This article is the One Community’s analysis and research condensation to understand and attack the plastic waste problem. Here is the index of the article to get a quick idea of its content:
Put simply, “reduce, reuse, repurpose, and recycle” are the main strategies to finding new ways to eliminate or deal with plastic from our lives. They are key to minimizing the amount of plastic that winds up in our bodies, landfills, and ecosystems. There are various strategies for remedying this situation, and here’s a quick summary of the primary methods:
The most important rule: if you’re not going to use it, don’t buy it. Reduce the amount you generate, both directly (using and/or throwing plastic away yourself) or indirectly (generated and wasted during the creation of the things you use).
Our everyday lives constantly involve the use of a variety of plastic products: shampoo bottles, trash bags, packaging, shopping bags, water bottles, and so much more. That’s why it’s no surprise that around 35.4 million tons of plastic are generated annually in the United States alone. The problem with this mass use of plastic is that much of it isn’t being properly recycled or isn’t profitable enough to recycle. Plastic is difficult to break down and poses many environmental and health hazards as it accumulates in landfills, ecosystems, and even our bodies.
Here is a video that discusses how detrimental this problem really is:
Since the dangers of plastic are innumerable, the incentive to aggressively tackle the plastic problem is becoming increasingly urgent. Drastically reducing the amount of plastic we produce, use, and throw away can benefit humans, animals, and the environment in numerous ways:
The first and foremost strategy for dealing with the plastic problem is to minimize the consumption of plastic products. Since plastic production is consistently increasing, the problem continues to worsen. The most problematic plastics are often single-use plastics, plastic silverware, and plastic packaging. This concern is explicitly demonstrated by the fact that the packaging sector alone is responsible for 40% of plastic consumption in Europe. Reducing how much plastic we use, especially for single-use plastic products, is a key element to a solution to the plastic problem.
To have a little bit of context. Here are the main types of packaging:
The various levels of packaging demonstrate just how much plastic can be consumed in the process of packaging and distributing products (such that might even be made of plastic themselves). For this reason, zero-waste stores that do not utilize single-use plastic packaging and purchasing are an important part of the solution. Another part of the solution is minimizing plastic use during your grocery shopping by bringing your own grocery bags and refillable containers to buy food in bulk whenever possible.
Many plastic products offer unnecessary conveniences and comforts. These products are often single-use and can be easily avoided. By avoiding such products, we can both minimize the resources that go into their production, packaging, and transportation, as well as the accumulation of the resulting plastic in our landfills and environments. Here is a list of some plastic products we all ought to avoid:
Another strategy for plastic-use reduction is to utilize sustainably made plastic alternatives. The easiest and best choice is to opt for more sustainable and reusable products such as glass and cloth. Additionally, recent solutions have been to develop plastic-like substances that are biodegradable, compostable, and/or made from natural biological substances. We will describe these varying alternatives and discuss the merits and drawbacks of each option.
The best substitution for plastic products is products made from reusable and environmentally-friendly materials. This is especially relevant in the case of food storage. Here is a list of reusable products that are great alternatives to plastic food storage products:
To be classified as biodegradable, plastics must be able to be completely decomposed by microorganisms in natural environments. Currently, it is difficult and expensive to produce fully biodegradable plastics. However, for specific uses of plastics, such as disposable bowls and plates, there are ways of creating fully biodegradable options made from natural materials such as potato peels (click here) and orange peels (see the Precious Plastic video below in the Bioplastics section).
Compostable plastics are those in which the material can only be completely decomposed under specific conditions and environments, unlike biodegradable plastics that break down naturally. Therefore, they require specialized industrial waste facilities to properly break them down. Presently, there are not enough of these facilities to handle all the plastic being mass-produced, and thus compostable plastics usually end up being disposed of in the same problematic way as regular plastic.
Bioplastics are defined as plastics that are made from renewable sources such as corn, potatoes, or sugarcane. This is a relatively broad category of plastics, therefore the properties of these products may differ. For instance, bioplastics can range from being compostable, biodegradable, or neither. Therefore the pros and cons of bioplastics vary based on the specific substance, so below is a general outline of the benefits and drawbacks to this approach of plastic substitution:
Here is a video that explains what bioplastics are, assesses the pros and the cons of the material, and tests their ability to biodegrade. The video also demonstrates a press that creates actual biodegradable bowls using natural ingredients such as wheat bran, coffee grinds, and orange peels. This video is produced by One Army for the Planet as a part of their Precious Plastic initiative. Precious Plastic is an incredible resource as they design and develop machines for plastic recycling, open source these designs, and create tutorial videos to encourage others to join their plastic recycling cause.
