Plastic is not created equally,” says Heidi Kujawa, CEO of ByFusion. “It’s super complex, which is why this problem is really broken.”
The very short version of the problem is this: despite all those triangular arrow recycling symbols at the bottom of your bottles, most plastics aren’t recyclable. And the stuff that is is often not recycled anyway, as the process is dirty and tedious. Which means your recycling bin can be emptied in a landfill.
Kujawa wants to solve this problem. She had a successful career in entertainment and technology, but was looking to do something more meaningful. Around 2015, she heard about a company that had developed an interesting concept: it was turning old plastic into blocks, which could be used as building material instead of concrete or bricks. “They had a prototype and it worked, but not really,” Kujawa says. The company had since closed and the patent had expired. “I said, ‘I know I can improve on this. “”
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Now she has. His company, ByFusion, builds machines that literally fuse up to 30 pounds of plastic — no matter what type or dirt — into blocks that can be used to make walls, furniture, small structures, and more. His work is beginning to appear across the country: a park bench was installed in Boise in February, followed by projects in Tucson and Los Angeles.
On the following pages, you can follow the process of building a block, as well as Kujawa’s journey to reviving a failed idea and putting old plastic to good use.
→ launch a radical idea
As Kujawa sought to fund her business, she knew she was in a bind: she had innovated in the waste management and construction sectors, both of which need new ideas – but “waste management and construction are two massive industries that VCs typically never invest in,” says Kujawa. How can entrepreneurs get funding in an overlooked space? First, prove the idea: After selling his last company, it launched the first phases of ByFusion itself: establishing the market and the technology. before goes to investors. Second, seize the moment: as the culture shifted, the business world talked more about climate solutions, “VCs started saying, okay, I guess we need to start focusing on that. “, she says. She raised a seed round of $1.5 million.
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→ back to basics
“I grew up with a hammer in my hand, not necessarily a Barbie doll,” Kujawa says. She’s always loved building – “but I realized early on that probably wasn’t a good career path in the 70s and 80s for a girl.” That’s why she got into technology and entertainment. “But I never let go of the hammer.”
→ who is the customer?
ByFusion’s plan is not just to sell plastic blocks. She sells the machines that Craft the blocks, and designed them in a modular way so that a wide range of customers, from waste management companies to municipalities, could use them to meet their needs and then produce the blocks themselves. Kujawa presents it as a financial, logistical and landfill diversion solution: instead of transporting worthless plastic and dealing with the associated compliance issues, cities and businesses (and even universities) could create these blocks. ByFusion will buy back any excess and resell on the market on its behalf. “As we have seen with the pandemic, there has been a shortage of building materials. So let’s give them the opportunity to create their own material.
Image credit: all photographs by Amy Lombard
Related: The Business of Sustainability