In our blog back in July 2019, we explored some of the most innovative alternatives to plastics. From crab shell cling film to mushroom-grown packaging, there are many ways to reduce our plastic usage. But what about the plastic that’s already in use, and the millions of tons being produced every single year? In 2018, world plastic production totalled around 359 million tons – and that amount is continuing to rise. According to studies, an enormous 91% of plastic wasn’t being recycled when statistics were collected two years. This means we need to find ways to recycle more plastic, and we need to find them fast.
While there’s clearly lots to be done, it’s not all doom and gloom. On a global scale, solutions are coming to light that show ingenuity, creativity, and a real commitment to solving the plastic problem, helping to protect our planet and our oceans. GreenSeas Trust is a charity dedicated to encouraging behavioural change, so we continually monitor advances and love spreading the word about them.
Five innovative ways to recycle plastic around the world
Here are some of the more resourceful solutions we’ve spotted from around the world as people find new ways to reuse and recycle plastic:
- Waste plastic in building blocks. The Costa-Rica-based Centre for Regenerative Design and Collaboration (CRDC) has developed a new process that uses waste plastics and makes them into an aggregate, which is then used in concrete building blocks. The final product is almost identical to a standard building block, but it’s made of 90% cement and 10% recycled plastic aggregate. One of the best things about this innovation is the fact that all types of plastic can be used, without any worry of contamination due to the heating process. The CRDC recovers plastic from various waste streams and environmental clean-up programmes before it’s shredded, cleaned and processed. These building blocks have already been rigorously tested and are now being used in housing and civil infrastructure projects.
The construction industry is often the focus for more planet-friendly solutions. Closer to home, scientists at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University have been working on a recyclable alternative to traditional clay bricks for the last 10 years, and a team at De Montford University have created a 3D printed brick made from household plastic waste. Let’s hope these innovations make it into widespread usage in the future.
- Face masks made from ocean plastic. As facemasks have become integral in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19, a US company has been busy developing one made from recycled ocean plastic. They’re produced by the company Rash’R in conjunction with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), and they’re made from water bottles that have been collected from the ocean. The masks are washable and are being sold at cost, with five carbon filters included. Of course, various steps must be followed to help stop the spread of COVID-19, but face masks can slow the spread of diseases if worn in public settings according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you want to get your hands on a protective mask made from ocean plastics, they’re available in UK and US stores.
- Waste plastic roads. Back in 2018, Dr Rajagopalan Vasudevan was honoured with the Padma Shri – one of India’s highest civilian awards – for his ground-breaking research on re-using waste plastic when laying roads. He began using plastic as a binder, shredding it and mixing it with bitumen to reduce the amount needed. For every kilometre of road, as much as one tonne of bitumen can be saved. And there are other benefits too – tensile strength of roads is improved, and the use of plastic prevents pothole formation.
Just last year, a housing developer in Elgin used waste plastic to build a road, and shortly afterwards a development in Bristol followed suit. It’s a great way to reuse plastics, and one we could be seeing much more of across the world.
- Clothing made from recycled fishing nets. The problem of dumping fishing nets in the sea is a widespread problem, and it’s one that particularly affects a village called Tumbes in Chile. Fishing nets can be seen littering the village itself, and many nets are simply discarded in the ocean once they’re no longer in use. One ingenious start-up called Bureo is helping to combat the waste by working with local fishermen to make sure plastic nets don’t end up in the ocean – they collect and sort them, before they’re processed nearby and turned into 100% recycled polyester and nylon pellets called NetPlus. These are then sold to companies as a sustainable alternative to first-use plastics. Notably, NetPlus is used in various products by outdoor clothing company Patagonia, and all their hat brims are now made from these recycled pellets. It’s setting a great precedent by reducing waste in Chile – and keeping plastic fishing nets out of our oceans.
- 3D printed furniture using recycled plastics. 3D printing is a wonderful innovation, but it often relies heavily on plastics. The New Raw, a Rotterdam-based research and design studio, turns plastic waste into 3D printable products and installations. In 2019, it expanded the ‘print your city’ project to Thessaloniki in Greece, an initiative that uses household plastic waste to produce unique 3D printed street furniture. The benefits are twofold: cities are transformed, and plastic is recycled. Citizens are invited to bring along their own waste plastic and help with the designs, so they’re involved in the whole process. The furniture promotes healthy and environmentally friendly lifestyles too, with integrated features such as bike racks, tree pots, and even dog feeding bowls. Outdoor gym equipment has also been manufactured. It’s refreshing to see initiatives like this spreading and encouraging citizens to be involved as much as possible – plastic waste is reduced, and it puts recycling at the forefront of people’s minds.
So there you have it: five of the most forward-thinking ways to recycle more plastic, keeping it out of landfill and making sure it doesn’t end up polluting the ocean. One of the biggest barriers to recycling is the lack of local authority resources, so it’s great to see independent companies and organisations recycling plastic and turning it into genuinely useful materials and products.
At GreenSeas Trust, we are advocates of behavioural change and believe wholeheartedly that changing attitudes leads to changing actions. We might not be able to reuse all plastic just yet, but we’re putting building blocks in place – and recycled ones at that! The journey is just as important as the destination, as it’s a chance to engage people, spread the word and make sure they can be involved in the solution.
Feeling inspired to work towards a world where recycling plastic is the norm? Join us in our fight. We save the seas by reducing marine littering, encouraging recycling and making people think about their actions. Support our BinForGreenSeas project – around 450 recycled PET plastic bottles are used in each bin! Let’s make sure we dispose of our waste responsibly and keep recycling, for the sake of our oceans, our marine life and each other.