The simplest way to recycle plastic is to repurpose and continue using that product. This strategy works in two ways: it prevents the accumulation of plastic in our environments and minimizes the number of resources that go into creating new plastics. Countless products we purchase come in plastic containers (water, beverages, food, shampoo, soap, etc.). Two of the most pervasive plastic products in our society are plastic bags and plastic bottles. Below, we share some ideas on how to reuse and repurpose these items:
Shopping bags are a distinct type of plastic and may require techniques separate from those shared above. This includes:
You can repurpose plastic bottles into planters, a bottle garden, a soap dispenser, a pencil holder, a bottle sprinkler, a watering can, a water filter, a bird feeder, a trash can, Ecobricks, a greenhouse, rope, and more.
In some cases, plastic water bottles have been used to build schools. By “bottle bricking”, or stuffing the bottles with smaller plastic/trash bits to reinforce the hardness of the bottle, both plastic bottles, and pieces of microplastics can be repurposed for a more permanent solution. It is a great way to reuse while also providing an education to children in many communities. Here is a detailed guide on how to construct a plastic bottle school: The Bottle School Manual | Hug it Forward
The FDA and other health and safety agencies worldwide have approved #1 plastics for reuse. #1 plastics refer to plastics listed under the #1 recycling code, which are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and are utilized for many beverages and cooking oils. However, many potential health concerns stem from the reuse of PET plastics such as bacterial growth, leaching hazard chemicals, and leaching microplastics into beverages. Therefore, for safety purposes, we recommend minimizing #1 plastics for reusable food and beverage storage. More info about this here.
A humongous part of plastic pollution is the portion we can’t see: microplastics. The reason why plastics are so harmful to the Earth is that plastic never truly degrades; rather, it just breaks down into tinier and tinier pieces. These pieces become very dangerous as animals often mistake them for food, making them a deadly force when they slowly accumulate in the stomachs of these animals and eventually kill them. And it doesn’t just affect animals – you’ve certainly accidentally consumed microplastics on your own, whether that’d be through airborne microplastics, the food you consume (microplastics landing on your meals or on the plants/vegetables you grow or purchase), drinks, and even your clothing! Let’s further investigate how microplastics contaminate our lives and the environment, and how we can prevent or deal with them.
Perhaps the most common microplastics you unknowingly encounter every day are those from textiles – also known as your fabrics and your clothing. Microplastics from the air are constantly landing onto your clothing, getting stuck on the threads, and traveling with you everywhere you go. These microplastics often find themselves polluting the ocean through our laundry processes – in the washing machine, your clothes are cleansed of the dirt, bacteria, and microplastics that have accumulated. The cleaning water though now harbors all of them and this means they get flushed through the sewage system and eventually reach the ocean. Many water treatment facilities are not equipped with the proper filters to prevent microplastics from reaching the ocean, highlighting the importance of filtering them right from the source – our clothing. Here are a few items you can implement in your own washing machines to prevent microplastics from further polluting our oceans:
Acting as both a lint and microplastic remover, Filtrol removes the microfibers from your washing water before it reaches your septic system, allowing you to properly dispose of the microfibers (which we will discuss in a later section) It costs $139.99. Here’s a video displaying how it works:
A filter that works very similarly to Filtrol, the MicroPlastics LUV-R is another option of a filter that removes microplastics and lint before reaching your septic system. It costs around $180-195 depending on your need for a wall mount. Here’s a video on the various products they sell, including the MicroPlastics LUV-R:
With a different approach, the Guppyfriend Washing Bag is another option for filtering out microfibers. It costs $34.95. By placing your clothing into the washing bag and the bag into your laundry machine, you protect your clothing and prevent microfibers from even reaching the laundry machine. Collected directly from the bag after a wash, the microplastics can then be properly disposed of. Here’s an animated video showing how Guppyfriend works:
A popular sustainability brand, the Girlfriend Collective also sells its own microplastic filter. With a very similar approach to that of Filtrol and MicroPlastics LUV-R, the Girlfriend Collective Microplastics Filter also attaches to your laundry machine drain system to catch microfibers before they reach your septic system, and eventually the oceans. At a reasonable cost of $45, it has quite a high capture rate of 90 to 99%. If you do a bit of scrolling in the link above, they have a video explaining their product.
Another effective microplastic filter is the PlanetCare Filter. With kits ranging from $64.34 to $164.69, PlanetCare provides boxes with the filter and replacement cartridges depending on the load amount your order, with an additional option of a monthly subscription for $11.75 per month. Check out this video explaining how to use their filter:
Shockingly, the 2nd largest source of microplastics in the ocean comes from tire dust. In fact, U.S. Tire Manufacturers report that the second most abundant material in passenger tires is synthetic polymers, with fillers coming in first and natural rubber coming in 3rd. Every time your vehicle goes for a drive, little bits of those synthetic plastics from your tires rub off as a result of friction between your wheels and the road, leading to an abundance of waste from your tires that is washed down into sewage systems or contribute to city dust and eventually led to our oceans.
Unfortunately, we were not able to find any super-efficient solutions that consumers can partake in. However, let’s talk about some solutions you can keep an eye on to hopefully gain a larger-scale reach in the near future.
