We caught up with four OCs who graduated from Clongowes in 2017, Liam Lysaght, Marc Bollée, Harry Jankola & Rory McMahon, who are behind a novel new company called FiltraCycle to talk to them about their business, how these former classmates started working together and what the future holds for FiltraCycle.
FiltraCycle is an Irish startup that recycles cigarette butts into plastic pellets for use in manufacturing sustainable consumer products. Cigarette butts are the most common item of litter on the planet, and one of the most toxic forms of ocean plastic. FiltraCycle displaces virgin plastics in existing supply chains while recycling toxic waste and keeping it out of the ocean.
How is started
In early 2019, the team began to research the enormous scale of the cigarette waste problem. They soon realised that if they could figure out a way to recycle cigarette butts they could potentially solve one of the world’s worst litter problems – while tapping into an endless supply of raw material.
After weeks of failed experiments in a rubbish-filled garden behind their student flat, they finally came up with the idea for a new recycling process. By this point in their research, the little-known environmental impact of cigarette waste and it’s devastating impact on the ocean had become clear.
They explained: “Eventually, we managed to convert a batch of 5000 cigarette butts into plastic. In its first year, FiltraCycle has gone from some lab results to a burgeoning recycling company. Our greatest achievement has been the innovation of our cutting edge recycling method to transform obsolete waste into high-quality plastic.”
The Clongowes Link
Harry explained that he, Liam and Marc had been wanting to start businesses together since their early days in Clongowes. Being a trio of business, engineering and chemistry students gave them the confidence that they could create a functioning business one day. Having gone through many different ideas over the years from Clongowes to their first year in college accommodation, they have since enlisted fellow Old Clongownians Rory McMahon and Cormac Carey as key members of their team.
Harry went on to say that: “The transition was quite smooth going from classmates to colleagues. The inherent trust and confidence we have in each other sprouted from us living together. We know our strengths and weaknesses and we are aware of our shortcomings and how to best support each other when needed. We have been a strong and efficient team because of how close we are. We have fun working together, we are able to rely on each other and If one of us needs to take time off for personal reasons, everyone understands.”
Being able to balance college work and business work has been a constant challenge for all members of the team. Most of the team are in their final year of college. Deadlines and assignments are a continuous burden on their shoulders and can, they admit, affect focus on the company. In the first year of operation, Harry was away in France on his Erasmus exchange which posed its own challenges. However, if anything it prepared them better for the remote nature of work that they currently find themselves in.
The future plans for Filtracycle are as ambitious as these Old Clongownians! In the next 5 years, they aim to establish a network of small recycling facilities in urban centres across Europe to process the thousands of tonnes of cigarette waste produced every year. It was their ambition that these facilities will recycle at least 10% of Europe’s cigarette waste by 2025. The more that the company expands, the more cigarette butts will be converted from obsolete waste into valuable consumer items. In short, the more cigarettes are recycled, the less toxic pollutants enter the oceans and ecosystems. The team aims to produce roughly 4,400 tonnes of high grade recycled plastic per year. This will protect the environment from toxic cigarette waste and will displace thousands of tonnes of petroleum plastic.
The company is committed to developing a plastic that solves problems instead of creating them. Their values are centred around contributing to a sustainable economy. At its core, the aim of the recycling seeks to deal with the trillions of toxic cigarette butts polluting the world.
The values of the company are lived and embraced by its founders, as Harry explains: “The more research we have uncovered on the devastating effects of cigarette butts on the world, the harder we have worked to devise an efficient solution. Many members of the team share a keen passion for sustainability and environmentalism. Rory, our Chief Marketing Officer, is an active surfer and, like the rest of our team, is passionate about creating products that will help protect the oceans. He presented to 50,000 people at the World Clean Up Day conference this year about our initiatives. Indeed, the company is the very manifestation of our own values.”
Success for the company is quite simply quantified by the number of cigarette butts they annually recycle. For their pilot, with the limited resources at their disposal, they managed to collect and recycle over 500,000 butts – a figure they are rightly proud of. However the scale of the problem is eye-watering: 6 trillion butts littered every year, this is only the beginning for this small but energetic team and the outlook is most certainly global: “The more waste we recycle, the more plastic we can sell and the more we can expand; so the success of our company is predicated on expanding our reach as far as possible to deal with the problem on a global scale.”
Advice to Clongowes Students
The advice from the team at Filtracycle to Clongowes students looking to start their own business is to start early! Harry advises that: “It’s never too soon to start a business and there is no ‘perfect’ time to take the plunge. Whether you’re writing down crazy business ideas in the dorms or brainstorming with friends in college, just go for it!”
And there is a role for everyone in a start-up: “Always think of solutions to everyday problems you face and you will eventually find something or someone that works. Whether you’re the ideas guy, the business mind or neither, always look and see how you can improve life for those around you. Once you have found a problem to fix, fix it (or find someone who can)! Hard work, innovation and creativity are the drivers for success in the business world and Clongowes contains a wealth of talent, knowledge and opportunity. The only thing stopping you is hesitation!”
Our thanks to Harry, Marc, Liam and Rory and from all of us at Clongowes, we wish you all the best with your exciting company!
If you would like to keep up to date with the company or visit their website you can visit them here.