93% of plastic is not recycled.
Only seven to nine percent of the plastic that is generated on an annual basis is recycled. Sebastian Sajoux explains, “The plastics go to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF, pronounced “Murph”), and then go into a recycling system. Still, 50% of plastics that are manufactured are impossible to recycle with current technologies.
“The number that’s really scary is, by 2050 the amount of plastic used and discarded will double.”
“We are in this race to become more efficient in separation and recycling, but we are still manufacturing products that cannot be recycled.”
Why Some Plastic is Born Unrecyclable
“Plastics are divided into categories,” Sebastian told me. “Usually, you see the numbers one through seven in a recycling system. They can only be recycled within the same stream.
“There are also rigid plastics, such as a shampoo bottle, and flexible plastic, which is a wrapping, for example, for an Oreo Cookie or Lays Potato Chips.
“For flexible plastics, because it is so thin, it requires different layers to work together to be safer, to keep the product for more time. So, you exchange thickness for another technology. If you combine two different types of plastics, it is automatically unrecyclable.
“What we are addressing is all of the flexible packaging out there that was born unrecyclable. It seems like a wrapper from, let’s say a butter toffee, it’s harmless. But people discard them every day.
“So, laminates are our main focus.”
A Solution to Unrecyclable Plastics
Arqlite takes unrecyclable mixed plastic and produces a gravel that can be used in construction.
When compared to traditional mineral gravel, Arqlite’s smart gravel is three times lighter, ten times better insulator, doesn’t break or produce dust, and doesn’t require hydration. These are all characteristics that are desirable in the construction industry.
Lighter gravel is easier and cheaper to transport. It can be manufactured locally, reducing costs and greenhouse gas emission. And, it does not require mining to produce.
Builders who use Arqlite smart gravel can gain LEED points. The material is recycled, it is locally produced, and it improves insulation.
The solution is scalable. “I didn’t want to make countertops and sell 100 countertops per day,” Sebastian says. “I wanted to make gravel and sell 100 trucks per day.”
Sebastian Sajoux’s Startup Journey
Sebastian started his career in communication, photography, and marketing. He ran a communication agency, and he even published a magazine in his native Argentina.
“At some point,” Sebastian describes, “I had already had too much fun in my life. Being a photographer, I traveled around the world. You have fun. You have interesting jobs. But at some point, I projected ahead in my life and I thought, I need to find some way to be scalable.”
So, Sebastian took a six-month trip to Europe to see the latest innovations. “I was amazed by everything I was seeing related to renewable energy and recycling, I was like, whoa! This is great. That’s when I saw two ideas – making a business and making an impact – I saw those two ideas come together by working in sustainability.”
In 2013, Sebastian returned to school to complete an advanced degree in Environmental Consulting. He launched a consulting company, B-GREEN, a Certified B Corporation.
“B-GREEN was helping big companies to get to zero waste in landfills. I was trying to help these companies solve the problem of complex plastics, which was the rock in their shoe.
“Arqlite started by grinding plastics in my kitchen and melting plastics in a pot on my stove. You can imagine, my wife was not too happy about it.”
Sebastian produced a simple prototype in his kitchen: ten pieces of plastic gravel. He developed a theory of change, that unrecyclable plastic could be turned into value-added products such as gravel.
The Importance of Community for Startups
Sebastian says, “It’s not easy to start a company. Sometimes you feel a little bit lonely. But what helped me is, getting together with people who think similarly. You need to be surrounded by people with your same mindset. That’s the thing that fuels you to get from one stage to the other.”
Sebastian was a solo entrepreneur, but he did not build Arqlite alone. “I’ve always focused on building strong teams,” he says.
After creating his prototype gravel, Sebastian worked his network and found a connection with one of the biggest construction companies in Argentina. The people at the construction company were interested in the smart gravel.
With the strength of his story and these ten pieces of plastic, he joined the accelerator Fledge in 2015. ”It was transformative for me to be part of the Fledge team,” Sebastian says. “That was my starting point for networking in the US.”
At Fledge, he worked closely with mentors and fellow founders. He met investors who were interested. He raised $20,000 in Angel investments.
After Fledge, when Sebastian returned to Argentina, he knew he needed help to scale his idea. Sebastian admits that he wasn’t an engineer and didn’t really understand what he was doing. “If I knew in advance all of the work that it would require, maybe I would have stayed making nice pictures.”
So, Sebastian sent a WhatsApp message to 100 of his contacts. “If any of you know an engineer who can help me, please let me know.” The only person to respond was a distant acquaintance. He introduced Sebastian to a material engineer who is an expert in plastics. “He was my only meeting, and I hired him.”
The engineer introduced Sebastian to another person who would become his Chief Financial Officer.
In 2016, Sebastian was recognized as an Echoing Green Fellow. That year, he raised $200,000 of Seed capital.
In 2017, he raised another $400,000 in a convertible note, and in 2018, Arqlite received a $200,000 grant from MassChallenge.
This year, they are raising a Series A of $2.5 million. So far, their investors include Cemex, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cement. They also have Coca Cola onboard and Arcor, an Argentine food company specialized in confectionery.
Learn More About Sebastian Sajoux and Arqlite:
- Arqlite: https://www.arqlite.com
- Arqlite on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/arqlite_us
- Arqlite on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/arqlite
- Arqlite on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2aC0VRGB6dLgKxEtCkAI6A/videos