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From Plastic Waste to Functional Furniture: Alex Stayte’s Story

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When Alex Stayte began learning more about the problem of plastic waste, he set out to address the issue by creating a business plan. His vision to make tables from recycled plastic began while he was a student at Covenant College. He said, “The vision is to build functional, durable, and beautiful products using upcycled plastic waste.”

Having majored in business finance, Stayte’s plan was to become an investment banker, but as life led him to Dade County and the problem of plastic, his goals changed.

Photo by Lydia Berglar – Alex Stayte works on a welding project in the workshop he rents from Grace Community Trenton.

He learned more about the problem of waste while in college, saying, “I hadn’t given a lot of thought to the topic of sustainability. In my head, it was part of the liberal agenda, but I heard some really startling facts, one being that by 2050, we’ll have more plastic in the ocean than fish. Also, the amount of trash added to the ocean each year averages one garbage truck load per minute.”

After researching the issue and various efforts to address it, Stayte began brainstorming. “I began wracking my brain for useful products I could make that aren’t gimmicky. There are companies that make things I wouldn’t use or that end up back in the trash can quickly, so what was a product I could make that has inherent value? I narrowed it down to furniture, starting with coffee tables and end tables. I like that it displays the material.”

Politically, Stayte considers himself conservative. He explained, “For a long time, I saw being conservative and being green as opposing values, but they’re not. The way I see it, the best way to solve problems in our world is through capitalism. Unfortunately, capitalism also often creates unforeseen consequences and negative by-products, even while solving some problems. If I can find people who want to buy my products, that’s a great way to address the problem, but it needs to be approached from multiple angles. Reducing waste is number one. I’ve tried really hard to reduce my own footprint.”

Stayte mentioned several products he purchases in order to avoid wasting plastic. By creating useful products, many companies are able to make a profit, hire employees, and help address the issue – the direct opposite of the economic drain created by waste. According to Stayte, “Plastic waste is economically wasteful. Why are we making this material that’s valuable and then throwing it away? It’s made from petroleum by-products and has a ton of uses, yet we’re treating it as garbage.”

“I don’t think the government should be super regulatory of the environment,” continued Stayte. “The Green New Deal isn’t even close to economically viable, and a lot of the initiatives labeled as environmentally friendly aren’t sustainable in reality. I’m not a huge fan of ‘sustainable energy’ like solar farms. Deforesting an area to put in solar panels and wind farms is counterintuitive. Also, solar panels only last about 20 years and then they’re waste again.”

Photo courtesy of Alex Stayte – Stayte’s current furniture collection consists of coffee tables and side/end tables.

Once Stayte decided to make tables, he began sourcing materials. The steel used for the frames is bought locally from JMS Metals. Stayte explained that most steel is about 80% recycled. “Steel never loses its strength through recycling. It can be recycled infinitely and therefore retains its value.”

Stayte hopes to eventually use plastic waste from Dade County to make the tabletops, but currently, the only place to purchase recycled plastic sheets is in Europe. “I tried to find a source here, but nobody does it in the States. We collect plastics in the States, municipalities send it to someone who sorts and cleans it, someone else turns it into pellets. Then, we send the pellets overseas to companies who make plastic sheets and beams. One American company, Polywood, builds outdoor upcycled plastic furniture. They melt down the plastic and recycle it all in-house, but they don’t sell those beams.”

Stayte wants to eventually make the plastic tabletops in house, from start to finish. “I want to use local waste. I want to have a wholesale arm that sells recycled plastic sheets. The only company I could find that made indoor designer furniture with recycled plastic was in France. Their supplier is the Good Plastic Company in the Netherlands. It took months for the sheets to arrive, and the shipping and import taxes are way too high to make it worth it.”

Stayte admits that he hasn’t been able to reach his target market yet. Because of the cost of the plastic sheets, the price of the tables is high. “That’s the weird part of this journey for me – I wouldn’t buy my own product, even though it’s sustainable. My target market is the kind of person who would buy a Tesla. They want to feel good about helping the environment. They want to buy something new and fancy that looks good. I’m still trying to find that market.”

Through his involvement with a local church, Grace Community Trenton, Stayte is renting a workshop space at the church. “I became a member of Grace Community while in college. The session had a goal to work with a local business that also had a mission. I presented my idea and offered to work on the property in exchange for rent.”

Stayte’s faith shapes the way he approaches work. “Work is actually a gift and part of purpose on earth and how we were created,” said Stayte. “With that comes responsibility for how you treat people who work for you. Work should be meaningful; we’re not just production machines.” While not at a point to hire others yet, Stayte noted that he hopes to eventually hire young adults so they can experience meaningful work while learning a marketable skill.

Building tables also led Stayte to become a welder. “I’d never built furniture or welded in my life,” he recalled. “I had this design in my head and had to figure out how to make it a reality. I cut the plastic sheets and sand them down, but I planned to have a local welding shop build the frames. They were all booked for six months out.”

Therefore, Stayte learned to weld. “Myself and another Dade County friend, Micaiah Allison, are equal partners in Dade Fabrication LLC.”

When asked why Dade County residents should know about the issue of plastic, Stayte replied, “It doesn’t just affect the ocean. We’re filling up the earth with garbage. Measures are taken to prevent rainwater pollution from landfills, but eventually, these systems fail. Animals mistake plastic for food, but they can’t digest it, and it kills them. I was exploring Howard’s Waterfall Cave here in Dade County, and the underground river section has a ton of garbage. It should be a pristine, untouched part of the planet. It’s to a point where we can’t escape it, and we need to figure out a way to responsibly use it. ”

Stayte also explained stewardship in the context of his faith in God. “It’s a creation care thing. If we believe that God created this planet, created it good, and created us to steward over it, then we’re not doing our job [if we’re not handling our waste].”

Stayte focuses on plastic instead of paper, glass, or metal products because, “Paper towels, for example, are biodegradable, but plastic isn’t. It only goes into smaller pieces called microplastics that have negative health effects. If everything was in glass and aluminum cans, we’d have much less of a problem.”

While Dade County doesn’t recycle glass, Stayte found a company in Chattanooga, Olivine Glass, that turns glass into sand. “We have a global sand shortage,” he explained. “Riverbed sand specifically is used in concrete and cement, but collecting it is bad for the environment, so there’s an illegal sand smuggling trade. Olivine Glass received so many glass bottles so quickly, that they couldn’t keep up and weren’t accepting glass the last I knew.”

Another company, Glass Half Full in New Orleans, La. similarly recycles glass to restore Louisiana shorelines, make sandbags for hurricane preparation, and produce various other items.

Addressing the economic realities of the plastic issue, Stayte said, “It’s cheaper to use virgin plastic than to recycle an old plastic bottle into a new one. That’s why, economically, recycling doesn’t work with plastics. But that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. The way it could work is by making something that’s inherently more valuable, that will last longer, instead of something that’s going to be trash again soon.”

Stayte is currently rebranding and working on a website, but you can see his tables on Instagram, @restorefurnitureco.

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