Meet Jeanny Yao and Miranda Wang, the co-founders of Silicon Valley startup BioCellection, a company that seeks to improve plastic recycling by turning them into compounds for making clothing material and other consumer goods.
Yao and Wang’s journey to recycling began when they were teenagers in high school. As part of their recycling club in Vancouver, Canada the duo collected bottles on beaches and attended tours at waste-processing plants.
However, they became disappointed when they discovered that the recycling system was not as efficient as they thought, and that most plastics they sorted would just end up in landfills due to the lack of market for it.
“Growing up as a kid, you believe that if you do your part and you put your things into the right bins … everything is going to get taken care of,” Yao told The Mercury News.
Using the skills that Yao learned in her biochemistry and environmental sciences study at the University of Toronto, combined with Wang’s engineering entrepreneurship and biology knowledge from the University of Pennsylvania, the two co-founded BioCellection at the age of 21 in 2015 in Menlo Park.
While attending college, both Yao and Wang showed up on the TED stage to present their idea on breaking down plastic using microbes and turn it into water.
However, the idea turned out to be infeasible, The Mercury News reported. This led the duo to turn from bacteria to chemistry to tackle the plastic problem. The process that BioCellection established can turn polyethylene plastics, which makes up third of all the plastics used and it’s considered difficult to recycle, into valuable chemicals.
These chemicals would then undergo refining and then into chemical building blocks that look like white powder that is believed to be worth from $1,600 to $21,000 per metric ton. Commercial retailers can buy the compound and use it for products such as perfumes, paint, and the soles of shoes.
In 2017, BioCellection started a pilot program with San Jose city and GreenWaste. City officials are looking for ways to boost recycling through incentive programs, educational campaigns, and public-private partnership.
The city currently produces around 12,750 liters of polyethylene plastics in a day that is being sorted by GreenWaste. But right now, BioCellection can only recycle on a much smaller scale of 10 liters per day.
One day, however, this may change as the company is trying to scale up its lab’s operation.
“The long-term goal is to be able to recycle all of the city of San Jose’s — and other cities’ — polyethylene plastic,” Wang, the CEO of BioCellection, said.