Researchers have discovered a new way to convert single-use plastic waste into products such as storage tanks for fuel and water.
The technique, which is been pioneered at the Polymer Processing Research Centre (PPRC) at Queen’s University Belfast, involves a manufacturing process called rotational moulding, which the scientists believe has the potential to recycle large volumes of plastic waste into a variety of innovative products such as storage tanks, street furniture, kayaks and marine buoys.
The process starts with flakes of waste plastics being separated and compounded into pellets which are then grinded down into a powder. It’s then blended with a proportion of new plastic (polyethylene), heated to over 200ºC and cooled within a mould to transform it into the shape of a new product.
At present, the UK rotational moulding industry alone consumes more than 38,000 tonnes of new plastic, of which more than 11,000 tonnes could be saved.
The project is funded by Innovate UK through its ‘Plastics Innovation: Towards Zero Waste’ programme and the researchers are working in collaboration with three industrial partners; Impact Laboratories Ltd in Scotland, Impact Recycling Ltd in England and Harlequin Plastics Ltd in Northern Ireland.
Mark Kearns, Moulding Research Manager at PPRC at Queen’s, added: ‘The rotational moulding process is unique in comparison to other plastic forming methods since it is used to manufacture large products that typically use very large volumes of plastics.
‘This new process will therefore have significant environmental benefits. The ability to condense and transform large volumes of recycled plastics into products designed to last many years will result in a substantial reduction in the amount of post-consumer waste going to landfill, rivers and the ocean.
‘It will also help to reduce the quantity ofpure polyethylene used in the process, ushering in a new and more sustainable era in the production of rotationally moulded plastics.’