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Repurposing plastic?  RSS feed

 
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Use it as a garbage bin liner, pick up dog poop, turn it into 'plarn' (plastic yarn), tie it to garden stakes to flutter in the breeze and scare birds; how to you keep your plastic garbage from filling up your trash?

I try to be conscious about purchases before hand, but it's hard to avoid it entirely. Even my TP comes wrapped in too much plastic!

I've also come across some tutorials on how to 'fuse' plastic into a sturdier fabric (here's a good example) which can be used ala Mad Max style and sewn into things.



2-3 bags/pieces of packaging (oh my god I have so much saved air bubbles from Amazon packages it's astounding) and I have a robust little bit of fabric that I've been sewing into pouches/pencil cases/grocery bags. I keep a stash for birthdays and christmas gifts. I keep buying stuff wrapped in plastic, so I just keep making them! Granted, I've been seeing more plastic packaging labeled as being made from compostable sources, so perhaps (hopefully) I'll reach the end of my supply someday.



What do you do about your plastic waste? Articles like this one (Everything we know about plastic...) really make me think.
 
pollinator
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On multiple sites I had some small cabins and sheds, both for dwellings and for storage, in which I used plastic for insulation!  I would attach pieces of cardboard to the interior of the frame, leaving an air space between this inner layer and the outer siding, and into this would stuff all manner of clean plastic and styrofoam!  When it would fill to the top of the piece of cardboard I would staple on another one above it, overlapping, and continue stuffing plastic.  When I needed the job done hastily I used paper as well. Perhaps not as effective as bought insulation but better than nothing, and a use for the stuff!  One warning is that this (just like commercial insulation as well) can become a habitat for mice if the building isn't rodent-proof.  Any food residue on the stuff with exacerbate this danger.
 
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One problem is that in just about any application where your repurposed plastic will be exposed to animals or elements, it will eventually break down in the UV radiation (depending on sunshine exposure) or be shredded and distributed in small colorful bits and fragments about your property, from whence it will be almost impossible to pick up and remove.  I am currently fighting this after almost five years of using plastic containers of various kinds in my container garden, which I did at first due to lack of inexpensive (free) options.  "Good ones" with a bit of UV resistance designed in (better quality garden pots and nursery buckets, thicker containers of various kinds) are still holding up fine) but standard contractor and food buckets are all shattering as are most kinds of food and beverage containers and cheaper/thinner plant/garden items.  Fortunately I am now able to replace them with scrounged items of glass, pottery, and thick durable metal (stainless steel and aluminum). 

Any time I have been tempted to reuse dog food or feed bags (made of heavy woven plastic strips) or modern carpet (woven plastic fibers) or pool liner (thick vinyl) or plastic cups
or bowls or dishes or buckets or tubs or bins or totes, the end result has been that eventually you have a broken item with pieces migrating into your soil via animal action with help (if you are not fanatically careful) from your weed wacker, your rototiller, your lawn mower, your brush hog, your children, your dogs, a random high wind, or any other entropic factors that exist on your property. 

So, as tempted as I am to reuse plastic items, I now think very very carefully about the end-of-life for the repurposed item, and how it will fail, and how likely it is that I will be able to catch it when it fails and see to its final disposal somewhere other than in my soil strata.  I'm not advising anybody not to do stuff like this -- I think some of those photos are really neato! -- I'm just advising to think very hard about use cases and end-of-life scenarios.
 
pollinator
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I read this recently on the Good News Network and think it's a great use for plastic:

https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/doctor-uses-discarded-shampoo-bottles-to-cut-mortality-by-75pt/

Wish we could do this in the US (and hopefully it will put pressure on the manufacturing companies to make these things more cheaply).
 
Cesy Campbell
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Dan Boone wrote:So, as tempted as I am to reuse plastic items, I now think very very carefully about the end-of-life for the repurposed item, and how it will fail, and how likely it is that I will be able to catch it when it fails and see to its final disposal somewhere other than in my soil strata.



This is definitely one of those things I think about; I gotta put my foot down somewhere and stop the consumption, so I don't have to deal with the mess afterward.

CDs/DVDs and even bars of soap with that lousy heat-shrunk film, or packages of apples now sold in hard plastic cases. It's all getting to be a bit much!

