#005 Fighting Microplastic Pollution

At 3.00 am, on Thursday night back in 2014, Dr. Porkert was jolted awake by an idea – to find a solution to the problem of microplastics. 

I was already thinking about how to tackle the problem of wastewater pollution with microplastics for a few months when I suddenly had the idea: What if this is possible by an approach via hydrocyclone technology? That night, I sat down and worked on the initial idea.”

Feeling very inspired, he began to adapt and develop the technology. “I gathered a team and we first went for start-up competitions and claimed our patents, then finally for the founding of ECOFARIO in 2018.”

Today, ECOFARIO can efficiently and cost-effectively filter microplastics from wastewater without actually using a real filter. The regular filter system can’t filter out these tiny particles and use a lot of power, so he wanted to use a more sustainable system.

Watch their Circular Story here!

Microplastic Problem Facts

  • Each week we ingest an amount of microplastics, about the size of a credit card. Significant traces are found in drinking water, seafood, seasalt, beer and honey. Traces of microplastics have even been found in the dust in our homes.
  • A truckload of plastic enters our oceans each minute. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, but breaks down into microplastics tiny particles (smaller than 5 mm) that can be eaten by marine life and that is how they finally end up on our plate.
  • Microplastics are great adhesive carriers for toxins and hormones. Unfortunately, they pass the filters of our water cleaning systems very easily, which is why all these substances end up in our tap water. 
  • The biggest sources of microplastics that flood from our home straight into the water system are: washing of our synthetic clothing, use of cosmetics that contain microbeads like toothpaste and exfoliating scrub, the daily use of plastic items that simply wear off (cans, water bottles, shower curtain).
  • They have ended up everywhere nowadays: in the most remote places on earth, like the Himalayan or Antarctica. In our oceans, in the body of fish, seabirds and other animals. Microplastics are also present in our drinking water. 

Coming up in this Circular Story

  • How ECOFARIO fights microplastic pollution

  • What ‘circularity’ means to them

  • Why they consider themselves to be purpose-founders and how this affects company culture, from daily tasks to long term decision-making and financial strategy 

  • How company values like Trust and Transparency are used to guide towards sustainability, and innovation in close collaboration with partners within the ecosystem

  • What you can do yourself about the Microplastic Problem and how to avoid consumption

  • Some expert business advice from Dr. Sebastian Porkert himself

What does ECOFARIO do?

“We are fighting microplastics pollution. Our common goal is clean water for everyone, free of microplastics and the inherent and adhering toxins, while sustainability is our top priority. To get the microplastics problem ultimately under control, which sadly is an utopian thought, would be more than amazing for the wellbeing of all global ecosystems.”

Our wastewater systems can’t filter out microplastics

Wastewater treatment plants are responsible for cleaning our water using different stages of filtering.  However the current cleaning methods have not been designed to remove microplastics from the water. They cannot adequately filter out tiny particles nor the adhering pollutants and toxins. Also, conventional filtration methods for the production of clean water such as micro-, nano- and ultrafiltration have technical and economic disadvantages. 

“You can imagine pushing huge volumes of water through a filter requires tremendous pressure and energy, resulting in lower outputs and higher maintenance expenditure. The usual filters tend to clog and must be cleaned and flushed often. These factors generate high costs, which is a considerable disadvantage compared to ECOFARIO’s technology, where no filters are used.”

Forcing tiny shit into heavy rotation

ECOFARIO has developed a technology to efficiently filter microplastics from wastewater.  “All we do is force water into heavy rotation and filter out microplastics by weight, without even using a filter”. 

Dr. Porkert and his team have developed a breakthrough technology and separation process based on hydrocyclone technology which creates a strong vortex that separates microplastics from the water by weight.  This process significantly reduces microplastics and the associated pollutants (toxins, hormones, drug residues) in our wastewater. The business model is based on direct sales to industrial filtration plants – providing a highly effective, robust, and cost-effective way to clean water. 

Hydrocyclone technology simply explained

Hydrocyclone technology is a separation process based on creating a strong rotation or vortex in water. The vortex spins the wastewater around separating it from the microparticles by weight. This process significantly reduces microplastics and the associated pollutants (toxins, hormones, drug residues) in our wastewater. 

Strong vortex clears water from microplastics

You can compare it to centrifuging blood samples in tubes to separate plasma from blood cells: by spinning the tubes, the heavier components (like red blood cells) are separated from the lighter ones (the clear plasma) by weight difference. Hydrocyclone technology is even more powerful and creates a strong vortex to separate the particles from the waste water, preventing it from coming into the water system or rivers. 

It was already an existing technology used in various applications (pulp & paper, mining, air purification, petrochemical industry etc.), but they do not do it the way ECOFARIO does. 

What does circularity mean to you?

‘Circular Economy’ or a ‘Cradle-to-Cradle’ based economy is an economy that shares business models based on the 17 SDG’s while focussing on reusing, recycling, CO2-footprint reduction, environment protection, and general empathy. 

Dr. Porket on the circular process says “Even though being fully circular and sustainable is not possible for most business models, we aim to make our products and processes as sustainable and as circular as possible:

  • We only work with materials of the highest quality in order to ensure the longest life cycles and lowest maintenance and service demand. Resulting in saving up to almost 90% of the total costs of ownership compared to filter-based alternatives.
  • By using our solution water cleaning requires less energy, clients can save up to 85% of energy use and costs.
  • All the materials used will be fully recyclable. 
  • We might be able to provide sharp numbers on circularity in maybe 3 years.”
Being circular/ sustainable creates stability and competitive advantages for us

“As a circular and/or sustainable approach to business is always based on several independent pillars (employees, partners, manufacturers, raw materials, etc.), it is no major problem when one of the pillars breaks away. For linear business models however, breaking away of one pillar could often mean collapse, in an economical, technological or organizational way. Our company is robust.”