Winner of the 2020 UK James Dyson Award, the Tyre Collective designed a device that captures the microplastics as it breaks and flies off your tires. Watch this video to see how it works:
The Audi Environmental Foundation has teamed up with the Technical University of Berlin to create urban runoff filters that will not only collect and prevent tire dust but also other city dust that enter the sewage system by attaching sediment filters right underneath sewer drains to capture them before they flow into our water bodies. Read more about it at the link above.
Unfortunately, nearly everything you have probably consumed contains some amount of microplastics or another. While it’s very difficult to completely avoid them, there are many ways to prevent a large consumption of microplastics through your food and beverages. Below we explore some of the largest food contributors and sources of ingesting microplastics.
According to this National Geographic article, microplastics were found in 90% of table salts tested. That means you may have already consumed hundreds if not thousands of microplastics when eating delicious meals. While the obvious solution here would be to discontinue your use of salt, there are still a few brands proven to have zero to minimal microplastics in their salts if you still want to have that flavor in your dishes.
While cling wrap is clearly not a food or beverage, I add it to this section because many people use cling wrap or food wrap to preserve the freshness of fruits, vegetables, leftovers, etc. However, along with the excessive use of plastic that will most likely get thrown out the minute you take the food back out of the refrigerator, cling/food/plastic wrap may actually be adding microplastics to your food.
Some great alternatives:
For coffee, opt for a more sustainable solution rather than the ordinary plastic cup, lid, stirrer, and straw. Oftentimes, all of these items are completely different types of plastics, making it very difficult to properly recycle them if you simply throw them out together. Additionally, many studies and articles such as this one have even reported that these plastic cups may be leaching microplastics into your coffee. Here are some solutions that we think you should try:
For tea, be wary of your teabags. Many are at least partially if not all made of plastic, which according to Beyond Plastics, can release billions of microplastics into your hot tea and eventually your body after consumption. Here are some great ways to prevent your tea from being a plastic-filled drink:
Many of the brands listed overlap in selling both tea bags and loose leaf teas, so check all of them out. Additionally, many tea brands that also have sustainable practices may not be listed here, so always check your favorite tea supplier’s website to see if they partake in such practices. If not, make sure to send them a friendly message to push them towards a more sustainable direction.
Many personal care products generally are a large source of plastic waste. However, they often also contain microbeads or microplastics in order to exfoliate your skin or clean your teeth. These greatly contribute to the growing microplastic issue so the best solution is to seek products that do not have microplastics inside. Here are a few websites loaded with great specific recommendations:
Since microplastics are significantly smaller than regular plastics, waste disposal is slightly different. It’s very difficult to completely eradicate microplastics from your life, but using the above solutions and practicing a zero-waste lifestyle can greatly reduce your personal production of microplastics. If you don’t already live a zero-waste lifestyle or are just looking for proper ways to deal with little pieces of waste, here are a couple of ways to get rid of your current microplastics (such as the microfibers that are filtered by Filtrol, Microplastics LUV-R, etc.):
In order to properly and effectively recycle, it is vital that you understand the 7 types of recycling codes.
If you have a plastic water bottle nearby or any plastic item, try checking to see if there’s one of these codes on them. These codes are triangle-looking engravings or inkings on your plastic products, often resembling one of these 7 symbols:
PETE (or PET), HDPE, V (or PVC), LDPE, PP, and PS all refer to plastic types, separated into different types because they all vary in properties and therefore require different ways to be recycled. 7 or “Other” refers to any plastic types that don’t fall within 1-6, often a type that isn’t as widely known or utilized as 1-6.
Here’s a diagram from Simple Green displaying plastic examples of each type and if they are typically accepted by regular recycling programs:
As you can see, only 2 types of the 7 are the most likely to be accepted – but this does not eliminate the possibility that it doesn’t end up getting properly recycled later on in the process (more on that in a later section). While 3, 4, 5 can be recycled, it’s incredibly difficult, and very few facilities are properly equipped to deal with them. 6 and 7 are almost never recycled, as PS (also known as polystyrene or styrofoam) is very tricky to recycle because it expands and “other” refers to a huge variety of plastics that can be difficult to address all at once. Ensure you check with your local neighborhood recycling policies for which plastics are actually recycled so you can make sure you aren’t adding unrecyclable plastics to your bin.
Looking at the infographic, you should really try to limit as much as possible the 3-7 type plastics you use. Even better would be to work to totally eradicate all plastic use in your life. If there’s an item we didn’t list a sustainable replacement or solution for here on our guide, a quick Google search of “(insert item name here) sustainable replacement/solution” will help bring up a plethora of alternatives for you to explore.
If you look closely, #7 includes plastics known as “bioplastics” and “compostable plastic-ware” which we also cover here and here, but let’s give another overview. In other words, the majority if not all of the “bioplastics” we believe to be a more sustainable version of plastics are still plastics and actually are very rarely recycled at all. Bioplastics simply refer to plastics made from organic sources, such as the most common one known as PLA, which is made from sources of corn starch.
