Posts Tagged recycling

Method and its Ocean Plastic Bottles

Posted by on Saturday, 5 November, 2011

Plastic waste in the ocean is a significant problem. Many types of plastic which are used in common consumer products, such as soft drink containers, utensils, and water bottles, cannot be easily broken down by microorganisms. Because these products are frequently thrown away improperly by consumers, they often get into storm drains and enter the ocean, where they form huge clumps of plastic that pose a menace to marine life.

Consumer products companies know that many of their potential customers are aware of this issue, and refuse to buy drinks that are sold in plastic containers because of the risk they pose to the marine environment. These companies have attempted to solve the problem by designing plastic containers that can be consumed by microorganisms after a customer is done with them, but building biodegradability features into plastic products has remained a difficult engineering challenge.

One Bay Area company, Method, has decided to clean up the marine pollution that its competitors have caused, and use its cleanup efforts to market its own products. High density polyethylene (HDPE), the plastic that is used in many plastic containers, is recyclable, so Method decided to use the HDPE that was floating in the ocean to make new bottles. This was also a difficult engineering task, as Method had to collect plastic waste that was located far offshore, which had been exposed to the sun and salt water for a long period of time. Treehugger reported that Method partnered with Envision Plastics, which had experience recycling HDPE, to design its plastic recovery process.

Tests of the recovery process were successful, and Method managed to make new plastic bottles that contained ocean plastic. These plastic bottles were made from completely recycled material, with one quarter of the material collected from Hawaii beaches. The experiment demonstrated that using ocean plastic to make new bottles was technically possible. Whether using ocean plastic was financially lucrative, or at least cost neutral, was Method’s other concern, as Method is a private company. Envision explained the details of the collection process. Method collected plastic trash from Hawaii beaches to perform the tests. Method would gain some goodwill from environmentally conscious consumers, but it still had to deal with logistics and recycling costs.

Green Biz explained that Method had two main financial concerns: finding a cost effective way to collect the plastic and deliver it to San Francisco, and using the plastic to design bottles that had an attractive appearance. As much of the plastic waste washes up on the shores of islands such as Hawaii, Method could partner with organizations that already performed beach cleanup to collect the waste, and pay for it to be delivered to the Bay Area. Pure Branding does bring up a marketing ethics issue here. Technically, the bottles had been floating in the ocean, but the proposed collection process involved picking up plastic bottles off a Hawaii beach, which did not actually reduce the amount of plastic in the ocean, although it did reduce the amount of plastic on the beach, which was also a major environmental problem. As for design concerns, the ocean plastic bottles were dark gray, as Envision demonstrated on its blog, compared to the brilliant colors of the company’s other plastic bottles, but this gray color could still offer marketing advantages, since a consumer could easily see that the bottles were recycled products.

Envitrum’s Glass Bricks

Posted by on Sunday, 13 June, 2010

Blue Glass VaseMany people are familiar with dropping off glass bottles in the recycling bin. Depositors get a redemption value that varies by state, the glass bottles go to the waste processing plant, and it may seem like that’s the end of it. Unfortunately, many of the glass bottles can’t be used in current recycling methods and end up getting dumped in landfills. Washington students are now using the recycled glass to create glass bricks, which have advantages over traditional masonry. The University of Washington’s Foster Business School awarded two engineering grad students, Grant Marchelli and Renuka Prabhakar, a $10,000 prize for coming up with this idea.

Traditional methods of recycling glass do not allow all of the glass to be reused. Glass containers often require all of the glass to be the same color. According to Envitrum, green, brown, and other colored glass is often considered a contaminant at waste plants. In addition, glass may be combined with other materials to create packaging, which can also create glass that can’t be recycled.

Glass bricks created according to Envitrum’s process have advantages over masonry bricks. According to Envitrum, the glass bricks are slightly stronger than masonry bricks, around ten percent. The main benefit of the glass bricks is their cost advantage. A builder who uses the Envitrum bricks may save twenty five percent of the bricks’ cost. According to Xconomy, the price savings might be even higher; A quote from cofounder Prabhakar claims a cost of 10 to 15 cents rather than 20 to 25 for red bricks, so the twenty five percent cost reduction on Envitrum’s web site may be a conservative estimate. It may be possible to obtain further cost savings since not as many bricks are necessary for construction when stronger bricks are used.

Envitrum’s production methods create other energy reduction benefits compared to using recycled glass to create containers. The site claims that it is not necessary to melt the glass to use it in bricks, so this saves all of the electricity normally required to rework glass into new containers. Since sorting through different types of glass is not necessary, it’s also not necessary to power machines to sort through the glass efficiently. According to University of Washington News, these process improvements reduce the energy cost of brick manufacturing by as much as sixty percent.

These glass bricks have a characteristic that allows new green design concepts. The glass bricks are water permeable, unlike red masonry bricks. Water flow can be incorporated into building design to easily heat or cool the structure, reducing its energy costs. Permeability can also be useful when creating a living wall or a green roof, since the roots of a plant can draw water from the bricks.