Circular Quote
of the day:

Do not go for a cash cow, but rather create sustainable impact.”

Dr. Sebastian Porkert
Founder ECOFARIO

How do you drive your business: with purpose or profit?

“We consider ourselves as purpose founders with the will to change a current problem, based on well-elaborated approaches.” says Sebastian.  

“At ECOFARIO, we never went for quick success or money maximization. All our decisions so far have been well over thought in order to sustainably successfully position our company and technology. For this reason, ECOFARIO is still 100% founder-owned, because we did not want to make it a cash cow, but rather create sustainable impact.”

“We think financial health and investments are the biggest challenge for many companies nowadays. Entrepreneurs are expected to maximize profits as quickly as possible. This does not go along with a sustainable business models, which are generally slower-growing while having possible risks better taken into account.  This is unfortunately also the reason why sustainable business models are less attractive to investors, which is making it harder to acquire money on the market, even with impact investors, until the business model has proven its validity.”

How do company values affect the way you innovate or collaborate with partners within the ecosystem?

“The values we have as a team are also reflected in the relationships with our partners: we work together in a personal and trust-based way, while we agreed to play with fully open cards over all fields of our collaborations. Together we are jointly focussing on our target, which is the successful launch of the ECOFARIO technology, so we can fight microplastic pollution.” 

“Our sustainability-based business model is also strongly based on empathy and transparency, which in return creates a lot of trust on the customer, partner, and employee side. This trust generates strong bonds –  a very good foundation for a successful business to make an impact.”

Is it possible to close the (micro-) plastic loop?

What happens with the microplastics that are filtered out? 

“The microplastics that we filter out only make up for a very small fraction of all the plastics that are filtered in a wastewater treatment plant. In addition, these particles carry toxins, hormones, and drug residues. To clean the particles from these substances would require a massive effort, which would cost more energy and resources than the particles make up. Thus we decided to retain the particles and toxins in the sewage sludges and incinerate them combined for energy production (as is done widely in Europe). We need the particles and especially the toxins to be terminated, as they must never find their way back into the environment. This is a drawback, we know, but it is the smallest that we offer.

If the sludges are not incinerated, we plan to filter the particles with a final filter based unit, which can be small and pressure-less in order to be cost-effective.

A New Plastic Economy

How do we go from linear take-make-waste-plastics to a circular plastic economy? Or even go plastic free? Many companies nowadays Rethink their packaging and recollecting program. Check out the vision of these big corporates, who’s products are most likely found in EVERY household. Imagine the impact they can make…

Ikea briefs their suppliers of textiles and materials to go circular.

According to Unilever “The plastic system needs a fundamental rethink.”

On the other side the Ellen MacArthur Foundation takes the initiative to align stakeholders with a common vision and set of concrete targets on the New Plastic Economy.

4 Things you can do yourself

If you can’t reuse it, refuse it!

Refuse single use and disposable plastics & tell your family and friends to do the same. Buy package free in supermarkets. Don’t buy nor drink plastic bottled water! And avoid refilling your plastic bottle multiple times. More and more microplastics will come off. Rather use a good one that keeps your water clean and cool.

Reorganize your bathroom

Many cosmetics contain microbeads, making different choices here really makes a difference.

  • Choose ‘organic’ bathroom products, they won’t contain microbeads. Brands like Emerginc are well choosen.
  • Get the app Beat the Microbead to scan your cosmetics.
  • Look at the label and check product ingredient lists. Avoid polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and nylon, and instead opt for natural, biodegradable ingredients, like grains, ground nut shells and salt and sugar crystals.
  • Never flush condoms in the toilet!

Rethink your clothes and laundry

60% Of the microplastics in our wastewater may come from doing our laundry, because the fibers come off during washing and drying. You can avoid this by:

  • Clothing: buy sustainable clothing and pay attention to the textiles used
      • Pure cotton, silk, linen: does not contain plastics
      • Acrylic, polyester blends do contain plastics
  • Doing laundry:
      • Use a ball that attracts microfibers
      • Wash synthetic clothing in a filter bag
      • Install a filter at your water system at home if possible

Get inspired

Books, apps, insta influencers: its all about a plastic free lifestyle

If you could have a gigantic billboard with anything on it what would it say and why?

“We only have one world. Do something that makes your kid proud.”

Billboard quote

Say, we give you € 1.000 budget; what would you do to stimulate the circular economy?

“We’d invest the €1000 in an intern or student to show how we work and what it means to work on a sustainable business model. This person will then most likely spread the word and could be a catalyst for more people to think and act to help protect the environment. This approach will deliver the biggest impact possible.”

Did we get you interested in microplastics and want to see more?

Coming soon: the Circular Stories of Naturebeads, Outlander Materials and Made of Air.
All fighting plastic pollution.

Circular stories:

#012 Rockin’ the Electronics Industry

Electronic waste (e-waste) is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, with an estimated 54 million tonnes generated annually. The most common element contributing is the printed circuit board, or PCB’s. JIVA invented the first recyclable PCB.
Read more >

Circular Quote of the Day

Do something that makes your kids proud.

Dr. Sebastian Porkert, Founder ECOFARIO

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