Transforming Plastic Waste into Building Materials: An Interview with the CEO of CRDC, Donald Thomson

Initiatives creating value from plastic waste in a global landscape
April 24, 2023

Finboot is committed to promoting sustainable discussion and how digital transformation can make a positive impact. To further this mission, we are conducting a series of interviews called "Initiatives Creating Value From Plastic Waste in a Global Landscape¨, where we invited a few selected companies that are making significant strides in this area to talk about their projects and share insights.

Our first interview is with Donald Thomson, CEO of the Center for Regenerative Design and Collaboration (CRDC), a company whose approach is based on a collaborative net-zero circular economy model that views the plastic and construction industries as a connected system, where the plastic industry waste stream becomes the raw material and value stream for the construction and building industry.

Asked by Paris Dufrayer, CRO of Finboot, Donald described CRDC's innovative approach to tackling the plastic waste crisis and its impact on the environment. CRDC's story is just one example of how businesses are taking responsibility for addressing this global issue, and we hope that their insights will inspire others to take action. The company started as a small classical music school for underprivileged children on the beach that required students to help pick up plastic to earn their position in the class. After becoming focused on the plastic problem, the school became a volunteer beach cleanup program and later evolved into CRDC. The company takes plastic waste from levels 1 to 7 (the 7 types of recyclable plastics fall under the categories of PET, HDPE, PP, LDPE, PVC, PS, and Other) and transforms it into a concrete additive for the building industry.

Thomson highlights the ¨plastic dilemma¨, which refers to the global challenge of managing plastic waste effectively. With the ever-increasing demand for plastic products, there has been a significant increase in plastic waste generation, which poses a significant threat to the environment and human health. The plastic dilemma requires a multifaceted solution that involves reducing plastic waste generation, improving waste management systems, and promoting the transition towards a circular economy. It is a complex issue that requires a coordinated effort from different stakeholders, including governments, businesses, and individuals, to tackle it effectively.

The construction sector is very large, and the plastic industry has a very beneficial industrial symbiosis with it. McKinsey & Company published an article entitled ¨The circular cement value chain: Sustainable and profitable¨, stating that "concrete and cement circularity could allow industry to rein in costs and reduce emissions, adding untapped value to the built environment." According to the article, redesign, reduction, and repurposing of existing assets are crucial as decarbonization strategies. Donald's statement shows how CRDC is focused on that opportunity: "From our perspective, we often say if a plastic can be recycled, it should be recycled. If it can't, it should be transformed."  He also highlights the importance of repurposing plastic waste and transforming it into another material that can have lasting value. This approach can be achieved through the development of innovative technologies that can convert plastic waste into high-value products, such as fuels, chemicals, and building materials. By repurposing plastic waste in this way, companies can reduce their reliance on raw materials, decrease their carbon footprint, and contribute to a more sustainable future. Additionally, repurposing plastic waste contributes to the development of circular economies. For instance, they work with some organizations to help solve the housing deficit, such as the Alliance to end Plastic Waste and Habitat for Humanity. The first one is helping CRDC scale up their production plant for RESIN8® in Costa Rica and expand their footprint in North America. RESIN8® is a concrete additive made from hard-to-recycle plastic that has already been used by Habitat for Humanity to build housing in Latin America.

CRDC has pilot facilities on almost all continents and is building full-size facilities in Pennsylvania - USA, San José - Costa Rica and South Africa. CRDC is a purpose-driven company that has specific goals. The company's mission is to make as big an impact as possible, and they spend a lot of time determining how to achieve this goal. The company's purpose is to transform plastic waste, and they believe that building smaller plants in multiple locations is the key to making a significant impact. They refer to this as the "Starbucks model" and plan to build plants wherever there are plastic consumers, construction, and concrete. Donald emphasizes that "if all the plastic produced every year, estimated to be around 400 million tons, were converted into the RESIN8 product, it would still only represent a small percentage, specifically 2.5%, of the overall aggregate market (all natural stone and sand materials used in construction). This means that the construction industry has the potential to use all the plastic produced, they can make a big difference in the plastic dilemma .¨

On the other hand, Donald mentioned that one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is that consumers have lost faith in recycling because they have seen a lot of plastic waste that has not been recycled, which leads them to believe that recycling is not working. He added that the plastic market needs to regain consumers' trust by ensuring that recycled plastic is actually being used in new products.

Donald believes that using technology to build trust and confidence in information is essential to getting the public to believe in recycling again. "Being able to engage the public with accurate information and results is probably one of the very most important things that we can do," he adds.

Paris, CRO at Finboot, highlights that by using blockchain technology, for example, consumers can see exactly where their recycled plastic came from and how it is being used. This level of transparency can help rebuild consumers' faith in recycling and encourage them to recycle more. Donald recognizes the significance of digitalization and its potential benefits for his industry. He acknowledges that there is a lot to learn in this area, as well as the growing importance of verification and tracking processes. He adds that the CRDC is currently analyzing the use of data as a priority to help stakeholders understand the impact of associating with CRDC. He also mentions that working with a company like Finboot is a big priority for them.

In his final remarks, Donald emphasized the value of understanding both sides of the plastic dilemma, including the issues and worries that the industry faces. He believes that bringing the two perspectives (from the Industry and the Consumer) to the center of the debate and seeking for a common sense and for practical initiatives is crucial for people to see the results and believe in the recycling industry. Donald sees this as one of the biggest challenges facing the recycling industry, and he believes that collaboration is the key to finding solutions. He expresses his excitement to collaborate with Finboot to effectively make a meaningful impact on the world's plastic waste crisis.

To learn how Finboot can help you implement a circular economy tracking solution by giving transparency to supply chain renewable feedstock processes, and, with it, ensuring environmental sustainability for a better future, download this free ebook: The importance of tracking renewable feedstock for supply chain integrity.