What if we could live in a world where, instead of throwing things away, we would pay more attention to how we could reuse them? In recent times, we have seen that awareness has steadily grown as far as sustainability is concerned. Yet sadly, it is still not enough.
Adam Hańderek, CEO and founder of the Polish company “Handerek Technologies” has been trying to transform one man’s trash into another man’s treasure, so to speak. When we say trash, we mean non-recyclable plastic. Hańderek has found a way to recycle it and make it reusable again. His company’s core competency is a technology that produces refined motor fuels from non-recyclable waste plastic.
Adam Hańderek admits that he was raised in a family where nothing was wasted or thrown away. He says his mother was convinced that not even a dry piece of bread should be thrown in the bin.
“When I was a teenager, which was back in the 1970’s, consumerism as we know it today was already underway. Although my mother always used to say that we didn’t need another shirt or sweater as we still had plenty of clothes in the attic. And then my grandma used the fabrics from those clothes to make me a new shirt. It’s been fifty years since then and we’re only just getting back to that.”
This philosophy made Hańderek think about a solution which could help make the world a slightly better place. Since then, his company has won multiple prizes for their innovative accomplishments, they’ve collaborated with numerous companies internationally and they still have ambitious plans for the future.
How did you come up with this idea?
“It’s a long story which began almost fifteen years ago. Back in 2000’s, I was trying to implement a solution which was – at the time – an innovation. Specifically, I wanted to convert an acid catalyst to an alkaline catalyst. Back in those days, most countries in Europe only used rapeseed oil to convert into a biofuel. Our idea was to use other fat waste as well as refined oils or fats from sewage treatment plants, the food industry, etc. At some point, I came across a technology known as plastic waste polymerization cracking. I spent hours thoroughly researching this and got to work on developing a new technology. I was financing this research on my own, treating it as a very expensive hobby. Maciej Kowalczyk (a good friend of mine) and I were spending all of our savings to further our work.
It paid off. The revolutionary breakthrough happened in 2014. We came across an idea which lacked the flaws of our earlier ideas. We began to work on a larger scale and at the moment, we’re about to build our first industrial plant.”
How did your customers react?
“People always reacted positively to our idea. In fact, they still do. It was always incredibly important for us to be professional and ensure that our products were made of the highest quality possible. For that reason, we started a collaboration with PIMOT Automotive Industry Institute in Warsaw. After six months of research we received an official approval that our idea is indeed unique and offers the best option (compared to other products tested previously). I have to admit, that was a huge success for us. The scientific community confirmed that what we are doing is right!
And then everything happened so fast. We were invited to a start-up competition. We were the only Polish company that got into the final (along with six other Asian companies) and we won. All of the sudden, we have gained recognition on the international market. We even offered an investment proposal for implementation in Pekin here in Poland. Although we did decline this proposal due to certain circumstances.
Later on, PIMOT convinced us to show our invention to a bigger audience. We went to trade fairs in Barcelona and Moscow (we won the first prize at the latter). And we visited the European Economic Congress in Katowice in Poland … But our biggest accomplishment was the grand prize at a trade fair in Nuremberg, Germany. We were the very first Polish company to ever have won the first prize in the whole history of this event. The first time in over seventy years!
These events aroused more interest from the media. Our research was more reliable thanks to the collaboration with PIMOT. We knew that our innovation has reached a very good standard as we got several offers from some of the world’s largest corporations. From Columbia and from several African countries, Japan, China, South Korea and, of course, Europe. Sometimes I’m a bit worried if we’ll manage to focus on all of them.
We are now seen as experts when it comes to the recycling of plastic waste. Moreover, many companies – who should be our rivals – are contacting us because they want to develop this as well.
Environmental pollution was a number one topic for a very long time. I think we were lucky enough to end up at the right place at the right time. People appreciated the fact that we have found a solution in times when it seems like everyone is swimming against the tide.”
What has been the biggest obstacle that you have faced?
“The biggest obstacle for every inventor is always patience. Edison proved that there are more than a thousand ways to invent the light bulb … that don’t work. Despite these failed attempts, he didn’t give up and became the first person to find the right way to do it. The same thing goes with developing new technologies. Therefore, the most important challenge is patience, humility and a strong belief that there is a solution to a particular problem – it’s just waiting to be discovered. When asked about the definition of success, Churchill sis attributed to have said: Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. And I agree wholeheartedly with that statement.”
What are your plans for the future?
“We do have very concrete plans. We’re collaborating with financially robust investors. We have a plan to build about five or six industrial plants in different locations throughout Poland. We’re talking with two major energy corporations from Europe and Asia.
An interesting fact is that if we would have made some of our plans two years earlier, we would now have heaps of problems due to the coronavirus pandemic. Our co-founder Susan Kim-Chonicka always puts pressure on us by saying that every month has its price. This time around, we didn’t make our plans on time. We were planning to start building our first factory this spring so it could be ready in the end of 2021. The current situation will delay our plans a little bit but there’s nothing to worry about. We will still be working on it two years from now.
Meanwhile, the economy should improve after the crisis. We couldn’t start working as scheduled due to some paperwork and bureaucracy and that really made me furious at one point. But now, I’m happy that it turned out like this. Thanks to this delay, we are in a relatively safe place right now. We were lucky.”
How would you describe your ultimate goal?
“It’s a really tough question and I cannot answer it in just once sentence. I guess I’ll start by saying that I always had this thought in my mind: let’s see if our trash can be reused for something else. So, our trash can be someone else’s treasure.
You see, I am – of course – on the other side of that industry. That industry, which is trying to convince us that our jeans, bought last spring, won’t be fashionable next season. These days things are made to break so that we have to replace them as soon as possible.
A long time ago, light bulb producers realized that if their products were to last for a long time, people won’t buy them often enough. Because of that reason, they made a deal to produce light bulbs that would only last a thousand hours. For the first time in the history it was acknowledged that in order to create a successful business, products shouldn’t last forever. To me, this event set off what is happening nowadays.
I bet that the whole global economy will change in the next twenty years. I think that our way of seeing the world and society will be recognized. The global economy will definitely be a bit different as a result of the pandemic. I don’t know if I will still be alive to see all those changes, but I’m sure they’re coming.”