Plastic waste need not be such a problem

Plastic waste

I recently read an article about the possibilities of plastic waste to be turned into construction materials. Surely those who study and do research for so many years can successfully promote this idea.

Plastic waste is a visible problem wherever you go. From the oceans to the deserts. Most importantly, it is evident that what we are doing to deal with the issue currently is not working. Reportedly, worldwide production of plastics exceeds 359 million tons per year. Alarmingly, the percentage of recycled plastics is negligible.

Plastic waste challenges exhaustible resources

As humans, we produce, consume, and discard without considering our planet’s exhaustible resources. We seem to stare blindly at the fact that only a small percentage of plastics are recyclable. This is true right now. Above all, only because recycling a significant percentage of plastic waste is not profitable or feasible. However, can’t the unrecyclable plastics be melted and mixed with virgin plastic or other materials to make it suitable for construction?

Plastic, blocks
Recycled plastic building blocks

Plastic waste to solve low-cost housing problem

Imagine if we could kill two birds with one stone. Resolve the problem of a low-income housing shortage by producing construction materials and resolving the plastic waste problem at the same. Millions of tons of discarded plastic end up in landfills. Thus, developing methods to use the unrecyclable polymers could even make plastics useful.

Plastics meet all the necessary requirements for sustainable building materials. For example, it is durable, strong and lightweight. Moreover, it is waterproof and easy to shape and mold as required. If we can go walking on the moon, why not this?  There is undoubtedly enough brainpower to develop feasible and profitable methods to convert the masses of plastic waste into construction materials.

Several groups of entrepreneurs and universities have dabbled with different applications to use plastic waste. However, promising, none of the initiatives are industrially reproducible yet. So far, prototypes for construction materials made from plastic waste serve only as demonstrations.

Recycled plastic, bricks
Recycled plastic bricks

Will plastic construction material meet building standards?

Most importantly, we cannot lose sight of the fact that standards must be met. Like any construction materials, recycled plastic materials must have the necessary toughness. It must withstand the intended use challenges. There are some significant stumbling blocks.  One of which is that relatively low temperatures soften plastics. Furthermore, building materials must be able to bear heavyweights. In conclusion, the process must be such that the cost compares favorably with bricks and mortar.

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