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It’s not recycling — it’s Denovia. This plastic remanufacturing innovation will change the world

The London, Ontario-based entrepreneurial powerhouse is aiding researcher Istok Nahtigal’s mission to change the way we recycle plastic.

Left to right: Samantha Sowerby, Istok Nahtigal, Nick Spina, and Kyle Standaert
Left to right: Samantha Sowerby, Istok Nahtigal, Nick Spina, and Kyle Standaert

Opinions expressed by Digital Journal contributors are their own.

Nick Spina’s ethey Group is at it again. Known as an incubator for innovation in the food industry, environmentally-friendly space, and beyond, the London, Ontario-based entrepreneurial powerhouse is aiding researcher Istok Nahtigal’s mission to change the way we recycle plastic. It produces pure monomer (read on to learn what that is), is economically viable, and makes traditional recycling methods an overnight relic.

De novo. That’s latin for “from the beginning.” It’s a phrase often related to rebirth, new beginnings, and a departure from the old way of doing things. When you hear the word de novo, one might be reminded a little bit of recycling.

Recycling. We’ve been discussing its importance for the better part of a century. We’ve grown more diligent about what’s making it into the blue bins on our curbs. We’ve been shipping our plastic to massive recycling centers – and calling it a success.

But it’s not really de novo, is it? The current approach we’re taking to plastic recycling doesn’t take the old and make it new. It takes the old and makes it into a slightly worse version of itself, until five or less recyclings later when it’s too brittle to be used and finally sentenced to the landfill. You’ve likely heard this concept described as downcycling.

Hardly de novo – at best, it’s kicking the soda bottle temporarily down the road. There has got to be a better way.

Enter Istok Nahtigal, a physical organic chemist currently researching out of Fanshawe College’s Centre for Research and Innovation. Nahtigal has a big claim – that his team have discovered a process of breaking down plastic into its original components, known as monomers, in as little as five to fifteen minutes. 

“We took on the challenge,” Nahtigal says. “We wanted to get these monomers out in an economical way – that’s been the biggest stumbling block for almost all recycling and reuse cases.”

Despite the expense and complexity of traditional recycling methods, the team at the Centre for Research and Innovation were able to pull off this tall order. This process doesn’t just work, it’s also viable in the market and competitive with even the cheapest solutions in the recycling industry. 

(Top) The reactant solvent used in the depolymerization process. (Bottom) Monomers depolymerized from PET. Photo courtesy of Denovia Labs

It’s low temperature, low pressure, and uses environmentally-friendly solvents to depolymerize waste products. The end result is pure monomer that can be used to create bona-fide virgin plastic. There is no devolution that occurs during recycling – an infinite amount of times over.

Talk about de novo.

It’s no small wonder that this project has taken on the name Denovia

But no innovation – even one as brilliant as Nahtigal et al.’s – can change the world without an entrepreneurial force behind it.

Enter Nick Spina, the Founder and CEO of ethey Group and LiveFit. Spina is a prime mover behind London, Ontario’s growing reputation as a hotspot for innovation, from his initial mission to create a zero-waste ready-made meal service to his new calling as the head of an incubator for exciting new startups.

“There’s not many people on this planet that can make my jaw drop,” Spina says. “Istok managed to do that for me.”

A partnership between Denovia and ethey Group is a wonderful compliment and positions the overall project for success. Nahtigal and his team will remain devoted to the cutting-edge science behind the project. Spina’s growing empire will manage the business end. Like chemistry, this is a combo that is soon to make its mark on the global market.

The first use case of this incredible science will be seen in a collaboration with Goodwill, the largest second-hand seller of textiles in North America. Goodwill often receives “donations” that are hardly suitable for resale – these are typically bailed up and shipped overseas to become somebody else’s burden. Denovia will now take their polyester clothing and dissolve it into monomers which can then be upcycled into high quality plastics such as kevlar.

“It’s a beautiful relationship,” Spina says, this partnership likely being the first of many.

The process covers plastics including polyesters, polyamides, polyurethanes, and textiles. Beyond this, there are more exciting prospects for this process’ application. “We have promising results that it can potentially work as a biostimulant and in water purification to remove toxins and heavy metals,” Nahtigal says. “Lots of promise outside of just the circular plastic to plastic cycle.”

On the business end of things, there are also the prospects of something larger. 

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Spina says. “We plan to scale this across North America – the sky’s the limit.” 

At the latest, work is being done to finalize a proper facility for this process to run indefinitely. ethey Group’s real estate connections surrounding their London headquarters has allowed them to move quickly. The plan is to get that running as a competitive alternative to the massive conversion plants in the area, then grow out into Southern Ontario, Canada, and eventually the United States.

“Istok has already done the heavy lifting and created the magic potion,” Spina says, “that’s the hard part. Now we’re working on the machinery and systems that will bring this to the world.”

It’s not recycling, it’s Denovia. It’s being made possible by Istok Nahtigal and Nick Spina of ethey Group

The science behind it all is cool-as-heck. Learn more about it on their website.

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George Nellist is a public relations, marketing and strategic brand expert who has executed social media and strategic marketing campaigns for a variety of Fortune 500 companies and small businesses. For more information, visit Ascend Agency.

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