Sounds great right? It’s not. While it does break down much faster than regular plastic, it only does so under certain conditions. Meaning, if you throw it into a natural environment and expect it to eventually break down over time as your banana peels do, it will not meet your expectations.
That’s also why it falls under the #7 category – it has to be entirely separated from other plastics because it shouldn’t even be going to a regular recycling facility, it should be heading to a composting facility where they have the proper settings to deal with it. Unfortunately, as of 2021 only 113 of those facilities even existed in the entire United States according to Scientific American. Imagine how many bioplastics have reached the same landfills as plastics, even though you thought you were being more sustainable and eco-friendly by using them.
It’s the same concept for some of the items that are branded as “compostable plastic-ware”. If it is not labeled “home-compostable”, meaning that you can just throw it in your natural compost bin with your food remains and allow natural composting to do its work, it’s still plastic that is only compostable under certain conditions. Once again, only 113 facilities are actually equipped to deal with these supposedly sustainable alternatives.
Even for items that aren’t completely plastic but labeled “compostable”, you should still be wary. Make sure to do proper research into what you’re purchasing.
Unfortunately, only a mere 9% of plastic is actually recycled, according to this article by the UNEP. Even less is effectively recycled. Why?
Well, the majority of the population doesn’t fully understand recycling codes and therefore doesn’t know how to properly recycle. This causes a phenomenon known as “wishcycling”, where consumers feel the need to recycle “just in case”, often accidentally placing an unrecyclable item into the recycling bin. In turn, this contaminates the recycling bin, and recycling facilities end up throwing out the entire bag because the cost of purposefully picking out the non-recyclables is outweighed by the cost of just throwing the bag into the landfill. Since recycling facilities often have specialized equipment meant for a certain plastic/waste type, anything considered “unrecyclable” would damage the equipment and place a halt on recycling processes, making it extremely inefficient.
Now that you know the different recycling codes, you can sort your waste by code or the standards your local recycling facility abides by, increasing the rate of recycling. Of course, beware of products that have many separate plastic layers such as a plastic coffee cup. As you can see from this breakdown from Inside Waste, each part is made of different material and therefore would fall into different recycling categories:
Since they’re all made of different materials, it’s important that you separate each part before throwing them out to ensure the highest probability of it being recycled.
For plastic that you cannot avoid purchasing and cannot be reused or repurposed, it is important to recycle it properly to prevent it from being sent to landfills. We discuss this with the following sections:
Globally, plastic accounts for a vast percentage of waste generation. According to the EPA’s 2018 report, 75.4% of solid waste plastic generated was sent to landfills, 15.5% was combusted, and only 9.1% was recycled2 in the United States. In addition to plastic reduction, reuse, and repurposing, recycling is a vital solution: it can save approximately 88% of the energy used to produce plastic from scratch3.
In the following section, we describe how large-scale recycling of plastic takes place in urban communities and why it’s very important to recycle plastic in particular.
The process in which plastic is recycled on a large scale is summarized in the diagram and bullet points below. Like many other urban recycling schemes for waste processing, it includes collection, sorting, cleaning, and creating fresh “new” material.
Here’s another image that displays this process well:
The following steps should be followed to ensure the recycling process occurs smoothly and makes workers’ jobs at recycling facilities easier. To help, consider the following:
This section covers methods for local communities and/or organizations to reduce their plastic waste by effectively processing plastic remains. Methods include shredding plastic for resale or reuse, transforming plastic waste into fuel, using plastic to create 3D printer filament, and using plastic to create other products for construction projects in varying ways.
Shredding is a popular recycling technique because of its ability to significantly reduce the volume of a material, making it easier to transport and process the item. Therefore, shredding is often one of the first steps of plastic recycling. Here is a YouTube video that demonstrates the use of DIY plastic shredders and shows how the shredded plastic can then be extruded into various new products:
Benefits of shredding plastic:
Note: It is best to separate plastics into their different types before shredding.
Because shredded plastic melts more readily, it is perfect for any process that melts plastic and remolds it into a new product. The video above demonstrates this use by employing DIY Extruder Machines.
For large-scale applications, shredded plastic can be used for making Polymer-Modified Asphalt Cements (PMA). Adding plastic to asphalt improves several performance factors: fatigue resistance, increased durability, crack resistance to propagation, and tensile strength . Here is a compelling video of combining shredded plastic, shredded car tires, crushed glass, and recycled asphalt to construct new roads:
Here are 2 plastic shredder options that we found while creating this article. Since prices may change over time, we recommend doing further research into prices if you are planning to purchase a shredder.
TECHTONGDA 3HP ELECTRIC CHIPPER
For a price of $1485, the Techtongda 3HP Electric Chipper can shred not only plastic, but also wood, nylon, cloth, paper, grain, and more.
