From the table to the building: the second life of disposable cutlery

From the table to the building: the second life of disposable cutlery

From the table to the building

Good news for the environment could come from New Zealand, where a group of researchers claims to have turned plastic into insulation foam for construction use. Pioneers of this new research Heon Park of the University of Canterbury and his team of collaborators, who with this study hope to carry on research and development on the disposal and reuse of plastic.

The ultimate goal of the research by Dr. Park and his team was to develop a way to stem the collateral problem related to biodegradable plastics, which many times are not properly disposed of thus becoming a substantial part of landfills around the world and which often, as happens for waste of normal plastic, irreparably feeds the pollution from ocean waste.

The idea was therefore to start from common objects such as disposable cutlery made of this type of plastic, polylactic acid or PLA (the same material used by many 3D printers) and transform it into a foamy material that could be used in the construction field.

To transform cutlery into foam, Park and his team put some of these in a chamber full of carbon dioxide. The researchers then continuously increased the pressure inside the chamber, forcing the carbon dioxide to dissolve inside the plastic. Once the chamber was depressurized, the sudden change in conditions caused the carbon dioxide to expand again, thus changing the very structure of the plastic, which had turned into foam.

Obviously the pressure and temperature parameters to obtain this kind of reaction are not random, in fact Dr. Park declared that the promising result of the research is due precisely to having identified which temperature or which pressure is the best to transform unexpanded plastics into foam. While the results may appear promising, researchers will need to demonstrate that this method is feasible and sustainable even outside of research laboratories. Park and his team believe that making biodegradable plastics recyclable would help reduce the amount of plastic in industrial composting and consequently alleviate the amount of plastic waste floating in the ocean and threatening the life of marine creatures.

Waiting to find out if this new discovery will really help counter the mountain of disposable plastic, at this link you can find a travel cutlery kit so you no longer need the disposable ones the next time you feed something to take away.