Avoiding plastic is a tricky task nowadays, despite the increased demand for single use plastic alternatives and having come leaps and bounds in altering perceptions, we are still producing an outstanding volume of waste. Our world is consumed by plastic and it will take time, research and development to drastically reduce the sheer volume entering our environment.
As much as we would like a plastic free planet, it’s not going to happen overnight and every day this material encroaches more of our land and oceans.
But what if this vast inevitable volume of waste material could be used to create solutions?
While we are overwhelmed with the facts revealed in the news of our suffering planet, there is light is at the end of the tunnel as a global shift in perceptions generates positive action. Climate change and poverty are inherently linked as geographically the poorest countries in the world are the most exposed to these hazards.
Rising global temperatures have resulted in more frequent and extreme natural disasters, exposing the poorest communities to lengthy droughts, extreme rainfall, flooding, tropical storms and heat waves. Many people are reduced to living in sub-standard housing as a result.
Using plastic waste to generate infrastructure, would not only solve part of the recycling problem but in turn, give homes to those in desperate need.
There are companies already constructing houses from plastic which would otherwise be taken to landfill in countries such as India, Mexico, Hawaii and Columbia. In Mexico, entrepreneur Carlos González turns plastic waste into houses for low-income families.
While plastic has received a lot of bad press recently, there is a reason for its existence. It has fantastic thermal properties, it’s strong, resistant to water, cheap to produce and of course is highly durable, lasting in some cases up to 1000 years, if not more. This makes it a perfect material to be used in infrastructure. The houses are prefabricated meaning it only takes a mere one week to construct using 2 tons of recycled plastic costing around $300. While only 15% of the 800,000 tons produced each year in Mexico is recycled – it is a start. Perhaps, this scheme will persuade others to reuse more plastic waste for construction projects, providing the community with an environmental conscious to make sustainable community choices.
The UK too can benefit from taking these innovative ideas on board. Houses are not the only product that make the most of this plastic waste, MacRebur is just one of many companies developing plastic roads. Tony McCartney an engineer based in Scotland, was influenced by his young daughter and has adapted the traditional method in road production and has replaced bitumen; a sticky black substance derived from crude oil with both household and commercial plastic waste which would otherwise be heading for landfill or incineration. Cumbria is the first local council to test out the product and MacRebur says that the roads are more cost effective and will last longer.
While not on the same scale, GreenSeas Trust too recycles 450 polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles which are added into the fibreglass mix to make each BinForGreenSeas. This is the equivalent amount of plastics collected in one of our bins in just 1-2 weeks.
In the UK we only have the infrastructure to recycle around a third of the 1.1 million tonnes of plastic we produce each year, leaving approximately 750,000 tons of plastic waste at risk of entering our environment.
We, as a species have the intelligence and skills to reduce the damage we have single-handedly caused. Developing new uses for waste materials has the potential to further increase our recycling rate numbers and limit the negative impact we have caused to date, on all the living, breathing things that share this world.