So I found some interesting things the other day. Two of the sources seen at the bottom of this article are for plastic composite lumber from Home Depot [1,2]. The other is an article by CBC that shows their results from an investigation regarding Canadian recycling (Pedersen et al., 2019 [3]). The other three are sources related to the current plastic recycling industry (Power, 2018 [4], Goldsberry, 2016 [5], Nanalyze, 2017 [6]).

I was wondering how someone could get involved in the recycling industry. The world is so full of plastics that even our “clean” drinking water is becoming contaminated by tiny microscopic plastic particles (Carrington, 2017 [8]) . It’s kind of crazy… I’ve thought about this before, and remember having a discussion about creating some sort of super efficient recycling process with an engineering friend who was in Chemical Engineering. My father brought the subject up the other day.

bestplus-pressure-treated-lumber-recycled-plastic

He told me something along the lines that he hopes I follow in the footsteps of this Greta girl from Sweden. I was taken aback. I was even slightly offended. It’s as if someone told me I should follow someone who enjoys telling other people how bad they are, so that they can feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. However, it’s true that we truly are in a conundrum. There is no way any number of people are going to pick out plastic particles the size of a grain of sand – and smaller – from the bottom of the ocean, with their hands. It’s just not happening.

A Solution to Eliminate Plastic Wastes

There has to be something wild created that ‘magnetizes’ particles based on their fundamental molecular makeup. This way, it can become profitable by scale, and we can use the newly found plastic for making construction materials (and of course, everything else plastics are used to make).

bestplus-pressure-treated-lumber-recycled-plastic-g-brown

According to a seasoned construction worker and tradesman, who will remain anonymous, the problem is that “…the composite expansion and contraction on your typical composite is not functional…”. Think of drywall. Imagine it expanding and contracting a half an inch versus actual #1 spruce. To this end, the strengths of it compared to regular wood, regular composites, and other types of common wood used in construction projects, has yet to be determined.

This is no easy comparison, as there are many different criteria that can be used to gauge how good plastic construction materials are versus typical spruce. Some of these are UV resistance, durability, flexibility, creep, how it performs under extreme temperatures, how it handles abrupt temperature changes, flammability (adding retardants reduces its workability), end-of-life prospects, and other material properties for structural design. So yes, this is a fairly complicated subject to muck about it.

Plastic Property Comparison Graph
Image courtesy of Regal Plastics

To add to the difficulty, there are a wide range of different types of plastic composites already littering the environment, for instance, whatever type(s) of plastics they are composed of, and not to forget the binding agents which are used to actually hold it together. Much like plastics, there are seemingly an endless variety of binding agents, each with their own pros and cons. So, another fundamental question to ask would be, which type of binding agent has the least combined impact from its cons. and simultaneously performs as good, if not better, than regular wood, regardless of the recycled plastics used?

Plastic: Earths Untapped Resource

On another note. Palm oil now leads the reason for deforestation [4]. So, it’s not about cutting less trees down. It’s about using the plastics that we already have, but throw away. The things that end up in the ocean, in our landfills, in our foods, and eventually, our bodies. These materials have value. The fact that nearly 100% of our world considers it waste, is possibly the biggest reason to consider it an important source of revenue.

Another growing problem is the use of pouches that combine aluminum and plastic layers. They’re notoriously tough to recycle. Dow Chemical is reportedly working on a recycling solution.

Fortunately, new methods of marking and recycling plastics are being tested, at least outside of the U.S. For example, Ioniqua Technologies, based in the Netherlands, has developed a way to separate plastics from the additives that give them color or other properties.

greenbuildermedia

A business called  ZeMC2 written in PlasticsToday talks about recycling thermosets [2], the latter type of plastic that is essentially used for serious purposes and is commonly classified as a non-recyclable plastic. From what I understand, they basically grind it down into find particles, and use it as a filler (my gross over simplification).

From there, I did a quick search for “thermoset plastics can be recycled” and found a source talking about creating a new type of plastic that has all the pros of thermosets but basically, non of the cons, in the sense that it is as workable as thermoplastics. This is where they mention elastic nanogels, IBM, and a few other companies. After doing a quick search for “Canadian carbon nanotube manufacturers”, I found only three, and none that are particularly close by. In any case, I’ve overshot my hypothesis that there exists a technology that can easily recycle plastic using unconventional methods. A little naïve of me, but the payoffs of such a technology would be huge.

This is where this article from the back of the woods has to come to an end. If you liked it, feel free to leave a comment. If you didn’t like it and would prefer to leave hate comments, don’t forget to include your address and contact info below 😉

Thanks for reading.

Bibliography

  • [1] “WeatherShield 2 in. x 6 in. x 12 ft. Recycled Plastic Brown Lumber (G-Grade)-2 x 6 x 12 ft. Recycled Plastic G-Brown,” The Home Depot. [Online]. Available: https://www.homedepot.com/p/BestPLUS-2-in-x-6-in-x-12-ft-Recycled-Plastic-Brown-Lumber-G-Grade-2-x-6-x-12-ft-Recycled-Plastic-G-Brown/308593685. [Accessed: 01-Oct-2020].
  • [2] “WeatherShield 2 in. x 4 in. x 12 ft. Recycled Plastic Brown Lumber (G-Grade)-2 x 4 x 12 ft. Plastic lumber G-Brown,” The Home Depot. [Online]. Available: https://www.homedepot.com/p/BestPLUS-2-in-x-4-in-x-12-ft-Recycled-Plastic-Brown-Lumber-G-Grade-2-x-4-x-12-ft-Plastic-lumber-G-Brown/308593667. [Accessed: 01-Oct-2020].
  • [3] K. Pedersen, E. Szeto, D. Common , and L. Denne, “We asked 3 companies to recycle Canadian plastic and secretly tracked it. Only 1 company recycled the material,” CBC News, 28-Sep-2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/marketplace-recycling-trackers-b-c-blue-box-1.5299176. [Accessed: 01-Oct-2020].
  • [4] M. Power, Ed., “The Promise and Pitfalls of Plastics in Construction,” Green Builder Media Home, 12-Feb-2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.greenbuildermedia.com/blog/the-promise-and-pitfalls-of-plastics-in-construction. [Accessed: 01-Oct-2020].
  • [5] C. Goldsberry, “Yes! Thermoset resins can be recycled,” plasticstoday.com, 21-Jun-2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.plasticstoday.com/recycling/yes-thermoset-resins-can-be-recycled. [Accessed: 01-Oct-2020].
  • [6] “3 Words: Recyclable Thermoset Plastics,” Nanalyze, 13-Jan-2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.nanalyze.com/2017/01/recyclable-thermoset-plastics/. [Accessed: 01-Oct-2020].
  • [7] “Thermoset vs. Thermoplastics,” Modor Plastics, 22-Mar-2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.modorplastics.com/plastics-learning-center/thermoset-vs-thermoplastics/. [Accessed: 01-Oct-2020].
  • [8] D. Carrington, “Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals,” The Guardian, 05-Sep-2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals. [Accessed: 01-Oct-2020].

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