Planet 4 min
Once a plastic, forever a plastic
Do plastics still have a future after a lifetime of faithful service? The words "plastic waste" often conjure up images of recycled packaging. However, plastics have established themselves in other areas such as the construction and automotive industries, where they already account for almost 30% of the increasing production of these materials. What do we do with used plastics? As the concept of the circular economy gains increasing traction, the question requires an answer.
Once a plastic, forever a plastic
Once a plastic, forever a plastic

Recycled plastics have a few tricks up their sleeves!

Recycling is a good thing, but an outlet still needs to be found for these "new" materials. Engineers and designers are bubbling with ideas for new applications, and these are often quite unexpected.

A new wind blowing through the world of yachting

Until recently, it was not uncommon to see piles of old pleasure boat hulls at the back of ports. These hulls made from a fibreglass/polyester composite were usually burned in large outdoor fires or crushed, compacted and disposed of because there were no known ways of processing this mixture of fibre and polyester. A Norwegian company finally found the solution to this problem. It developed a technique enabling the polyester to be separated from the fibreglass. The chemical process developed enables about 80% of the material to be dissolved in barely two hours, at a temperature below 220 degrees, making the process very easy to implement in industry. Cement makers are particularly interested in the silica extracted from the fibreglass, as they require large quantities of the former. As for the polyester, it finds a second life in lawn chair legs or as reinforcements for medical furniture, for example.

Plastics in the walls

In Belgium, the Recy House Project is making a name for itself. The project aimed to demonstrate that it is possible to construct a building almost entirely from recycled materials. Of course, these materials must meet the requirements for modern constructions, must not jeopardise the final performance and must not increase the cost of construction. It took nearly five years for the engineers to come up with solutions. What was initially considered an outlandish project is now a reality. Although the walls were built from aggregates, polymers were also extensively used: the tiles are made from plastic packaging, the windows are made from recycled PVC, the floors are made from recycled rubber and the insulation is made from recycled polyethylene. The designers insist on one point in particular: these are materials in their own right, created through an industrial waste treatment process, and they are not recycled materials. Mission accomplished!

Black belt for mattresses

Mattresses are made up of a cotton canvas, metal springs and much polyurethane foam. Every year, thousands of mattresses reach the end of their lives and are discarded. A Dutch start-up decided to work with these old mattresses. Having signed agreements with hotel chains, specialty stores, entertainment centres and municipalities - in the Netherlands, the municipalities are responsible for recovering used mattresses - the new SME organises the collection of the mattresses. The mattresses then arrive in a fully automated factory where they are dismantled mechanically. The polyurethane foam is cleaned, crushed and compacted. It is then ready for a new life, namely as packing foam for the automotive industry. A particular novelty is that the foam is also transformed into judo mats.

The Dutch company has conducted a study on the economic and ecological impact of its industrial model. All indicators being in the green, it now hopes to sell its process in all the countries of the Union.

Beyond the circular economy for Sony

This is also the path followed by the giant Sony. A year ago, the Japanese company announced that it was preparing to market a polycarbonate recycled from its own used products. Sony decided to create a business around this ecological polymer and will even sell it to its competitors! Sony has already been using SoRPlas ( Sustainable-Oriented Recycled Plastic) in its televisions since 2011. SoRPlas is made from 99% recycled polycarbonate and is a perfect example of the circular economy. It is produced from the waste of DVDs and other optical discs, and optical films for televisions. Just a small amount of sodium sulphate-based additive, used as a flame retardant, and optionally a dye are added to the raw material.

Will.i.am: from Techno music to high technology

Although printers are now within the reach of most budgets, rolls of plastic for 3D printers are still priced exorbitantly high. These are the same type of inflated prices as those asked for ink cartridges for conventional printers. A solution to this problem might have been found in the Ekocycle, a new arrival on the printer market using compound threads made from recycled plastic bottles. The initiators of this eco-friendly project are unexpected to say the least, since they are Coca-Cola and techno-addict singer Will.i.am, in collaboration with the 3DS company. The Ekocycle seems to be one of the most interesting solutions and a new outlet for used PET bottles. If the revolution announced by 3D printers is up to expectations, we are willing to bet that the rolls of recycled PET will soon be in high demand.

Fashion wraps itself up in fishing nets

Creating added value is a problem for designers who have chosen to use recycled materials in their creations. We had already caught wind of the Spanish Ecoleaf brand that transforms old nylon fishing nets into textiles. Now, German brand Adidas, an industry heavyweight, is embarking on the same type of venture. The brand has released a prototype of a shoe woven entirely from plastic waste from the oceans and specifically from fishing nets. The idea is simple since it involves unravelling the nets and weaving the threads so obtained. It must be noted that weaving is also a way of avoiding waste as no cuts are made, and thus no cuttings are left over from the process. Only the materials required for manufacturing the shoe are used. Adidas firmly believes in its process, and the company even plans to develop a range of clothes made from this new material. To be continued…

Upcycling: the new goddess of fashion victims

Does upcycling involve recycling? In a way, yes, although it is at the farthest reaches of recycling because the process does not transform the materials and the latter are simply used differently. Some designers even manage to sublimate their art by creating bold and original objects.
Industrial waste, PVC in particular, also has a future in the field of fashion. We have already mentioned brands such as the French Reversible brand or the Swiss Freitag brand that are finding success with bags made from truck tarpaulins. Even better, the English Eako brand offers the same type of objects, also made from PVC - but this time from fire hoses. And the same type of idea can be found around the world, like in Colombia where the Cyclus company produces much sought-after wallets made from used synthetic rubber inner tubes.

Are these products purely a marketing ploy? No, because the ideas were thought up by actual artists who are able to innovate as regards the shapes of their objects and who are able to harmoniously marry all of the colours printed on the tarpaulins. Another advantage is that each creation is unique and that is more than crucial in the world of fashion.

If you enjoyed this article, you'll love the next!
  • Plastic waste: a trip around the world to find sustainable solutions
    Planet 5 min
    Plastic waste: a trip around the world to find sustainable solutions

    Quentin and Mathieu went on a cycling trip around the world a little more than a year ago in order meet people who collect, recycle and re-use plastic waste. They recently completed their journey. Aft...

  • The second life of plastics
    Planet 3 min
    The second life of plastics

    Recycling and energy recovery: at the end of their lives, plastics are still full of resources provided, proactive policies enable them achieve their full potential, and abandoning them to landfill be...

  • Plastics don't lack resources
    Planet 3 min
    Plastics don't lack resources

    Able to take on any form according to the desired properties and widely used in all areas, what are these plastics that are so present in our daily lives?...