Due to the excessive production and overuse of plastics around the world, individuals constantly try to find new ways to solve global environmental challenges. Brightmark, founded by Tech Alumnus Bob Powell, recently announced their plans to build a new advanced plastics recycling and renewal facility in Macon-Bibb County, Georgia to be the biggest in the world.
With the intention of changing the way people see and manage plastic waste, Powell started Brightmark in 2016.
“I wanted to do something that was different than the ordinary, and I grew up in the energy space and had done some renewable energy work as well, and so, what I wanted to do was create a company that solves environmental issues [and] created a cleaner footprint,” Powell, who received his BSEE in 1988 and MBA in 1990 said. “Our mission is to create a world without waste, so I wanted to gather together a group of people, who, hopefully, were really excited, optimistic, [had] a lot of grit, and [had] great thinking around solving problems.”
The San Francisco-based company aims to confront pressing environmental challenges through a holistic approach. As claimed on their website, Brightmark’s vision is to “transform organic waste into renewable natural gas and create innovative approaches to plastics renewal.”
Brightmark’s latest announcement on June 7 explained that “the total investment is expected to be more than $680 million in a new plant intended to fully utilize the 5.3 million square-foot site, which will employ a state-of-the-art and proprietary plastics renewal process that sustainably recycles all plastic waste (Types 1-7) that has reached the end of its useful life.
These include items that cannot readily be recycled (Types 3-7), such as plastic film, flexible packing, Styrofoam, plastic beverage cups, car seats and children’s toys. Brightmark’s proven breakthrough closed loop solution converts the plastic waste directly into useful products, including renewable fuels and wax, and is also capable of creating the building blocks for new plastics, enabling a circular economy in the plastics industry.”
When asked about how Brightmark’s goals have shifted and been met over time, Powell said, “When we founded Brightmark, one of our big goals was around the impact we had on climate change and greenhouse gasses. Five years ago, what we had in our mind — we’ve actually exceeded it. It’s blown my mind a little bit. What happens when you get a great, passionate team together is that [with] goals, you just go out and get it done.”
In the past five years, Brightmark has surpassed similar companies in renewing and recycling and has taken the entire United States by storm.
“We’re the leader in the farming industry in terms of renewable, natural gas,” Powell said. “We’ve got projects east coast to west coast, north to south, so the breadth of what we’re doing in that area is amazing. What we’re about to achieve with the first-of-its-kind facility in Ashley, Indiana this year when we turn it on, will take 100,000 tons of plastics a year out of the environment — all the 91% of plastics that aren’t recycled. I never would’ve envisioned that, and so, I think we’ve blown the cover off of the original thought and goals.”
Using sustainable technology, Brightmark continues to make advancements towards efficient plastic recycling methods. Once the incoming recycling and renewal facility in Macon is complete, “400,000 tons of plastic waste each year from landfills and incinerators [will be] convert[ed] into 64 million gallons of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and naphtha blend stocks, and 20 million gallons of wax.” Through Brightmark’s advanced recycling process, 93% of plastic waste will be converted into new products.
Powell shares how Tech helped him grow and learn: “When I got out of Tech, I didn’t realize that the rigor in breaking down problems — even in very technical areas — would solve me, personally, really well in my career. I would say that for Tech students now, when you’re in the grind, sometimes you wonder whether it’s worth it. It’s worth it. It totally is.”
For Tech students looking to make a difference in the world, Powell leaves two pieces of advice.
“You should not fear trying things. The richness around creating something out of nothing — even if in that initial time, it may not have the outcome you want — you should absolutely be willing to go for it,” Powell said. “Get as many repetitions as you possibly can. Whether it be work or reading or whatever — if you get a lot of reps, you’re going to create a catalog of experiences that will serve you really well in the future.”
The future of the world relies on creative thinkers, innovators, problem solvers, and caring individuals — all of which Tech is full of. For students looking for opportunities to get involved with Brightmark, visit https://www.brightmark.com/about/careers/.