Plastic is emerging as one of the biggest challenges in our environment today. Between the carbon footprint of its manufacturing process to the millions of tons of plastic waste floating in our oceans and clogging our landfills, we are leaving a hugely destructive legacy for future generations. It’s encouraging, therefore, to see innovative methods to remove plastic from the waste stream and recycle it into new, usable products, such as shoes, flip flops, wallets, and sunglasses. And two new, industrial uses for recycled plastics include roof and pavement tiles.
More Suitable Uses for Plastics
Plastic has excellent qualities that make it well-suited to more permanent uses than grocery bags and water bottles. Taking these single-use plastics and turning them into construction materials that can be used for years without replacement is a smart way to reduce plastic garbage and conserve petrochemical resources.
Roof and paving tiles made from recycled plastics are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to wood, stone, and concrete. Cutting down trees for wood and quarrying stone to produce cement have a big carbon footprint and impact natural resources. Replacing them with what would otherwise be discarded makes sense economically and environmentally. And the recycled plastic roofs and pavement look good, too!
From Plastic Bag to Concrete Alternative
It’s hard to imagine how something as flimsy as a plastic bag can be turned into a dense, heavy tile that can last indefinitely. The processes developed by different innovators across the globe have a few common threads. First, waste plastic, including plastic bags, bottles, and even car parts, are shredded into small pieces and melted down. Often, sand is mixed in as part of the process. The resulting hot goo is then placed into molds or presses to be formed into roof tiles or paving stones. The final product can be colored to mimic terra cotta or stone for aesthetic purposes.
Of course, it’s important to minimize the carbon footprint of the recycling process itself. Enter Trashpresso. While many industrial shredders are powered by gas-powered engines, Trashpresso, developed by the cleantech company Miniwiz, is a mobile recycling machine that utilizes solar-power to take the plastic waste, shred it, and turn it into new materials. The unit even recycles the water used to rinse the finished tiles.
Here’s a video from CNBC of Miniwiz founder and CEO Arthur Huang talking about Trashpresso:
In Rwanda, where plastic bags were recently banned, a company called Agroplast is already working with the Rwanda Environmental Protection Agency to recycle bags and other plastic items to turn them into construction materials.
Plastics obviously last a long time and they’re also waterproof and fire-resistant. The key will be to eliminate their use in items where more eco-friendly alternatives can be used, such as in phone cases and laptop sleeves, and to use them only when there are no other alternatives. Then, we need to strive to recycled them as much as possible to keep them out of the waste stream.