PRECIOUS PLASTIC MARKETPLACE
Precious Plastic publishes open-source designs for plastic shredders and provides a marketplace in which you can purchase individual parts, complete kits, and fully constructed machines. Fully built motorized shredders often sell for more than $1200 on their website. There are also options for hand-crank shredders that cost approximately $230 to $440. The kits range from about $180 to $210.
Here are some Do-It-Yourself alternatives with links to where you can find further information to build them.
For a price of $50, you could repurpose a paper shredder into a plastic shredder using Instrutable’s plastic shredder guide. Click the link to see the 10 step process with many photos, videos, and additional resources
PRECIOUS PLASTIC SHREDDER
With an approximated price of $477 to $600 (depending on how many new materials you buy to use vs. recycled materials), you can build a Precious Plastic Shredder if you have some basic welding skills. There are several videos, resources, tutorials, photos, and an active community on Discord to help you build, upgrade and operate this machine.
Extrusion is the process of shaping a material by forcing it through a cross-sectional profile. This process often entails a process of melting the material, compressing it, thoroughly mixing it, and squeezing it out of a small hole to convert it into a usable form. In terms of recycling, this process can convert plastic waste into plastic filament or granules which can be readily converted into a wide range of new plastic products.
Summary of how an extruder works:
Further info can be found here.
* Note: Depending on the specific extruder you are working with, you can add plastic flakes, pellets, granules, or powders to the hopper. The key here is that the plastic material is converted into small enough pieces that can fit into the barrel. Therefore, it is highly recommended to shred your plastic waste before extrusion. See the plastic shredding section above for more details about how to shred plastic waste.
One of the most promising applications of plastic waste extrusion is converting it into 3D printer filament. A filament extruder converts plastic pellets or flakes into plastic filament, which can then be used by a 3D printer to create an incredible variety of new plastic products. Here’s a graphic from Open Source Ecology showing the complete concept of the filament extruder.
Below we list some plastic extruder options you can purchase and use:
This is an affordable, easy-to-assemble Filastruder Kit that allows you to build a machine that will extrude plastic pellets into filament for a 3D printer. This kit costs $299.
Felfil Evo has three filament extruder options depending on what you are looking for: a $780 Assembled Kit, a $650 Complete Kit that you build yourself, or a $355 Basic Kit that only includes the uniquely-made, difficult-to-handcraft equipment.
PRECIOUS PLASTIC MARKETPLACE
Precious Plastic publishes open source designs for various types of plastic extruders, which can produce 3D printer filament, plastic granules, or other extruded products. They provide a marketplace where you can purchase individual parts, complete kits, and fully constructed machines. The full setup for this machine is estimated to cost about $1300.
If you are more interested in building an extruder yourself, here are some designs we recommend:
LYMAN FILAMENT EXTRUDER
The Lyman Filament Extruder converts plastic flakes or pellets into 3D printer filament suitable for use in 3D printers and Lyman filament. It is open source hardware and you can download all of the plans from Thingiverse. This DIY filament extruder costs less than $250.
DIY 3D PRINTER FILAMENT FACTORY
The DIY 3D Printer Filament Factory is based on the Lyman Filament Extruder listed above but is a more affordable build. This machine costs about $130-$150 to build and accomplishes the same goals.
The RepRapable Recylobot describes how to make and operate a machine that uses extrusion to convert plastic waste into a 3D printer filament. This Recyclobot is “RepRapable”: “RepRap” stands for replicating rapid prototyper, meaning that this machine can produce filaments that can be re-converted into the necessary parts to make more Recyclobots by using a RepRap 3D printer. This design costs about $670. It can convert both commercial pellets into commercial-grade filament and waste plastic into usable filament that is less than 1000 times the cost of commercial filament.
PRECIOUS PLASTIC DIY EXTRUDER
The Precious Plastic DIY Extruder can make 3D printer filament, plastic granules, and even various molds (as described in the molding section). If you use recycled materials to build this design, it should cost about $250 but can be well over $500 if you purchase new materials.
3D printing is one of the most versatile ways of recycling plastic. Once the plastic waste has been converted to 3D printer filament via shredding and extrusion, it is ready to be transformed into almost anything!
Databases for models:
The possibilities for what you can create via 3D printing are endless. It has incredibly useful applications in a variety of different industries:
3D printer technology is growing and evolving rapidly as new technology and designs emerge every year. Here are some things to consider when purchasing a 3D printer:
In this section, we share various plans with instructions on how to create a 3D printer on your own. You may also want to check out this helpful page.
INSTRUCTABLES – HIGH RESOLUTION, LOW-COST 3D PRINTER
For around $87, you can get a high resolution, low cost 3D printer with a build volume of 20cm x 15cm x 35cm with a resolution of 0.2mm (200 microns) from Instructables. A detailed 16 step process with numerous helpful images, files, guides, and pages for products are provided in the link above.
INSTRUCTABLES – 3D PRINTER
This Instructables 3D Printer is a detailed 19 step process with many images, files, listed resources, and videos shared to create a 3D printer for approximately $470.
