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Full Cycle: Converting Waste into a Fully Compostable BioPlastic! (Updated: 10/14/2016)

We transform organic waste into PHA, a fully compostable and cost competitive biopolymer that is an alternative to petro-plastics.

Photo of Ross Polk
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Full Cycle converts organic and cellulosic waste, including food, agricultural byproducts, and cardboard and waste paper into high-value, fully compostable bio-plastics called polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). PHAs' harmlessly and naturally degrade in marine and terrestrial ecosystems offering an environmentally favorable alternative to traditional petro-based plastics. PHAs are adaptable and high-performance polymers with broad commercial application potential including commercial food-grade packaging and agriculture films. Full Cycle uses a patented biotechnological process to break down waste and build polymers using non-GMO wild type bacteria - mitigating costs, regulatory constraints and scalability challenges.

Because we use food waste to create fully compostable plastics we simultaneously solve two un-intented consequences of the Consumption Economy, namely organic and plastic waste pollution. Equally important, we offer regions a profitable solution for organic waste treatment and upcycling - unlocking the ability to install waste collection and processing infrastructure in those locales that are currently underserved including India, SE Asia and China.  

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Full Cycle is rooted in its local community. Dane and Jeff Anderson, the co-founders of Full Cycle, have spent the last decade developing FCB's waste conversion technology in partnership with various stakeholders and partners. Research was conducted at California State - Fresno until late 2015 and continues at the USDA-ARS facility in Albany, CA. Full Cycle is currently seeking partners that produce food waste and/or use plastic materials in their value or supply chain.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Food waste is a global problem; considering this, Full Cycle seeks to leverage OpenIDEO's global community to identify additional food waste sources, product applications and opportunities to maximize environmental and social impact.

Tell us about your work experience:

The Full Cycle team draws from extensive entrepreneurial experience - multiple team members have guided and scaled a variety of start-ups to commercial success. Additionally, our team has expertise in packaging, plastics, molded fiber, waste and renewable markets, waste diversion and re-purposing technologies, finance, risk analysis, waste water engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, industrial automation and corporate CSR strategies.

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm

How far along is your idea?

  • It’s launched and we’re working on gathering more feedback – it’s existed for over 6 months

How would you describe this idea to your grandmother?

Hi Gram - we have created a technology that turns food waste into an environmentally friendly plastic alternative called PHA. We use normal bacteria (no GMOs) to "eat" the food waste and turn it into a plastic-like material. Products made from PHA can be turned into new PHA products at the end of their life and won't pollute our oceans or land because they naturally break down in those ecosystems.

How is your idea unique to the space?

Full Cycle is the first company to use heterogeneous waste streams as a feedstock to create PHA. Our technology allows for precise biological control of the waste fermentation, the bacterial growth and the production of PHA into a consistent end product. Although our tech is driven by sophisticated sensing and custom built software algorithms we use nature as a guide - the bacteria used in our process is easy to source and naturally occurring so we don't rely on any GMOs.

Who needs to play a role in your idea in order to make it successful?

Since the problem of food and plastic waste are systemic issues, we’ll need a broad set of stakeholders from various organizations and industries to help solve it. More specifically, Full Cycle partners with those that create or manage large volumes of waste materials. These stakeholders include food and consumer product manufacturers, municipalities, paper mills and waste haulers. We also engage with plastic converters, product manufacturers and consumers to identify the best use of PHA.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

Each ton of raw organic material used as input is material that is diverted from lower uses, primarily landfilling and therefore has associated emissions savings. Each pound of petroleum plastic that is displaced saves three pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. In the long term, Full Cycle would like to bring its system to those areas that currently do not have waste collection and processing infrastructures - reducing marine/terrestrial pollution and combating water/air toxicity .

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

The construction and operations of a demonstration facility, capable of producing approximately 50 pounds of PHA per day, is the next critical step in Full Cycle’s growth. The demonstration facility will provide proof of technology scalability, using real world feedstocks in real world conditions, and will produce enough PHA to negotiate offtake agreements. Pledges of operational support have been committed by a waste management company and an anaerobic digestion operator.

23 comments

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Photo of Jane
Team

Organic wastes should be regarded as a resource and several appropriate technologies exist for adequate treatment and resource recovery, also including composting and granulating for organic fertilizer:
http://organicfertilizermachine.com/eco-solutions/organic-fertilizer-granulator-for-waste-recycling.html

Photo of No Food Waste
Team

Can we start this is India, we are ready to support . connect with me at agpadmanaban@gmail.com 

http://www.nofoodwaste.in 

Photo of WilliamSullivan1974
Team

Well, we have to share our good news and thinking about recycling!!

