Using Domestic Waste To Create Plastic Products
24 Apr 2017
With more and more people taking an interest in environmental issues, there’s increasing demand on retailers and manufacturers to prove that the products they sell are ‘green’ and made from sustainable materials which have a low or no impact on the natural world. Knowing the provenance of the goods they buy has never been so important to consumers the world over, which is why some innovative and forward-thinking companies are now looking at new ways to turn the waste we produce into something more useful.
In Israel, one pioneering company has recently patented a technical process which removes minerals from household waste and creates new thermoplastic materials from the remaining polymers and cellulose. Founded in 2013, Infimer Technologies began to explore how household waste might be put to good use after the company’s owners became concerned about the amount of rubbish which was being dumped in nearby rivers.
With the United Nations Environmental Programme estimating that only a quarter of the billion tons of waste produced annually gets recycled, toxic dumping has become an issue around the world. Almost a half of all municipal waste is made up of plastics, which will not biodegrade but could easily be recycled and reused.
The technique developed by Infimer means that materials do not have to be sorted as they would for recycling purposes – a time-consuming and often inefficient procedure. Under the recently patented system, new thermoplastic material is created from different materials in mixed waste, and the company’s standard production line can create two tons an hour.
Infimer’s first major commercial order was to create plastic pallets, crates and other storage products for a major Israeli plastics manufacturer, and they have since gone on to create everything from tool boxes and tables to building materials and garden furniture.
While Infimer celebrates the success of this new processing technique, Finnish scientists have been developing a new way of putting the fly ash and sludge produced in paper manufacturing to good use. The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland discovered that the side streams created during the making of cardboard and paper could be used to replace up to half of the polypropylene in the process. This oil-based by-product could then be used to create plastics shaped using a mould or by extrusion.
Large amounts of the side-streams generated during paper manufacturing presently go to incineration or landfill, but with up to 50% being recycled under this new process, plastic and paper manufacturing costs could be lowered and the environmental impact significantly reduced. As part of the project, manufacturers Plastec Finland Oy and Wiitta Oy created floor tiles and storage containers which were made from 30% side-streams, and they now have an eye on manufacturing plastic pallets and crates by the same method.
Both Infimer and the VTT Technical Research Centre have received significant amounts of funding thanks to their innovative new processes, with both state bodies and independent plastics manufacturers taking great interest in their work. With manufacturing costs rising year on year, plastics companies around the world look set to benefit from the efforts being made to find cheaper, more efficient and more environmentally friendly methods of recycling and re-purposing waste.
As well as lowering manufacturing costs in the plastics supply chain, the benefits to the natural world could be very great indeed. With less waste being illegally dumped in rivers and oceans and less being sent to landfill, waterways could be returned to a much healthier state and the destructive presence of waste disposal sites could be limited. With both individual consumers and companies taking more interest in the green credentials of the goods they buy, this is a very exciting time for those developing greener recycling processes.