Techopia Live: Ottawa startup Poly turning plastic problem into business opportunity

Techopia Live visited the University of Ottawa’s STEM building this week to hear how student startup Poly is addressing plastic problems across Canada.

Poly develops a machine that shreds plastic waste into small pieces before melting down the refuse and reforming it into new products through an injection mould. Poly’s Ottawa workshop has so far developed designs for coasters and backsplash tiles, with plans for plastic eyeglass frames coming in a few months.

Co-founder Holly Todd told Techopia Live that Poly’s approach is not only meant to repurpose plastic waste across the country, but also help entrepreneurs to build a business in their communities. By selling off the coasters and other plastic products, Todd said, Poly is helping “them to monetize the plastic waste in their community and hopefully make a difference in the amount of waste that’s produced.”

This summer Poly is launching pilot projects for its machines in two Canadian cities, Saint John and Iqaluit.

In Saint John, Todd said there’s an opportunity to see how Poly could help to stem the rising tide of plastic waste washing up on coastal beaches.

While Canada is not the world’s worst plastic polluter, the country still produces more than one million tonnes of plastic waste every year, according to 2010 statistics. Less than 11 per cent of plastic in Canada is actually recycled, with the rest ending up incinerated, in landfills or awash in our lakes and oceans.

Todd said the Poly solution will be implemented at a school in Iqaluit, which hasn’t yet set up a plastic recycling program.

“It’s a really cool opportunity for us to actually introduce plastic recycling into a community that doesn't have it currently and experiment with how it can make an impact in these northern communities,” she said.

Poly’s work has been entirely student-led to date with support from many of the University of Ottawa’s on-campus resources. The company ran through the Startup Garage accelerator program this past summer and has made use of the STEM building’s workshops to construct its machine.

Todd herself is president of Enactus, where Poly got its start. The program provides students with a background in social enterprise and has given way to other startups such as The Growcer, an Ottawa-based company that has attracted national attention for its hydroponics system.

To hear more about Poly and the University of Ottawa’s new MakerLaunch program, watch the video above.