Photo of Michael
Team

@Ross Polk This is a very interesting idea that I couldn't ever see come true, the production of Bio and paper waste into bio-degradable products that can put on shelves to hold stock or sold separately. In which they will come in various sizes of storage containers. I am blown away by your ability to recycle with such an effective approach, but one of my concerns after reviewing your idea is the environmental impact. I’m talking about the result of the mass production of the products (air pollution, left overs from production, water and electricity use, employee salaries, etc.) As the waste enters the facility, what processes does the stock go through to become a bio compostable stock at the end? What other factors are involved in production? Also, how cost effective is the method? If your product is to be a cost effective non-polluting stock as you’ve stated, I suggest taking these factors into consideration as your company grows larger. I know it seems like a lot of extra work to factor certain things into production. I’d recommend doing some research into what kind of process does it take to complete the circuit and if there is any way to make it more efficient, cost effective and as pollution free as possible. After gathering that information, discuss the logistics of the facility and how it’s to be laid out. Where will product go? How will it come in and out? What will the design of your facility look like? The production of your Bio-plastics must be as clean as possible otherwise you will go against a major point in the purpose of your product. Wastage must go in and only PHA plastics must come out, with as little wasted material from production as possible. This seems like it will be a long a tedious process for you. Making sure everything is in order and everything works properly. Creating recycled material and creating pollution go hand in hand. As well as anything else that's manufactured in a factory. Something that's been the center of attention for a long time. Good luck to you and your organization!

Photo of Liangyun
Team

It amazed me. I came from China. China is rapidly developing in recent decades. But when I drove to suburbs, I found there are dark sides behind beautiful cities. White trash are threw to everywhere and those can hardly be naturally degraded even in ten thousand years. I like the idea, and I can even imagine a better world if it put into practice and make significance.

Photo of Thomas
Team

Hello Ross Polk,

This solution is almost too good to be true, turning things that would normally be composted or recycled into a product that is helpful to consumers and healthy for the environment. Plastics that are not  biodegradable have been used for just about every purpose out there and have been discarded into the environment polluting our woods and water ways. It is amazing that is has taken someone this long to take find an obtainable solution to such a big problem. The thing I like most about the solution is how you found a way to take what would normally be composted or recycled material and turn it into a more useful product. Even though this project isn’t exactly solving the problem of food waste it is still a helpful solution that is taking the food that is wasted and turning it into something good.
 

Respectfully, Thomas Egan

Photo of Ross
Team

Thanks for the encouraging words Thomas, we're really happy you like the idea and are working hard to make it a reality. 

We know that food waste is a systemic issue and that Full Cycle solve's a particular subset of problems in a very large system - - to eliminate food waste we'll need solutions that tackle production, consumption AND disposal! 

Photo of Leah
Team

Hi Ross,

How, if at all, would you be able to measure the positive impact of PHAs on the enviroment? Also, does the process of converting food waste into bioplastics increase carbon output into the atmosphere?

Photo of Ross
Team

Hi Leah, 

Fantastic question. Admittedly, it will be difficult to measure the total impact of PHAs on the environment but we have some ideas on where to start. 

As a consumer of waste feedstock, it is relatively simple to measure the volume of waste consumed in our process. We believe that each ton of raw organic material used as input is material that is diverted from lower uses, primarily landfill. 

Measuring the carbon footprint of PHAsold into the market is more complicated. Simply put, the carbon utilized in the Full Cycle process is carbon that would have offgassed to CO2 or CH4 in a traditional disposal scenario. However, once converted to PHA, that carbon is sequestered only until such time that the PHA decomposes, where it will be offgassed as CO2 or CH4. That said, there are material and permanent carbon savings to be accounted for outside of the PHA itself. First, each pound of petroleum plastic that is displaced saves approximately three pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Second, processing organics on site means that large volumes of waste, which are heavily comprised of water, do not need to be transported to disposal sites, reducing the carbon footprint of hauling. 

In an ideal, Circular Economy scenario, PHA products at the end of their useful life would reenter the Full Cycle system to emerge as virgin PHA.  

Photo of Molly
Team

Hi Ross, interesting idea! When you say "fully compostable plastics", what do you mean? Compostable dishware that is certified as such is still not always compostable by municipal facilities (I touch on it on my idea if you're curious for more information). How will you address this obstacle? 

Photo of Ross
Team

Hi Molly, 

Great question and we're glad you like the idea! Traditional 'compostable' plastics, like the product you mentioned, are not made with PHA. Although PHA has been around for decades, it has not been commercially available; primarily due to cost barriers, which we believe we remove due to our low-cost feedstock and biorefining process. The distinction between 'compostable' and 'biodegradable' is important and PHA's are both - they compost in home and industrial settings at a faster rate than traditional bioplastics and will biodegrade if leaked into ocean or land ecosystems.  In fact, Full Cycle is interested in blending its PHA with other biopolymers to increase their composting properties. If you're interested in learning more you can check out a study done by California Resources and Recycling Recovery here: http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/publications/Documents/1435%5C20121435.pdf

Thanks!