So far the longest I've used one of my fused plastic pouches is going on 5 years. Not being exposed to UV probably helps, but at the very least it keeps the mess out of the trash for a bit longer.

Thanks everyone for your feedback!

 
Dan Boone
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One nifty thing about your fused "fabrics" is that they are thicker than the source materials you are making them from.  It's very much the case in my observation that thicker plastics (and laminates) do a better job of holding up and, even when it's time for final disposal, not shattering or shredding into tiny pieces that disburse into your local soils.  For instance the very best dog-watering stations I own were originally sold as round child sandboxes; they are thick plastic with (apparently) UV protection built in, and the oldest one I own is fifteen years and still going strong.  By taking thin stuff and making thicker stuff you are probably making it easier to collect/dispose at end-of-life, whenever that is.

Whereas I feel that in Alder Burns's insulation use case, that building is going to fail for lack of maintenance some day and fall down, or its rodent-proofing is going to fail on some sooner day, and whenever that distant day happens is probably going to be at a time when, due to death or incapacity or other sadness, nobody much is paying attention to the property.  And all that plastic is going to disburse to the elements and get finely shredded into the surface of the property.  So that's not a plastics reuse that I would be comfortable with on property that I was stewarding. 
 
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I think in most cases, the most ethical thing we can do with plastic is to burn it at high temperature. This can be used for home heating or any other purpose that requires heat. The lesser evil when compared to almost any other thing you could do with plastic.
 
Dan Boone
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Dale Hodgins wrote:The lesser evil...



I take it as a given that there's no completely evil-free disposal method for plastics.  Thus for me, all these threads about creative reuse and upcycling and such are about trying to put our thumbs on the scales a little bit, to drive up the "net social utility factor" on the other side of the scales before we get to the disposal step.  
 
Dale Hodgins
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I have seen tons and tons of plastic incorporated into soil or shipped off in demolition bins with less toxic products. When burned in very high heat, it burns about as clean as petroleum. Perfect for heating or for firing bricks or other things that require that sort of temperature. I think the majority of brand new Plastic Products would be better put through a burner than ever distributed to the public.

Just about every demolition and house moving site, has crumbled plastic sheeting and crumbled children's toys that have been exposed to too much sunlight and crumbled food packaging. When I look at all the plastic crap people put in their gardens, I wonder how many of those items will be disposed of once they start to break down, and how many will be allowed to disintegrate in place.   Burn it.

Here's a common street scene in Kenya. They're cutting down every tree to fire bricks. Once the burn tube gets up to about 1000 degrees, plastic burns very cleanly. It could be used for the last two thirds of any firing.
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Dan Boone
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Dale Hodgins wrote:When burned in very high heat, it burns about as clean as petroleum.



You are a person who is very competent at everything you do, and I sometimes wonder if you don't sometimes forget that other people approach simple tasks in sub-optimal ways more often than we would prefer to contemplate.  Which means that you can be entirely correct, without the fact of your being right being as useful as we might wish.  What fraction of people would it take attempting, and fucking up, that "clean-burn" operation on old plastics before the whole project became a net environmental negative?

I honestly think that if the safe disposal costs and pollution externalities of most plastic products were priced into them, they would be very non-competitive in the marketplace and the petroleum that goes into them would end up getting burned directly as fuel.  In most cases another non-plastic product would wind up being cheaper.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Yes, I suspect that many people would fuck up the idea of a clean burn. Perhaps some of the plastic could be used to cremate the worst offenders.

I would never suggest that everyone should make some sort of burner in their backyard. But somewhere like a commercial Brick Yard, could burn massive quantities of the stuff, and they would have an interest in fuel efficiency and not getting environmental fines. No matter how much we may hate Big Industry, I've always found that very small, backyard variety tend to be the most wasteful, when you consider the small output of useful product. And they're the ones likely to just burn anything, without thinking about the consequences.

I remember a service station in Ontario decided they would burn used motor oil to heat the place. But it wasn't a very good setup and they put some pretty foul stuff into the air.
 
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I prefer to reduce, replace and recycle than repurpose.

As noted, Plastic used outside simply breaks down into nanoparticles with an unknown potential on health.

Synthetic rope and twine is a major culprit.

There are current issues in the ocean where fish have been sampled and nanoparticles found in their bodies, which obviously works its way up the food chain to us.

