The Delaware startup's founder waited a decade for his technology to gain traction.

Some call the proliferation of plastics in our environment a crisis. For Steve Flaherty, it’s an opportunity to act on an idea he’s been tuning up for years.

The concept is to use waste plastics in asphalts in novel ways. Flaherty conceived the business model for what is now called NecoPlastics while earning an MBA from the University of Louisville in 2009.

“At the time, it wasn’t sexy enough,” he says ruefully. Despite the fact that Flaherty and his team won accolades in a slew of industry competitions, no one, he says, thought plastic waste was a big enough problem for people to get over the hump of adapting its use. 

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So Flaherty moved on, working in the infrastructure industry to expand his network until the time was right. Last year, China stopped accepting plastic waste from the United States, the issue hit the news big time, and Flaherty says it became obvious his time was now. He launched NecoTech LLC and a refined NecoPlastics brand.

Flaherty is aiming at converting waste plastics into an aggregate to replace stone in asphalts and concrete, which, he says, can make a stronger, lighter, more durable infrastructure—not to mention create a large domestic market for increasingly troubling plastic waste.

The technology behind NecoPlastics is flexible and evolving. Recently, the company, which does not yet have any employees, won a development grant from the U.S. Air Force to develop a patching system for aviation applications. “Hot Patch On Demand” will be tested at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base over a 90-day period ending in June. Success there would lead to a $500,000 Phase II pilot and potentially entry into huge military and commercial markets.

The opportunities to change the market are huge, Flaherty says, with shortages of sand for the concrete industry. Flaherty estimates an obtainable market of $63.3 million, which could divert 476 million plastic bottles from landfills.

NecoTech also is partnering with other startups, including ByFusion, a California company producing cinder blocks with plastic waste aggregates called ByBlocks. NecoTech will be facilitating an Ohio showroom, testing facility and waste recovery feedstock network this year.

Cynthia Bent Findlay is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.