Chemical recycling is increasingly recognized as a cutting-edge means to transform hard-to-recycle waste plastic into high-performing polymers. GreenMantra, a fast-growing tech start-up, has been at the forefront in chemical recycling, and Domenic DiMondo has led much of the work that has led to GreenMantra’s success.
Since joining GreenMantra nine years ago, DiMondo, now the company’s vice president of technology and business development, created the company’s process by which it converts waste plastics into novel specialty polymer products. Through his diligence and ongoing research, he has enabled these wasted plastics to take on a new life and has seen to it that these polymers, used in applications such as roofing and road materials, function on par with virgin materials.
Speaking about DiMondo, Christy Sapp, GreenMantra’s global director of market development, says, “Passionate advocacy for social change in and of itself is an admirable quality. However, what’s more rare and even more commendable is the ability to identify a successful business model and scale it to impart impactful social change. This is what Domenic has done, and it is one of the many things that makes him an inspiration.”
Sapp says DiMondo came to the realization that the world was facing a growing crisis in the area of hard-to-recycle plastics well before that crisis hit the mainstream media.
“He realized that being a chemist and social advocate alone would not be enough to change the world, so he continued to develop himself in the areas of strategy and business in his post-graduate studies,” Sapp says. “He then brought that combination of skills together to create the GreenMantra technology and business, which is now diverting tens of thousands of pounds of plastics from the landfill each year.”
In recognition of his innovative work, DiMondo has been named a 2020 Waste360 40 Under 40 award recipient.
DiMondo recently spoke with Waste360 about how he has applied his knowledge of chemistry to upcycle waste materials for GreenMantra and what he anticipates the future will hold for the plastic chemical recycling industry.
Waste360: What were you doing before you came to GreenMantra?
Domenic DiMondo: Prior to joining GreenMantra, I completed a master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Guelph. My thesis focused on the development and evaluation of catalysts to upgrade biomass to valuable chemicals. During my graduate studies, I developed a passion for applying chemistry to upcycle waste materials.
Waste360: What was your first role at GreenMantra?
Domenic DiMondo: As I completed graduate school, I began looking for an opportunity to work in a field that would allow me to apply my knowledge of chemistry to upcycle waste materials. In my search, I came across the website for an early-stage company with a vision that aligned with my own. I took a chance on a cold call, and a few months later I joined GreenMantra as its research and development manager to create and fine-tune a chemical recycling process.
At the time, I did not appreciate what joining a start-up company meant or what was involved in being part of the founding team. But I quickly gained an appreciation for the phrase “wearing multiple hats.” It was an exciting start to my career. As research and development manager, my focus was on determining whether the concept of the technology was viable and then scalable. Doing so involved developing process parameters, a product portfolio, and the data required to successfully complete the scale-up. I remember days where I would run the controls for our pilot line, quality-check the product, prepare and ship samples for prospective customers, squeeze in a lab trial, sweep the plant floor, mop the lab, go to bed exhausted, and be excited to do it all again the next day.
At that time, we had the first generation of our catalyst system, which has since evolved greatly, and a crude experimental procedure to produce polymers and waxes by breaking down the plastics’ chemical chain into smaller units. We would go on to refine this process to produce a broader range of high-performing products from these discarded plastics.
Waste360: What duties are involved in your current role as vice president of technology and business development?
Domenic DiMondo: My primary duties focus on driving innovation in our process operations, development of new technologies, creation of new intellectual property, and market growth for our portfolio of products. I lead a team of amazing scientists, engineers, and staff, all with a passion for what we do at GreenMantra.
Waste360: What changes have you seen at GreenMantra, and how have you been part of it?
Domenic DiMondo: Since joining GreenMantra in 2011, I developed, scaled, and commercialized a process for the conversion of waste plastics to novel specialty polymer products. I led the scale-up of this technology from laboratory to pilot plant, which was a one-hundredfold increase in size. Thereafter, I worked alongside a team of fantastic engineers and scientists to further scale the technology from pilot to commercial scale. I have also had the pleasure of leading the expansion of the application of our technology to four of the seven types of plastic materials, including high-density polyethylene, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene. I am the named inventor on 15 patents related to the processes, products, and application uses of GreenMantra’s technology.
In addition, I have led the application development and launch of GreenMantra’s first portfolio of products. This involved research into the use of these products in various markets and working internally to optimize and tailor each product to help overcome specific challenges in our end markets.