As far as 'recycling' goes, the Swedes have a unique mindset on this:

https://www.google.com.au/amp/amp.abc.net.au/article/10115694

 
pollinator
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I'm in agreement with Dale here, with one big caveat. Anything that is chlorinated (like PVC) should not be burned in the presence of oxygen, because that's how we make dioxins. And dioxins are about as nasty and hard to get rid of as heavy metals. My "least evil" tactic for plastic is (or will be) to pyrolise it in a retort, in just about the the same way I make biochar. That way I would get the yield of heat for my living space, and the 600-degree burn cycle leaves little behind except carbon. I need to find out more about the various types of plastic and whether there are any toxic gick-y things that can still evolve in a positive pressure retort.

The more industrial approach that I think needs to be ramped up is to pyrolise all the material and collect the constituent liquid and gas products as high value feedstocks. Certainly better than shipping containers off to Malaysia and having them smolder in the jungle or get tipped into the rivers. Recycling is basically a sick joke when it comes to plastic.
 
pollinator
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Dioxin formation from incomplete combustion occurs primarily in the temperature window of 400 C to 700 C, so the temperature of the burn cycle would need to be in the range of 1000 C for the burn to be completely safe.

dioxin

I like the idea of pyrolysis in a retort for the obvious control and containment features. Would the gasses thus produced be fuel, like wood gas out of a retort, or would the caloric value of the plastics be consumed in the retort? I am definitely of the opinion that complete combustion at high temperatures of any plastic being incinerated is the primary goal, but I would love it if it could also be fuel.

-CK
 
pollinator
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I am always reminded of a phrase I learned as a child while reading a WWII.
"For reasons of production economy"
This was used to explain unusual materials. such as milkweed derived latex or brass used in part of a gun instead of steel.
We where up against it, so nothing was wasted, and every possibility for use was explored.

No one was gonna allow oil to be wasted on happy meal toys and single use bags.
They barely tolerated "nylons" in the supply chain, thus the black market...

Now , single use bags are everywhere.
"For reasons of production economy" applies to individuals as much as to a nation.
Not being at war, we all tend to live as if we are the only creature on earth.
Plastic bagged products can offer real advantages over some other packaging alternatives, but the economic advantage is obviously the key driver most of the time.

Want to sell lemonade with your little girl?
Weigh your cup options carefully, ethics vs. profit will come into play.
You can have great discussion with her,one with a clear, if fraught conclusion.


Back on topic.
In my list of things to do is using bags as lamination for otherwise water vulnerable surfaces.
Scavenged OSB mostly.
Or treated wood.
Things that wouldn't  return to the earth gracefully anyway, so preserving them longer with another toxic asset make sense.

All this talk of retorts and char makes me think of driving on wood-wood gasifier powered vehicles.
I shy away from the nasties involved with refining plastic into oil at home, but a set up that could go from baled plastic to fueling a vehicle in one shot might be worth pursuing.
Or better still fueling a generator.
I look forward to electric cars for the simplification of maintenance more than anything.

I still would rather see this happen on an industrial scale.
My city still disposes of some of the sewer solids via burning!
Fueling that or actual productive processes via plastic burning seems worth pursuing.

 
Phil Stevens
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Chris - As to the temperature window, I'm still not clear as to whether the incomplete combustion would be forestalled by the use of a retort, and then once the evolved gases leave the retort whether there would be any opportunity for dioxin formation. When I do biochar batches in my wood fire, there is lots of available oxygen to flare off the syngas. In this setting, cooking the material in the retort is an endothermic process, while the exothermic oxidation of the evolved gases from the plastic would count as fuel to warm my house in the winter.

But, I still have more questions than answers. This is why I haven't started plastic pyrolysis on any sort of regular basis...I need to understand the combustion parameters fully.
 
pollinator
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Can you do something with this horrendous shameful mess? All plastic except the cardboard boxes filled with plastic. Those started falling apart after the first rain. Imagine that. Now when it rains small pieces float toward not one but three nearby rivers. Big rivers. It's a huge warehouse for staging plastic to be sent to China for recycling. The prices were low so the owner filled the parking lot too. I told him that if it's there next time I go by that I WILL notify the EPA. He didn't believe me. Will be going by there again fairly soon. Somebody has to take a stand!!!
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