardson of Graybar Canada, a supply chain management and logistics services company, who helped them source and build the machines they need to move forward, with their success so far.
“The whole community at St.FX has been vital to our success so far,” said Gauthier.
DST is exploring applied research opportunities with scientists across multiple Springboard institutions, having worked with Matthias Bierenstiel, a Cape Breton University Chemistry professor, by experimenting with potential decontamination processes, and engaging with researchers at the University of Prince Edward Island, who have expressed interest in working with the company down the road.
And in September, Starr will be headed to Halifax to take the company even further at two more #TeamSB member institutions. He will be taking the business through the Master’s in Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MTEI) program at Saint Mary’s University Sobey School of Business, while continuing to taking part in the Young Innovators program at Dalhousie's Emera ideaHUB.
Like the St.FX community, The Hub has been a crucial support for DST, by connecting the company to a number of resources to validate the business model and supporting prototype development and R&D collaborations. It will also incubate the company while it conducts further research through the MITACS Accelerate program.
Said Starr: “In the future we hope to scale to other academic institutions and municipalities with this recycling model, ideally providing employment opportunities while doing something good for the environment.”