April 6, 2017
When you think about re-using trash, reupholstering an old sofa or refurbishing a table that has seen better days might come to mind. It goes well beyond that, however.
In fact, advances in science and technology have created a situation in which trash is essentially wasted money. Actual waste or garbage — beyond things such as aging furniture or used clothing — can be turned into useful items that may one day provide a sizable impact on the global economy.
Here are four ways we can use trash to produce new and sometimes surprising items you may never have thought was possible.
1. Fabric for Fashion
Imagine how many plastic bottles of water and soda you’ve consumed over the years. Now imagine turning those bottles into fabric or yarn that could be used to make clothing.
A company called Thread International is doing just that. In 2015, the company sent 440,000 pounds of plastic from Haiti to the U.S., where it was blended with cotton to form fabrics such as jersey, canvas and denim.
Thread International’s effort is valiant in two ways. First, its method of creating fabric cuts energy consumption by 80 percent, though that cost is roughly 10 percent higher than non-recycled fabric. Also, the company has established more than 300 recycling jobs in Haiti, which is particularly helpful following the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake.
2. Plastic Materials From Veggies
Believe it or not, it is possible to fabricate plastics from vegetable waste products, such as rice hulls and spinach and parsley stems.
The creation of these bioplastics originally drew criticism, because even though the materials are more sustainable, they often required more energy than traditional plastic. While the process has improved, it still could take some time before this type of plastic becomes common on the consumer market.
There are other ways pull plastic from waste as well. Chemists at the University of Arizona developed a process called inverse vulcanization, which can create plastic from sulfur, specifically used for infrared lenses.
For non-scientists, vulcanization is a chemical process that turns rubber and other polymers into more durable materials. Vulcanization is used to make fish paper with all sorts of applications, such as railroad track insulation, fuse tubes and electronic devices.
3. Turning Plastic to Fuel
In addition to fabric, there is another emerging use for recycled plastic bottles. In a joint effort between the U.S. and China, researchers have developed a way to break down polyethylene compounds into oils and waxes while also limiting toxic by-products.
The process is somewhat complicated, but it basically uses a chemical reaction that turns two parts of two substances into two new substances.
It’s a large advancement to be sure, but more work needs to be done. Researchers are now looking to make the process more efficient, so it costs less. They also hope to evolve it so it can be used to turn other types of plastic waste into usable items.
4. Making Recycled Paper Waste
A team of researchers in Singapore recently discovered a process that converts paper waste into non-toxic, ultra-light, flexible and water-repellent green cellulose aerogels. Put in layman’s terms, it’s a material ideal for cleaning oil spills or used for heat insulation or packaging.
Traditional aerogels are typically made of silica and are not environmentally friendly. Not only is this new method of aerogel creation better for the environment, but it’s also cost effective. Even better — the process uses 70 percent less energy and gives rise to far less pollution.
Generating usable items such as fabric for clothing or biodegradable plastic from waste products may sound like science fiction, but it’s quickly becoming a reality. The science and technology is already there. The next step is making these processes easier, so they’re affordable on the mainstream consumer level.
Image by jeffjuit