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Tech Check: The Obaggo Interview

Obaggo founder, Dave New, was interviewed in a Tech Check podcast in 2021. Click the image below to listen, or read the transcript.

Vinay:

Hey guys. Welcome back to the Tech Check for season two, episode 24.


All right, guys. Welcome back to the Tech Check, today we have Dave with us who is the founder of a Obaggo Recycling. So Dave, you want to tell us a little bit about what your company does?


David New:

Sure, Obaggo Recycling is a startup that's focused on solving the plastic bag and packaging film recycling problem. And as most people know, plastic waste and pollution's a big problem, and plastic bags and packaging film are one part of that. Bags are a good material, they're often made out of polyethylene, which is a recyclable material, but a tremendous amount of it is currently getting wasted. It's just all going to either landfill or incineration. And sometimes, you see it out in the environments pollution. So what we're trying to do is provide a convenient way for people to recycle this material.


Vinay:

Awesome. So what inspired the foundation of Obaggo and specifically where did the name come from?


David New:

Well, to be honest with you, I'm not totally sure where the name came from. I knew that it was going to have to have bag in it because it was very related to what the company's doing. But I think it was a matter of just trying to find a name that sounded kind of fun, that could end up being a brand name, something kids could remember. I do remember coming up with the name and telling my six and seven year old kids the name. And a couple of years later they're asking me, they said, 'dad, what's going on with Obaggo?', and I knew that I had found the name if a five-year-old could remember it a couple of years later.


David New:

But the idea for the business started probably when I was a kid. When I first got exposed to recycling and the problem of waste and when I was a kid, my father founded the recycling center in my hometown. And I grew up trying to recycle whatever I could, as we did in our household. And then as an adult, I was very frustrated with the recycling options for a lot of things and in particular bags. After one particularly frustrating event, I think I went to the grocery store to, both bring my reusable bags and also to bring my other plastic film, and I'd forgotten both. I had just left them at home and just thought, a lot of people must have this problem. Somebody has got to solve this problem.


Vinay:

So about plastic, what makes it very difficult to recycle?


David New:

Well, plastic, different plastics have different challenges. Some plastics are quite easy, like clear water bottles are very recyclable, even back into new water bottles. And milk jugs are very recyclable.


David New:

But bags are a problem because the shape of the material, the thin flimsy form of the material makes them difficult for automated machinery to handle. So when you think about what happens to your recyclables, when they get picked up by the garbage man or the waste haulers from the curbside of your house, it goes to a big plant where they sort everything out. And it just turns out, bags are really hard to sort. And they're thin, they tend to squish flat and they tend to get squished between paper and flow with the paper. And you end up with these bales of paper. They are also referred as fiber. And this fiber has all this plastic in it. And the paper mills that try to recover that paper and recycle it, they hate all that plastic. So the bags, although they're a good recyclable commodity, since they end up with the paper, they become this contaminant. And that's the big challenge.


David New:

The other thing is they get wrapped around some of the conveyor belts, and the spindles, and the machinery at the material recovery facility. And because of that, they're just a real nuisance. So most of the curbside recycling programs, just ask that people don't recycle the bags, they're just a big problem.


Vinay:

On a sort of different note. I know that people are doing research into creating more eco-friendly plastic bags, like using seaweed instead of standard plastic. What's your opinion on that? And will it have any effect on the spindle side of recycling?


David New:

Biodegradable bags and bags made from non-plastic materials are a real challenge. I Have real mixed feelings about them. So if you're going to try to replace the plastic bag with something that is, let's say more environmentally friendly, you really have to create something that is totally different. Different looking, different feeling that couldn't be confused with a plastic bag. And the reason for that is when you go to recycle anything, glass cans, bottles, paper, cardboard, it's important to be able to sort the stuff and separate it out because things need to be recycled together with other things that are like them.


David New:

When you have bags that are made out of seaweed or made out of plant-based plastics, or sometimes they'll take like a cornstarch type of thing and add it to plastic to make it break down into smaller pieces. All these things contaminate the plastic film recycling process. So when you think you're making, you're doing a good thing by creating a bag that would break down if it got into the soil or the ocean, but if it gets into the recycling limit, no buyer of recycled plastic wants biodegradable plastic, cause that gets into their product. And now all of a sudden their plastic product could break down when they don't want it to.


David New:

But generally speaking, I'm usually for when it comes to trying to the plastic waste problem. In general, I usually believe in all-of-the-above approach. We really need to try everything and some ideas will end up being winners and we should keep them, and some ideas we might find cause more problems than they solve, and we should look to other things.


Vinay:

Cool. So how does the technology of Obaggo work?


David New:

Yeah, so the idea behind Obaggo is if you change the shape of your plastic bags into something that's not fen and flimsy like the bags and film that they are, and that you change it into a solid object that won't contaminate the recycli