Israeli Firm Looking to Help Solve $40-billion Plastics Problem

InfiMer Technologies is leading Israeli efforts to increase ability to recycle plastics and reduce waste that pollutes the planet

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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A coastline in western India is contaminated with plastic and other nonnonbiodegradable materials.
A coastline in western India is contaminated with plastic and other nonnonbiodegradable materials.Credit: AP
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

To paraphrase “The Graduate,” the Israeli company InfiMer Technologies is aiming to prove there’s a great future in recycled plastics.

Plastics pollutes almost the entire planet, including the oceans, causing an estimated $40 billion worth of damage to the environment every year.

Unsurprisingly, experts worldwide have been trying to find alternatives – or at least develop more effective ways to recycle plastics.

Over 300 million tons of plastic is produced every year around the world, with this amount expected to double within 20 years. At the moment, only 5 percent is recycled and turned into new products or raw materials.

The journal Science recently published a number of studies on the development of alternatives. One study in March concerned how to deal with one of the central issues of plastics recycling: the difficulty combining two very common plastic polymers – polyethylene and polypropylene – into a single, high-quality recycled product. And scientists from Cornell University and the University of Minnesota reported in February on a new polymer additive they developed, which when added to a mix of the two types of plastic, allows the otherwise incompatible materials to bond into a new strong polymer with excellent insulating properties.

InfiMer Technologies is leading Israeli efforts to increase the ability to recycle plastics. It has built a plant at Kibbutz Barkai, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of Tel Aviv, to produce what it says is an innovative composite polymer, called Infimer.

The completely recyclable product is meant to serve as a raw material for the plastics industry, and the company began selling it commercially about eight months ago.

The InfiMer factory, which for now is only operating on a limited basis, receives urban waste, including plastics, sorts it on-site and treats it in various ways, including sterilizing it. The final stage involves putting the remaining material into a special “reactor.” The final product contains a number of different components from the remnants of the plastics waste.

InfiMer has so far reported on two trial production processes. The first has produced two tons of Infimer, which has already been tested, and the second has been sent to a plastics manufacturer for testing. These have been turned into a number of products, made from 30 percent to 40 percent Infimer that is mixed in with other raw plastics.

To receive urban waste on a regular basis, InfiMer will have to receive the status of a recognized recycling facility from the Environmental Protection Ministry. If the plant continues to meet the requirements of its business license and other conditions for such recycling facilities, InfiMer will receive this recognition and permits, the ministry promises.

InfiMer founder Yuval Tamir is a former naval commando officer. He is best known for leading the struggle on behalf of Israel Navy comrades who suffered from exposure to the highly polluted waters of the Kishon Stream during their military training.

To deal with the issue of plastics waste, other steps are also required concerning the policies of governments and international environmental organizations. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which is involved in encouraging sustainability and “the transition to a circular economy,” is one of the best-known activist groups.

In January 2016, the foundation issued a report called “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics,” which called for new policies to develop incentives to more efficiently collect and reuse plastic waste.

One of the core components of the new plastics economy is the development of a joint protocol between manufacturers and recycling plants worldwide, the report stated. This protocol will define precisely the types of materials and their permitted uses, and set standards for redesigning packaging, to allow for reducing their volume as well as manufacturing them in ways appropriate for recycling.

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