HOW TO MAKE A BIG 3D PRINTER AT HOME USING ARDUINO
With a printing area of 400 x 400 x 400 mm, this printer has a step-by-step guide with files, listed resources, and many images included that depict the process.
MAKER’S MASHUP DIY 3D PRINTER BUILD FOR BEGINNERS
Maker’s Mashup DIY 3D Printer Build for Beginners is a 8-part DIY series includes a document displaying a list of parts, a variety of other helpful links, and a calculated total price of approximately $280-$480 for the build in the video along with a guide for a more economical build.
Another way plastic waste can be processed into new and usable products is by molding. There are two main types of molding plastic: injection molding and compression molding. During injection molding, plastic flakes are melted, injected into a hollow mold under high pressure, and then cooled to solidify. During compression molding, plastic is placed onto the mold where it is heated and slowly compressed to fit the shape of the mold. For both of these processes, the plastic must be shredded into small pieces.
Some interesting uses of recycled plastic molding to read about:
Here are a few injection machine options you could consider purchasing:
PRECIOUS PLASTIC INJECTION MACHINE
For around $179-358 (depending on how many new materials vs. recycled materials you buy), the Precious Plastic injection machine is primarily used to make small objects. Their website also links several how-tos for the creation of spinning tops, doorknobs, paperweights, broom hangers, phone cases, jewelry, carabiners, and sunglasses.
PRECIOUS PLASTIC EXTRUDER
The Precious Plastic extrusion machine discussed above in the extrusion section can also be easily used for molding as you can simply add molds directly to the end of the extruder. If you use recycled materials, this design should cost around $250 but using new materials can bump the cost well over $500. The video below demonstrates how using molds with this machine can create various sizes of beams.
Here’s a compression machine design you can build yourself:
PRECIOUS PLASTIC COMPRESSION MACHINE
For around $179-428 (depending on how many new materials vs. recycled materials you buy), the Precious Plastic Compression Machine utilizes a carjack to apply compression pressure. Compression molding is a slower process than injection molding, but it allows the user to create larger objects. Their webpage demonstrates and provides various links for creating bowls and sheet materials, which can further be used to make other products.
Commercial compression machines are being created now too. Here’s one by ByFusion Global, a company creating a better version of the concrete block through a steam-based process called ByFusion. ByFusion uses steam and compression to produce blocks that don’t require chemicals, additives, or fillers, compressing both hard-to-recycle and recyclable plastics like plastic bags, yogurt containers, and water bottles into “ByBlocks” that can be used exactly the same way standard concrete blocks are in modern building construction. But unlike regular concrete, ByBlocks won’t break, crumble, or crack:
The block-making machinery is available now for waste management companies, governments and corporations to install and begin creating more sustainable building materials. They are also already producing their own products using their blocks.
Though it is neither efficient nor sustainable, another possible option for recycling plastic is pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is the process of decomposing or transforming a compound by exposing it to heat. In the case of recycling plastic, pyrolysis can be used to convert plastic waste into fuel. In this section, we will discuss the potential of pyrolysis as a recycling process, advantages and disadvantages, and processes for DIY Plastic Pyrolysis recycling.
There are two types of pyrolysis: thermal and catalytic. Thermal pyrolysis is a recycling technique whereby plastic waste is converted at high temperatures into liquid fuel, char, and vapor. This reaction is known as thermal degradation. Catalytic pyrolysis involves the use of catalysts (such as silica and alumina) and requires lower temperatures and reaction times to produce higher-quality fuel.
Here is a summary of how the pyrolysis of plastic works:
For more details on the process of pyrolysis, here’s a video that describes the process and the uses for its resulting products:
Here are the primary products produced by plastic pyrolysis:
One of the main benefits of pyrolysis is that it can be applied to any plastic waste, including mixed plastics. Many plastic products cannot be easily recycled by other means. For various reasons, plastic waste may not be sorted properly due to mechanical sorting complications. Additionally, some plastic waste may be degraded to the point where melting it would only shorten its carbon chains and result in a weakened product. Therefore, the pyrolytic process would decompose plastic molecules of all types and qualities into monomers that can be transformed into usable fuels.
The primary drawback of pyrolysis is that it is too energy-intensive to be sustainable. More energy is consumed in the process of recycling than what is recovered in the end product. Additionally, the product of pyrolysis is often a fuel that is burned, which sends more carbon into the atmosphere. Therefore, as a whole, pyrolysis is an inefficient and unsustainable process.
The Instructables website provides a tutorial on how to produce a mini DIY pyrolysis reaction plant for turning plastic into oil. Below, we provide a simplified explanation of the process and you can visit the linked source page to see the full details for replication.
Do not inhale the fumes produced! You can reduce your risk by working in a well-ventilated area and wearing the correct PPE (Person Protect Equipment) such as gloves, masks, safety glasses, etc.
Since the substances used are highly flammable, ensure the fumes produced are far away from fire and electrical appliances. Additionally, always have water and a fire extinguisher ready in case of an accident.