Photo of marco
Team

Hello! Ross Polk! I hope you are doing fine! congratulation for your good and innovative ideas......may you please visit this https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-waste/ideas/urban-mushroom-farms-network-for-turning-wastes-into-oyster-mushrooms and advise accordingly regarding all aspects for further improvement

Photo of Ross
Team

Hi Marco! 

I just sent you a direct message on Twitter with my contact information. Please feel free to reach out - would be happy to discuss your Urban Farm Network. 

Photo of Jen
Team

Cool concept!  Love to get some samples to play around with in our incubator! 
Our muffin project probably needs a clear package to be able to see the product- so not sure your concept would work, but love to explore options with other things we're doing-- Would the package work with hot-filled liquids that got poured at 190 degrees fahrenheit??? 

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Welcome to the Refinement phase Ross! We've added new Refinement questions to your original submission that we'd love for you to answer. Please check out the Refinement Phase Toolkit for instructions on how to answer the new questions and other recommendations we encourage all idea teams to consider in the upcoming weeks.

Refinement Phase Toolkit: http://ideo.pn/2du9sf7

Lastly, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 09/28" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Hi Ross, we updated the link to the Refinement Toolkit. Please use this new link instead: https://d3gxp3iknbs7bs.cloudfront.net/attachments/bda1f109-0466-4f8e-9699-1359e406df56.pdf

Photo of Amber
Team

Does it degrade naturally like organic waste or is there a special process to break it down?

Photo of Kate
Team

Hi Ross!

Congratulations on being one of forty ideas in the refinement phase. 

What are the next steps for Full Cycle Bioplastics? You mentioned in the video that you plan to raise $3 million via a convertible note by the end of 2017. Is there anything else we should be aware of?

Photo of Dhananjay
Team

Congratulations Full Cycle team!!! I want to know that can this technology be made portable so that we can process food waste at source. Because to my experience it's very difficult to collect segregated food waste. Also please do visit my solution to tackle food waste https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/food-waste/ideas/decentralized-food-waste-processing-using-modular-biogas-technology and give comments.

Photo of Lubega
Team

Ross Polk : The full cycle theme/system is a wonderful innovation.
However you need to be aware of the need for/availability of food waste.
Seeking partners to supply food waste isn't enough.

I therefore advocate for the use of motivational tactics to enable families in different homes to take up the initiative of saving food waste to ensure a steady supply chain for the system.
The FULL CYCLE TEAM can partner with several voluntary organizations to facilitate the motivational activities.

Motivation can be through giving out small gifts/tokens to a home that ensures that food waste is well kept/stored/accumulated and delivered.
More so, a collection point can be established to ensure that every home finds it easy to deliver the waste for collection.

Photo of Ryan
Team

This is an idea I didn’t think could be done, the production of Bio and paper waste into bio-degradable products that can put on shelves to hold stock or sold separately in various forms of storage containers. I applaud your ability to recycle in an effective manner, but one of my concerns after going over this whole process is the environmental impact. I’m referring to the result of the mass production of the products going through your PHA process. As the stock(waste) enters the facility where ever it may be, what processes does the stock go through to become a bio compostable stock at the end? How cost effective is the method? What other factors are involved in production (air pollution, solid waste left over from production, water and electricity use, etc.)?
I know it seems like a lot of extra to factor into production but, if your product is to be a cost effective non-polluting stock as you’ve stated, I advise taking these factors into considerations as your industry expands away from your local community. I’d recommend doing some research into what kind of process does it take to complete the circuit and if there is any way to make it efficient, cost effective and as pollution free as possible. After gathering that information, discuss the logistics of the facility and how it’s to be laid out. Where will product go in and come out? What will the interior look like? Will everything spiral up to save space or will it be sprawled out to make room for wider machines?
The production of your Bio-plastics must be as clean as possible otherwise you will go against a major point in the purpose of your product. Wasted stock must go in and ONLY PHA plastics must come out, with as little wasted material from production as possible.

Photo of Kate
Team

Hi Ross! 

Thank you for sharing the work you are doing at FCB. Are there any other products from this process, e.g. high-value chemicals that could also be extracted and sold (as well as the plastic)?

Photo of Ross
Team

Hi Kate! Great question.

While we have not moved to categorize them as co-products yet, the additional material streams that come from our process are extracted cell mass (potentially good for digestion) and biologically treated water (good for agriculture). Any solid waste that is not converted into PHA would pass through the system and be composted. In fact, our process does not negatively affect an existing commercial compost operation rather, it increases material throughput and yield.  We also produce lactic acid for ethyl lactate production, which can be made into a number of products. In the future, Full Cycle could develop these 'co-products' in conjunction with our PHA production.