Plastic, Pellets, & Profit - Turning Trash Into Treasure
Posted by Allen Czermak on
How businesses are joining in to clean up the plastic waste filled oceans
We have written in the past about the amazing volunteers who spend thousands of dollars of their own money traveling to far away locations such as Alaska to collect millions of tons of plastic waste. Some of this waste ends up in landfills or gets recycled to some degree. But not all the plastic disposables get recycled. Only about twenty percent is recycled with the other eighty percent put into landfills or back into the ocean.
Each American produces over four pounds of trash per day which is twenty percent of the entire world’s waste production. This is certainly enough of a reason for our businessmen to find ways to deal with this problem. Until about a year ago most of our plastic trash was sent overseas to China. China has tried to use this plastic to make other plastic products, however, since 2018 China has put a halt to accepting the world’s trash and now America is stuck with a giant pileup of garbage. Other Asian countries such as Malaysia were taking our plastic waste but now, they do not want it anymore. If there is no great profit margin, then why should these countries continue to handle our plastic trash? Analysts project that within thirty years the oceans will have more plastic in them than fish. They predict that almost every seabird in every ocean will have eaten some type of plastic waste in their life.
Our country’s economy has been successful because of the freedom to start a business to make a profit, not for altruistic reasons. Yes, successful businesses help people in need with charity or job offers. The main reason for anyone going into a business is to make money, no two ways about it. So, it makes sense to learn about some amazing innovations in the transformation of plastic recycling into profit making enterprises.
Circular economy is defined as a series of strategies of breaking down plastic waste to spaghetti strands and pellets and then using these by products to produce useful plastic products including fuel, clothing and even brand name sneakers.
Household Trash Turned into Manufacturing Plastic
Deep into the Negev (Desert) in Israel, a new state of the art company has shot up quickly called UBQ (short for ubiquitous). UBQ claims success where others failed in turning almost every single piece of trash into raw materials for plastic manufacturers. This company is in a plant on Kibbutz Tze’elim, population 464. UBQ uses biotechnology to convert plastics and other trash to create a uniform substance that has strong fibers in its ingredients.
Household garbage including dirty paper, broken toys, spoiled food, banana peels and chicken bones mixed with plastic bags are turned into a substance called garbage caramel and then remade into small plastic pellets that can be manufactured into regular household products such as packing crates and trays. UBQ workers take eight tons of trash and within a few hours sort, chop, shred, clean and heat them into garbage caramel. With state-of-the-art equipment, UBQ transforms untreated trash in usable plastic.
1) The trash is separated, dried, and ground up into a confetti type of grey powder as fine as ashes.
2) Using a secret process, the confetti are melted and transformed into thermoplastic strings. These have been nicknamed, “Spaghetti Strands”.
3) The strings are cut into pellets for a manufacturer of plastic to use in making various goods.
4) As per a customer request these round pellets come in different colors.
The UBQ facility in Israel, produces one ton of recycled material per hour and from five thousand to seven thousand tons yearly. The two owners, Jack Bigio and Yehuda Pearl, one from Israel and one from New York are already turning over a profit from their company as of this writing.
Converting Waste Into Fuel
Transforming trash to energy is known as the “waste-to-energy” approach. Initially there was opposition to changing solid waste to energy among green activists because of the bad experience of burning garbage in incinerators. Incinerators were connected to high levels of toxic pollution. Recently, new technology is using solid waste as renewable energy while being able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, due to the lack of enough landfill space, alternate programs are needed to get rid of trash.
There are three main types of solid waste- construction waste, municipal solid waste (industrial, commercial and domestic) and chemical waste. The only type of waste not included as a source of fuel is chemical waste since this type of waste can be a risk to health because of pollutants.
It is common knowledge that plastics are made from oil, specifically, refined crude oil. Since oil is a natural resource and finite, it makes total sense to recycle the plastic into energy. To reprocess plastic into fuel, chemical recycling is used as opposed to mechanical recycling. The difference between these two types of recycling is mechanical is making the plastic into pellets as stated above and chemical recycling makes the plastic into a fuel. Gasification and pyrolysis are the two types of chemical recycling. Pyrolysis heats up the plastic waste to produce crude oil which is further refined to be used as vehicle fuel.
Gasification heats the plastic waste with steam to produce synthesis gas or syngas. Petrol and diesel fuels are the products produced by this method. This type of fuel can also be burned directly in boilers for electrical use. If we cannot recycle it, why not turn our waste plastic into fuel? In the gasification method, water is hearted between 716- and 932-degrees Fahrenheit, called supercritical water and then added to polypropylene plastic (heat resistant type of plastic like that used to make food containers). The plastic then turns into oil within a few hours.
Turning Plastic into Clothes and Sneakers
Adidas, the famous sneaker, and clothing manufacturer is making both their customers and environmentalists jump for joy. Adidas claims that together with its partner, an environmental organization called Parley for the Oceans they have stopped 2,810 tons of plastic from reaching the oceans. In 2019, Adidas made 11 million pairs of shoes with the plastic recycled from oceans; it's more than double what it made a year before.
Parley Partners go to beaches and collect the garbage from coastal areas. They then sort and send the recovered plastic to an Adidas processing plant where plastic bottles containing PET (polyethylene terephthalate) are used to create the material for their products. The processing plants turn these plastic wastes into flakes. Then Adidas melts these plastic flakes and turns them into a form of polyester yarn called Ocean Plastic. Adidas calls these items their Parley collection after the organization they are affiliated with. Each piece of clothing or shoe must have at least 75% of its material made from Ocean Plastic. Adidas has a superior comfort and appearance level that they must adhere to and these items meet the criteria with flying colors.
At this time, Adidas uses recycled polyester for over 40% of its sportswear. No one is the wiser, for this secret formula is not noticeable overall. Ocean Plastic has been used in their clothing for the NHL, college football and other professional sports.
Another great innovation of Adidas available in 2021, is the Futurecraft Loop. This shoe is one hundred percent recyclable. This means that the sneakers will be returned to the store by environmentalist customers and they can be remade into a brand-new pair of shoes.
Plastics are too necessary to be outlawed entirely, but at the same time the scale of the world’s waste problem is too great to ignore. With the profit motive abounding, manufacturers and designers are finding new ways to recycle items once thought of as plastic trash. With mavericks such as Bigio and Pearl and the Israeli company, UBQ, who are finding both the profitability and environmental benefits of producing reusable plastic out of garbage, the first chain in command for recyclable plastic has been met.
In fact, in August 2019, an Israeli company, Plastgad, a customer of UBQ, sent 2,000 recycling bins to the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority in America. These bins were made with recyclable plastic pellets from UBQ and will be able to be recycled in the future using the patented UBQ process.
Electric cars such as Tesla are appealing to strict environmentalists. However, as luxurious as a car such as Tesla is, one needs lots of patience to wait on the road at a recharging station. Total electric vehicles still have not been perfected.
Instead, if auto fuel is manufactured from plastic trash, it certainly would quiet those same environmentalists, especially if there would be no negative auto emissions. With great minds and lots of heart, we are hopefully looking to a glorious future with clean air and oceans and not because we are shut down with a pandemic. Rather, because people with original ideas to save the planet are encouraged to invent and revolutionize the treatment of plastic waste in the most creative ways. We should all look forward positively to an amazing future in recycling and transforming plastic.