By making the decision early on to focus on industrial end applications, GreenMantra was able to scale quickly while making a large impact by giving these waste plastics a new life as polymer additives, taking carbon from things like films and plastic bottles — applications that had a life span of six months — and transforming them into additives that add value to products like roofing materials and roads that have useful lives of 20 to 50 years.
I consider GreenMantra’s company culture to be one of its greatest accomplishments and one of the facets of the business I have worked hard to cultivate. Things are fast-paced and ever-changing here. Even during our biggest projects or busiest periods, I walk through the laboratory or plant and hear our employees encouraging one another and having a good time together in the midst of intense focus on the project at hand.
I have had the opportunity to hire an amazing group of people who work alongside me. Changing the world is hard work, but we have a great time working together to overcome the challenges we face. GreenMantra is a technology company, but the key to our success is the team behind the technology and the drive, passion, innovative thought, and energy we bring to what we do every day.
Waste360: How has GreenMantra grown over time?
Domenic DiMondo: In 2011, I joined a small team of entrepreneurs at GreenMantra. The four of us worked in an 8-by-8-foot office. We had big ideas of how we would change the landscape of plastics recycling.
In 2012 we set up a small lab and brought our ideas to life, using our new technology to convert one kilogram per day of discarded plastic to new polymers.
Fast forward to 2020: GreenMantra has scaled tremendously, and so has our success. Today, GreenMantra operates a commercial manufacturing facility that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and annually converts thousands of tons of discarded plastic into high-value polymers. Our team, which has grown to over 40 staff members, continues to innovate and grow the footprint of technology to capture value from new streams of discarded plastics that are otherwise destined for landfills.
Our growth and societal impact is evidenced by multiple accolades. We were recently listed in the Globe and Mail’s 100 fastest-growing Canadian Businesses, and Fast Company listed us as one of their top innovative companies for 2020.
Waste360: What do you anticipate the future will hold for the plastic chemical recycling industry?
Domenic DiMondo: I anticipate the chemical recycling industry — now commonly referred to as the advanced recycling industry — has an exciting future. In the coming years, I believe we will see advanced recycling become more widely understood and accepted by producers, governments, and consumers as a part of the solution to achieving a zero plastic waste society.
Waste360: What has most surprised you in the plastics recycling niche over the last few years?
Domenic DiMondo: Ten years ago, every major brand and manufacturer had an initiative around sustainability and recycling, but it did not drive their business strategy. I have been surprised to see how quickly the focus has changed as a result of consumer awareness and consumer demand for sustainable products. Now the spotlight is on how businesses participate in the circular economy and their efforts to reduce or eliminate waste. As these topics become more mainstream, we see more attention and as a result more funding for advanced recycling. Though the advanced recycling industry has existed for decades, we are now seeing more rapid growth and innovation, which is exciting.
Waste360: Can you discuss the trend where some recyclers and processors are finding ways to compete with fossil fuels?
Domenic DiMondo: Given the abundance of low-cost virgin plastics and fossil fuel, it is no secret that the economics around traditional mechanical recycling are challenging. Consumer awareness, government policies, sustainable initiatives from producers, and the expansion of strategies such as extended producer responsibility will help make the economics of using mechanically recycled plastics more viable.
This holds true for innovations by advanced recyclers like GreenMantra. There are various types of technologies within the advanced recycling space, including technologies that purify plastic, create energy or fuel, recover monomers to feed back into plastic production, or create new polymers. At GreenMantra, we fall into that last category — we transform waste plastic into new specialty polymers that are used as additives in roofing shingles, roads, plastic composites, and other materials. These additives help improve the sustainability and performance of the products in the markets where they are used.
Our business model is grounded in the fact that we are able to intercept underutilized plastic streams that have low or sometimes negative value and transform them into specialty polymers that have tangible value for our end customers. That tangible value is often encompassed by improved profitability and product performance for our customers, be it by creating a more durable road, by allowing for increased efficiency and throughput in an extrusion process for a plastic composite or profile, or by allowing a plastic waste bin producer to use a lower-cost recycled resin stream.
Ultimately, GreenMantra materials allow manufacturers to achieve increased sustainability without sacrificing performance or profitability. We are upcycling in the truest sense of the word. This value creation is the key to competing with traditional virgin materials.