Summary of the Process:
While pyrolysis is a compelling method for recycling unrecyclable plastic, this is far outweighed by the inherent inefficiency and unsustainability. One of the key concerns is that both pyrolysis recycling and the burning of its products release carbon (and potentially other toxic byproducts) into the atmosphere. Since plastics store vast quantities of carbon, a better alternative might be to recycle existing plastic into new plastics or materials. To make this recycling most sustainable, the energy required for the recycling process ought to come from sustainable sources, like wind or solar.
To start your own plastic recycling business, you’ll first need to understand how it typically operates. To start, a person who wishes to establish their own plastic recycling business will need, as recommended here, to choose a product, establish funding, find a business space, obtain machinery, and find a source of plastic waste. We will further discuss considerations for each of these steps in the bullet points below:
A great resource for understanding how to set up and operate a small-scale plastic recycling business is Precious Plastic’s website. They provide potential product ideas, business tools, specific instructions on how to construct the machines yourself and everything is open source.
We’ve already discussed the four Basic Precious Plastic machines in prior sections (Shredder Machine, Extrusion Machine, Compression Machine, and Injection Machine), but Precious Plastic also shares plans for building “Professional” models of these machines, which allow for bigger volumes of plastic to be processed and recycled. Bigger volumes equal bigger business.
The Shredder Pro price is about $2625 if you purchase all new materials. Make sure to check out the Precious Plastic Marketplace for individual parts, kits, and community-built machines. This beast can shred up to 50kg of plastic per hour (vs. the 10kg per hour efficiency of the Basic Shredder), producing tons of plastic flakes and plastic granules. Precious Plastic also provides resources for How to Setup a Shredder Workspace
For about $2385 you can purchase all the necessary materials for the Extrusion Pro, but check out the Precious Plastic Marketplace for individual parts, kits, and community-built machines. It can recycle approximately 20kg of plastic per hour (vs. the 5kg per hour efficiency of the Basic Extrusion Machine), which can be used to produce beams and bricks. Check out How to Setup an Extrusion Workspace.
The Sheetpress Pro costs about $3040 for all the necessary materials, but check out the Precious Plastic Marketplace for individual parts, kits, and community-built machines. It can create 20 kg 1×1 meter sheets. Read the following page How to Setup a Sheetpress Workspace
In this section, we aim to open source a detailed comparison between the recycled plastics’ alternatives. We will include the cost, labor, sustainability, safety, and feasibility of all the varying waste processing methodologies to analyze which ones are best to implement into communities and sustainable community projects like One Community.
Here are some other interesting alternatives to recycling plastic we did not explore in this guide but we suggest you check out:
The best course of action for One Community will first and foremost be to reduce our use of plastic as much as possible. We have plans for bulk buying and hope to establish large-scale purchasing (think 50-gallon drums of soap, toothpaste, paint, etc.) as well. You can read about these on the Highest Good Lifestyle Considerations page.
Instead of every member of One Community buying their own groceries, we are aiming to buy things collectively by buying in big quantities. We will get better prices and by asking our providers to send them in bulk, we avoid excessive secondary and tertiary packaging. For example: for toothpaste, instead of receiving a large shipping box with a smaller box reinforced with plastic with smaller boxes of each plastic tubes inside, we can directly ask manufacturers to send 15L or bigger toothpaste containers that will be placed in the One Community dispensary. Each of the residents and visitors will be able to refill their toothpaste tubes from the dispensary. If you would like to know more about the inner workings of the dispensary, we will post the full process documentation, tools, tips, and tricks.
Another great advantage of this method is that all the residents will get most of their stuff from the best and most sustainable providers without researching and comparing them. We have already researched the most sustainable alternatives sources for a variety of services here and throughout this site.
Once the primary packaging of our supplies is used up, we can reuse them on the property like using empty 50-gallon drums to carry gardening equipment. Some of the bottles and containers visitors bring with them to the property will be reused as well. For example, a resident lacking a specific container could retrieve one in the dispensary after it was cleaned. This is our second strategy to deal with plastic waste – reuse as much as we can instead of purchasing new items.
Of course, not all the plastic waste that comes into One Community can be reused, so we plan on repurposing part of it. For example, the 2-liter soda bottle that a family brings with them can also be transformed into a soap dispenser for the zero waste bathrooms, a bird feeder, a sprinkler, or other useful tools. Other similar products that could also be repurposed include shampoos, lotions, soap, toothpaste, glue (with little modifications using a screw on the top), gasoline, perfumes, etc.
The remaining amount of plastic waste will be moved to the recycling center where we will sort, shred, store plastic flakes and create new products out of it.
We will invest in an industrial plastic shredder for the plastic we receive from packaging or plastic brought onto the property by others. This will help us process as much plastic as needed and make it easy to sell and/or create 3D printer filament and/or other products. We’ll also explore repurposing plastic for construction or useful creations such as sprinklers, bird feeders, etc.
