Meet Jeremy: President, Alterra
Jeremy became one of the first employees at Alterra so he could make a difference.
“I had worked in a large company my entire career and got the entrepreneurial itch just as an opportunity arose in early 2011. I was lucky to have a supportive spouse who told me to go after it. I was just really looking to get into something on the ground floor where my daily actions and decisions would make a huge difference.”
Some disheartening visits to landfills and recycling centers showed him the path.
“There’s a lot of valuable material that we’re putting in landfills. Society and the Earth needed a technology that could do something with the harder to recycle plastics that are going to the landfill or being incinerated.”
So that’s what the company and he created.
“I started over a decade ago with a couple other people, and it was literally in the entrepreneurial garage at that time. Over the years the team innovated and created what is now a disruptive technology for discarded plastics. The technology creates value from something that is not normally seen as having value and from a sustainability perspective this is a gamechanger.”
Today that disruptive technology is called advanced recycling. As President of Alterra, he’s deploying new technologies to recycle previously difficult-to-recycle plastic, again and again.
Helping keep plastic out of landfills and our environment.
“Advanced recycling is a disruptive technology that allows us to take plastics that would normally be heading into the landfill and recycle those back into new plastics.”
Meet Jeremy. One of America’s Change Makers.
Advanced recycling technologies break down plastic into its raw materials that can be reused to make brand new plastic. Jeremy has a simple explanation.
“Think about an ice cube. If you put that ice cube in a pot on your hot stove, the ice will melt into water, and then vaporize into steam, leaving behind any salt and minerals. The steam can then be condensed back into water droplets, kind of like what you may see on the exhaust hood or backsplash in your kitchen. The water or raw material can then be turned back into an ice cube again and this whole process can be repeated again and again. In advanced recycling, the raw material is liquid hydrocarbons that we get back and renew to make new plastics again.”
Advanced recycling technologies can tackle more of the plastics that today’s conventional recycling typically cannot. Such as thin, lightweight, flexible plastic packaging.
“Our goal is to take recycling to the next level with advanced recycling. We are complimentary to mechanical recycling because we address items they cannot recycle.”
“Mechanical recycling right now accounts for about 10% of all plastics. So there’s still much more work to be done. It’s kind of like where paper was many decades ago, where we only recycled a small amount. Then newer advancements in recycling technologies came about, and the recycling rate improved. And that’s what’s happening with plastics right now. Advanced recycling is the next generation of plastic recycling technology and will help propel the overall recycling rate to the next level.”
These innovative technologies demonstrate that used plastic is a resource with value.
“Imagine if litter were dollar bills, you’d pick it up, right? Well, that’s what we’re doing. We’re creating value. And therefore, we’re incentivizing society to collect and divert it to where it has value. We’re able to take discarded plastic and convert it back into the building blocks to remake new plastics.”
Jeremy knows game changing technologies will also require long term changes in our society.
“The greater purpose is to create a cleaner planet for our children and our grandchildren. It’s a multigenerational solution that we must come up with, which means the work we’re doing right now has to be carried on by our children and our children’s children.”
He sees this multigenerational shift in his own family, demonstrating the potential of advanced recycling to change behavior.
“Five years ago, my family used to put our household plastic packaging in the trash can and we were filling up two trash cans every week.”
“Then my mom and my daughter got involved. We started bringing our household plastic here to Alterra, an advanced recycling center. Our household trash has actually gone down from two to only half of one can. This all has value and can be turned right back into new plastics again. We just have to continue deploying the technology, disrupting the status quo and keep moving forward.”
He has faith it will happen.
“The question I always get is, did we think it was going to work? We always believed in the technology. And we always believed that the end result was something society needed.”
“But it’s about more than the disruptive technology. It’s really about recruiting and developing the next generation to join the cause. What excites me the most is that so many young people are genuinely passionate about sustainability and are taking action.”
His company is expanding, with plans beyond North America in Asia and Europe. It’s an interesting time for him and the advanced recycling industry.
“It’s a really exciting time right now because we’re creating an industry together. Five years ago, it didn’t exist. And now it does and its rapidly gaining momentum. It’s kind of like where the global EV market was 10 years ago. The industry was only producing about 100k vehicles a year and now it does more than 10M per year. I think that’s what’s going to happen over the next decade for advanced recycling.”
As his company grows, he’s still reminded every day why he does what he does.
“Every day we come to work, we come here with one purpose, and that is to create a cleaner planet for future generations. To us, that means preventing mismanaged or landfilled plastics.”
To learn more about America’s Change Makers, visit the official website here.