Jon Cook wants to make the world a better place — one plastic bottle at a time.
The owner of Boro Recycling, Cook has spent the past two years working on the research and development of a process he’s created that turns plastic and glass into silicon dioxide multi-polymer conglomerate.
“It’s just a very fancy way of saying it’s all rock, it’s just all rock,” he said.
How it all got started
Cook started Boro Recycling after Bulloch County stopped taking plastic at its recycling centers. He refused to send his family’s plastic and glass waste to the local landfill, and wanted to give people an alternative.
Boro Recycling collects all types of plastic and glass, as well as metals, plastic bags and Styrofoam. The curbside service began in 2019 with 30 to 40 households participating in the weekly collection at a cost of $28 per month.
Cook knew there had to be a viable use for the recyclables, so he headed out to his shop to experiment. Traditional recycling, he says, focuses on one type of plastic used to create one item, so there’s still a lot of waste. He wanted to come up with a way to use all of the different types of plastic and create an item that could actually have a use.
It took months of experimentation, but once he had a clear vision, it was game on.
“Once I came up with the concept of using plastic as a construction material, that helped me focus my vision on which way to go,” he said.
In addition to coming up with materials, he also had to find machinery that would process the plastic and glass. A lifelong tinkerer, he built the needed equipment himself, and began processing materials collected at his own home and from friends and neighbors.
At first, he created items like stepping stones for the garden, ornamental wall hangers and even refrigerator magnets.
He soon also had to turn his attention to getting patents on his machines and his processes. He expects to get the final word this spring from the U.S. Patent Office.
How it’s going
These days, Boro Recycling has more than 250 homes and businesses signed up for the weekly service, still just $28 a month. So far, around 30,000 pounds of plastic has been picked up, and more than 50,000 pounds of glass. Cook says they don’t track the metals, since they are passed on to other vendors.
“That’s a massive amount of plastic,” he said. “It’s been a tremendous effect on just our community waste stream, which means fewer truckloads to the landfills.”
Even with all of the development and growth, Boro Recycling is still pretty much a one-man operation, with the occasional helping hand here and there.
“The whole point of this business model that I’m trying to create is the ability to have a small scale recycling business that can handle the needs of a community such as Statesboro, with just a very small amount of overhead. So I’ve kept it down to myself and the occasional help, for the point of proof of concept, showing that this really can be done over an extended period of time,” Cook said.
More than just fake rocks
As his business has grown, Cook has realized that he had to come up with a way to use a lot of plastic, and a lot of different types of plastic.
“I have a raw material that I can use to make many different things,” he said.
Cook began developing a product he calls GreenRock, a mixture of post-consumer plastic and glass that he’s spent a lot of time the past year and a half perfecting.
“The first GreenRock that I made, my wife laughed at it,” he said. “Just because of the way it looked. It looked nothing like it does now. But it was that first moment of inspiration that this was actually possible that I could do this.”
GreenRock, which now resembles river rock, uses all plastics, not just some, and the plastic isn’t sorted or cleaned.
“It just goes into the machine that I’ve made. I have another machine that I’ve made that processes all of the glass and turns it back into sand. So then I have a process where I combine those shredded plastics and the processed glass, put them together under some heat, and with a couple of other processes I use, it creates the GreenRock product,” he said.
The product can be used as landscaping rock, and the size can be varied somewhat. It’s sold locally at McKeithen’s True Value Hardware in Statesboro, in ½ foot cubic bags, or it can be purchased directly from Boro Recycling.
“So right now, we have landscaping rock, which is for sale. I am also working on pavers, for making patios, walkways, things such as that, driveways. I have a material that can be used as an asphalt patch, or it can be used in concrete, in the place of the aggregate that goes into concrete. Or it could be used in for things such as parking bumpers. That’s what I’m working on right now,” he said.
Cook says there are basically two arguments for recycling. First of all, it’s just the right thing to do, from a conservation standpoint.
“We have finite resources, he said. And the more we train ourselves to be good stewards of those resources, the better we are in general. To understand that an item has intrinsic value, we just shouldn’t simply throw it away, because we’ve reached its usefulness, we can be more careful of the resources,” he said.
The other side of it, Cook says, is that plastic is actually an amazing material that has so many uses.
“Without it, we wouldn’t have modern civilization as we know it. In recycling plastics, we can create materials that outperform traditional materials that we use, and because of the abundant supply that we have right now of plastic, it can be a very valuable resource for our infrastructure in our communities as well as items that people use around their homes. We can make superior products using materials that people consider to be just trash,” he said.
Cook also points out that landfills are not infinite, and there is only so much space in them. Once those are filled, more landfills would have to be created.
“Eventually, there is a chance that Bulloch County is going to have to look into opening up a new landfill just to handle the amount of waste that we have,” he said. “Based on all the studies that are out there, by the year 2050, we’re going to be using about four times the amount of plastic we currently use.”
Right now, Cook adds, 30 to 50 percent of the waste created by the average family is plastic or glass — which could all be recycled.
Looking to the future
Cook says that as soon as the patent work is completed on his machines and processes, he hopes to find a larger facility so that he can produce product on a larger scale. He hopes to expand his business model beyond Statesboro.
“I’m actually already in talks with three other communities right now in Georgia, similar to Statesboro and smaller, who are very interested in doing this, which is the goal. We want to take this business model and expand it to specifically rural communities who, like Statesboro, have no access whatsoever to recycling,” he said.
The key is says, is that the process can be small or large scale.
“This is hopefully the year that everything is going to take off,” he said. “The last two years have been spent just in the research and development and the legal stages of it. And now that all of that is being finished, up and I’ve gone through the EPA testing that I needed to do, and I’ve got all the results back positively, this is the year that everything hopefully will begin to take off, and pick up steam. And people will begin to see GreenRock all over the state, and all over the Southeast.”
You can find Boro Recycling online at www. Bororecycling.com, or on Facebook.