To meet these needs, collected plastic for shredding and other uses will be sorted by the people who used it. Bottles and other plastic items that are good for specific purposes will be used as needed. Shredded flakes will be sold to plastic manufacturers to melt and mold into new products and/or turned into new products on the property using the plastic filament extruder offered by Open Source Ecology. The filament extruder will be up and running during phase 4 once we have more than 50 people living on the property who are generating more flakes than can be simply managed by sorting them in buckets. We’ll also have some residents in charge of maintaining the machine working properly and leading the plastic extrusion operations.
Precious Plastics equipment will also be used to turn our plastic waste into a diversity of useful plastic products for a fairly low upfront investment:
We will share our reduction methods, uses, products, and recycling processes to educate communities, organizations, and individuals on different approaches to tackle the ongoing battle against plastic waste.
Note: We will not be pursuing the pyrolysis plant plan because it produces fossil fuels and has numerous safety issues. It also requires a lot of energy and financial input to run the plant (around 25kW and $850/day).
Not all plastics can be transformed into filaments or extruded with these machines, so we will compost compostable plastics and the rest will be washed, shredded, and stored in 50-gallon barrels. Once the barrels are full, we’ll send them to a pyrolysis facility that uses sustainable energy sources so the plastics can be transformed into new plastics.
Plastics that cannot be efficiently cleaned, like bottles of oil or dissolvents whose contents could end up contaminating our water, will be placed with our other non-recyclable wastes. Investigation on this topic is being done at this time, with plasma incinerations as a potential solution to dealing with them.
Here are resources referenced above:
Use this page (click here) if you have a resource you’d like to suggest be added here.
One Community has invested extensive time and research into the best small and large-scale recycling, repurposing, and reuse options for plastic (and paper, glass, polystyrene/styrofoam, clothing/cloth, metal, food and other perishable items, and non-recyclables). Reducing and reusing plastic use looks to be the easiest, safest, and most sustainable option. We will open source share here our group’s experience with reducing and reusing our plastic as part of the development of the Earthbag Village and Duplicable City Center. We will evolve this page with videos and other data from this process as we use what we learn to help us improve our recycling, repurposing, and reuse strategies as we build each of the next 6 sustainable village models and grow to a community of hundreds.
Q: What are the differences between plastic bottle recycling and reuse?
“An item is ‘recyclable’ per APR definition when the following three conditions are met:
This was extracted from the Full APR’s design guide for plastics recyclability
You can’t recycle dirty plastic. Plastic materials with food residues or dirt on (or in) them cannot be recycled. Plastics must be of decent quality to be transformed into recycled goods. Washing is an important step in this process.
Q: How does recycling plastics compare to returnable glass bottles?
According to this article about rPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate), the advantages of plastic are:
Some disadvantages to plastic named by the IBWA:
“Virgin PET material is produced by combining raw material inputs [purified terephthalic acid (PTA) and monoethylene glycol (MEG)] in a polymerization process. In contrast, post-consumer recycled PET must travel from consumer to MRF to reclaimer / re-processor to end user—at each stage, there is potential for yield loss and inefficiency.
Two very different processes result in very different cost structures. In 2017, the estimated average cost to produce virgin PET was $0.52-0.56 per pound, while the cost to process and produce rPET was estimated at $0.60-0.65 per pound. It is no wonder that end users sometimes prefer to purchase virgin PET. If rPET is ever going to be competitive with virgin at scale, improvements will need to be made across the system. Suppliers of rPET suggest that more long-term contracts with buyers would help stabilize commodity pricing. In addition, if more bottle manufacturers adhered to the APR Design Guide for Plastics Recyclability then flake quality would improve, thus increase the supply of rPET and help lower costs extracted from here.”
National Geographic addresses how: “recycling plastic downgrades its quality. It’s important to know that plastics are simply polymers, long chains of atoms ‘arranged in repeating units often much longer than those found in nature.’ According to the Science History Institute, the ‘length of these chains, and the patterns in which they are arranged, are what make polymers strong, lightweight, and flexible. In other words, it’s what makes them so plastic.'”
Q: How does recycling one-use plastics compare to returnable plastic bottles?
According to National Geographic, the same piece of plastic can only be recycled about 2-3 times before its quality decreases to the point where it can no longer be used.
Microdyne Plastics notes how HDPE and PET can be recycled up to 10 times. It states that based on the average service life of each product, the total life of plastic material would be from 10 to 20 years. This means that sustainable production of the same recycled plastic would have a life of 100 to 200 years.
Q: Is this guide complete?
No, we won’t consider this guide a complete and usable tutorial until we finish our construction of this component, confirm all the details, and add to this page all the related videos, experience, and other updates from that build. In the meantime, we’re always happy to have the help of any qualified and experienced individuals with input to improve our page. If you are interested in this topic and want to collaborate with us, click the button below to join us! If you have any further questions related to this article you can contact us here.