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January 2024

New Year's Resolution - Remove QACs

Many gyms encourage patrons to wipe down equipment after each use. The staff at Green Science Policy Institute surveyed gyms and found that over half were using Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (QACs). QACs have been linked to health problems, including dermal, respiratory, immune, reproductive, and developmental harm. QACs leave a residue behind after use that can lead to exposure after the surface has been cleaned.

Most surfaces do not need to be disinfected several times a day and are best wiped with water or regular surface cleaners that do not contain QAC’s. For surfaces that should be sanitized, we suggest using a safer surface disinfectant from the list put together by Massachusetts’s TURI (Toxic Use Reduction Institute).

One of the safer options they suggest is hypochlorous acid, the active ingredient found in Force of Nature’s products, one of the Safer Made portfolio companies. Force of Nature’s surface disinfectant cleans well, saves plastic, and is several times cheaper than commercial QAC based products.

How to Break Polymers

Awareness of plastic pollution has inspired efforts to remove plastic from waterways, to advocate for regulation of single use plastic, and to improve the recycling of plastic waste.

It does not make sense to recycle mixed plastic waste. Pyrolysis and other types of thermal cracking of mixed plastic waste, as a way to make fuels or chemicals, have been around for years but they have proven too costly and potentially polluting.

We have recently seen renewed interest in the chemical recycling of plastics, which uses depolymerization catalysts to break plastic waste back into monomer building blocks, which are then used to make new plastic. These technologies are still in the early stages of development, and all depolymerization catalysts rely on relatively clean and uniform inputs of sorted plastic, to run efficiently and economically.

The most advanced depolymerization catalysts work on condensation polymers. Common condensation polymers include polyesters such as PET, PLA, and PHAs, and polyamides such as nylon 6,6. Condensation polymers are good targets for depolymerization or chemical recycling because they are susceptible to being broken down by water molecules under certain conditions (a.k.a. hydrolysis).

Large companies are investing in PET chemical recycling. Last year SK Chemicals, part of the South Koran conglomerate SK Group, acquired over 100,000 metric tons of polyester recycling capacity. Indorama, a large PET supplier is supporting the development PET depolymerization technologies in Europe and North America. SABIC, another international supplier of polymers, has rolled out a line of polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) compounded resins made from depolymerized PET. Eastman Chemical Co. is using methanolysis to break down polyester scrap.

There are also young companies working on the next generation catalysts for PET depolymerization including SamsaraEco and Carbios, that have both developed enzyme based technologies. Other companies are focused on new chemical methods including DePoly and Ionica. We have also seen new enzymes and catalysts developed at universities, including for example a nylon 6 depolymerization catalyst that can regenerate the monomer in its cyclical form, a first for nylon depolymerization.

There are currently no solutions for depolymerizing polyolefin plastics, such as polyethylene or polypropylene, which account for 50-60% of all plastics. The first example of a catalyst that can selectively transform polyethylene into ethylene and propionic acid was reported in Science last year, but the yields were very low, meaning a commercially viable process is a long way off. For polyolefins, current advanced recycling technologies focus on removing pigments, additives, and contaminants from the plastics using solvents, heat, and pressure. The resulting recycled resin is colorless and can be used in many of the same applications as virgin polyolefins. Pure Cycle, one of the pioneers in advanced polyolefin recycling, went public via a SPAC in 2021. Reventas and Obbotec are two younger companies developing the next generation of polyolefin reprocessing technologies.

Other large volume polymers such as polyvinylchloride (PVC) and polystyrene also cannot be depolymerized back to monomers. The monomers for PVC and polystyrene are carcinogenic and the polymers often use harmful additives. We would rather see efforts focused on safer alternatives to PVC and polystyrene, rather than the depolymerization of these resins.


Again Bio, a company that has created bacteria that converts CO2 into vinegar, raised $10 million.

AgroSpheres, a company that developed a delivery system for biopesticides, raised $25 million.

Aperiam Bio, a company using computer vision algorithms to identify ways to improve synthetic protein performance, raised $9 million.

Ambient Photonics, a company developing low-light energy harvesting technology for solar cells, raised $30 million.

Ascend Elements, a company that recycles lithium batteries, raised $542 million.

BioFluff, a company making a plant-based fur alternative for textiles and fashion, raised $2.4 million.

Boston Metal, a company that uses electricity to convert iron ore directly into molten iron, bypassing the need for coke and other fossil fuels, raised $262 million.

Cambrium, a company designing synthetic proteins for personal care and fashion, raised $11.6 million.

Circu Li-ion, a company automating the process of recycling automotive lithium-ion batteries, raised $4.8 million.

Farmless, a company using fermentation to replace meat, dairy, and eggs, raised $5.2 million.

Jona, a company that makes an at-home microbiome profiling kit to analyze an individual's microbiome, raised $5 million.

Meati, a company producing meat alternatives using mushroom root, raised $50 million.

Metycle, a company building an online platform for buying and selling nonferrous scrap and secondary commodities, raised $5.1 million.

Nth Cycle, a company working with scrap recyclers, miners, and battery recyclers to recover critical metals, raised $44 million.

Paptic, a company that develops sustainable fiber-based packaging materials, raised $24.7 million.

PlantSwitch, a company using agricultural waste to make biodegradable and compostable plastics, raised $7.7 million.

Safi, a company building a B2B marketplace for trading recyclable materials such as plastic, paper, and metal, raised $19.5 million.

Spiritus, a company developing a sorbent material to remove CO2 from the air, raised $11 million.

Sqim, a mycelium materials company, raised $12 million.

Strong by Form, a company creating wood-based sustainable alternatives for structural components in buildings, raised $5.2 million.

Traceless Materials, a company creating bio-based and home-compostable plastic, raised $38.8 million.

Woola, a company that supplies protective packaging from unused sheep wool, raised $2.7 million.

Vartega, a company recycling carbon fiber from composites, raised $10 million.

120Water, a company that provides software and test kits to evaluate water contamination, raised $43 million.


Good Chemistry, a quantum computing company focused on chemistry applications was acquired by Sandbox AQ, a Google spinout focused on the intersection of quantum computing and AI.

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