I'm excited every time I come across a new product that is made from 100% recycled materials.
Every time I hope that it is true, that this breakthrough can be used to extend our natural resources; that this can really make a difference to the effects of our unbridled consumption, but is it too good to be true?
Good design is smart design; 10% better is good; half the weight? Great. Everything that does more with less is our quest. We know how hard it is to be true to this goal. The law of diminishing returns works here; obvious and simple things make the big differences. Look further, and improvements can be made but the level of effort required and the cost become greater until the feasibility tipping point is reached.
In another generation kids will not conceive a life without recycling and reuse and there will be an infrastructure to suit but for the last 10 years we have been treading water and recycling breakthroughs have not made any great gains.
Plastics are recycled in a number of ways but are largely restricted by the availability of high quality waste streams. Generically called PCR (post-consumer recyclate), the quality of the waste stream in terms of its homogeneity, cleanliness and reliable quality affects the reuse options. The closing of the loop between the PCR and the re-manufacturers is presently the missing link that will be forged as our fossil fuel resources become rarer.
A company making bar chairs (for use in reinforced concrete) located next door to a "wheely bin" manufacturer is able to take advantage of a consistent supply of scrap material for their products. So what to do when you are without this symbiotic relationship?
PE, PP and PET can readily be sourced as plastic flakes. Generally the flakes are made from the shredding of recycled milk bottles, soft drink bottles and other rigid plastic packaging. Add image.
The flakes can then be mixed with virgin material and processed to make new products, usually in any colour as long as it is black.
Washing and colour sorting the flakes provides more options for their reuse and higher quality flakes require less virgin material and other additives to meet the minimum material property requirements.
Generally , the products using these materials are not the prettiest. Products that are generally bulky and require a long life are ideal candidates.
Replas is an Australian company that has been at the forefront of the development of recycled plastic products. They have developed recycling and moulding processes and today produce a variety of different products.
Most injection moulders and extruders with a consistent supply of material and a little bit of trial and error are able produce products incorporating recycled plastics.
This application is commonly used in the manufacture of blow moulded bottles. Advances in extrusion and blow moulding processes enable manufacturers to produce a bottle that is made of different layers, the bulk of the bottle (inner layer) being made from PCR. The virgin material is used either side of the PCR to provide good a product contact surface and a good cosmetic surface for printing and product aesthetics.
Depolymerization / Repolymerization
Relates to the recycling of PET and Involves breaking down the PCR into its monomer state and then replolymerizing the monomer into a virgin plastic material for any reuse.
Smorgon Plastics developed its ReNew process in the early 1990's to recycle PET from old bottles and make new bottles and BASF's process for converting old nylon carpet into virgin nylon material for manufacturing car parts was lauded in 1997.
More than a decade later and companies such as Sabic have "upcycled" scrap PET bottles through the process of depolymerization and repolymerization into higher performance PBT materials that have been used in the manufacture of automotive parts. Sabic claims 8.5 barrels of crude oil per ton of resin are saved vs. resin produced conventionally, CO2 emissions are reduced 60%, and each tonne of the material eliminates 872 kg of post-consumer solid waste - approximately 69,300 PET bottles given a new life. Read more.
Involves converting PCR into higher performance materials into superior products by blending additives and colours to enhance and create new high quality products.
Martogg & Co. is a company based in Dandenong that has developed a range of branded LCM materials based around these processes. Martogg are diverting 170 tonnes of land fill destined waste to these new materials every year, producing engineered plastics to compete against their virgin materials with similar performance and at a lower cost.
You can find more about Martogg's LCM developments here.
Invicta Plastics, the company that invented the plastic ruler, has created the world’s first rigid, food-safe products from 100% recycled plastic bottles, lids and milk cartons.
After almost four years of research and millions of pounds of investment Invicta has created two cost-effective new processes, called rPETable and rNEWable, which can be used to create injection moulded products made entirely of recycled materials such as rPET and rHDPE.
According to Mark Bayly, "Invicta have not responded to my email inquiry about access to their new process and how we might be able to work with them. It will be interesting to see if they have achieved something worthwhile or whether this is another case of greenwash. I really hope it's not". (March 2013)