Quito, Oct (SF) .- An Ecuadorian initiative converts plastic waste into “plastic wood”, to give plastics a second life and thus prevent them from ending up in landfills.
Since 2013, a company in the South American country works with high and low density plastics, the former being the ones that most help create this wood substitute.
“We have done better with those of high density, precisely because they have a better capacity for thermoforming processes (heat submission so that they merge),” said María Eugenia Moreno, project manager at Ecuambiente.
He explains that high density ones – known as HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) or HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) – are hard plastics such as detergent or shampoo containers. Meanwhile, the low density ones – LDPE (for ‘Low Density Polyethylene’) or PEBD (‘low density polyethylene’) – are like plastic water bottles.
Other initiatives make the “plastic wood” with a mixture of plastic waste and the same wood, mainly to take advantage, also, the sawdust with which they generate quite used product in architecture. However, Ecuambiente works exclusively with plastic. In addition, they take advantage of the waste that comes from industries.
“Depending on the origin of that waste, you have to have a cleaning, a wash with biodegradable detergents,” says Moreno. Then, the material goes to a crusher, which leaves it in small pieces. Finally, it goes to the thermoforming machine, where it is subjected to heat and all that crushed plastic is fused.
In Ecuambiente, they make boards between one and five centimeters thick. The thickness depends on its duration inside the thermoforming machine, which varies from 30 minutes to an hour.
Once the fused amalgam comes out of the thermoformer, the rustic sheet is left or, like wood, it can be subjected to a sanding process, it is also lacquered and a more refined material remains.
“With this mixture of different plastics and colors, each board becomes practically a unique piece; when you see them finished it seems as if they were granite,” says the interviewee.
This work is carried out by Ecuambiente in a waste management center, or its formal name Integral Center for Ecological Engineering, in the province of Orellana, in eastern Ecuador, in the Amazon region.
They do not have a sustained production, because they work with the material they receive from the industries in the area and the amount of waste varies; Therefore, it is based on the available raw material.
Moreno indicates that before starting with this initiative, the plastic material, mainly agrochemical containers, was incinerated, producing more pollution in the place. Now, in addition to ending that, this process of turning it into “wood” prevents waste from going to landfills and gives a “second life to plastic.”
For now, what they produce is intended primarily for those industries with which they work. “They give us the plastic and we give them a new product,” says Moreno. These companies have used “plastic wood” for interior and exterior furniture, floors, walls, among others.
Moreno details that in 2015 they processed 65 tons of plastic waste. When calculating this processed material, they discovered that this amount is equivalent to “leaving 975 trees in the forest”.
“That means about 931,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) that trees absorb throughout their lives,” he says.
Another advantage of this process is that the resulting plastic material does not need maintenance, it is not exposed to attacks by insects, fungi or bacteria. In addition, it resists moisture, contact with the ground and the action of climatic factors. Also, it serves as an acoustic insulator and does not transmit electrical charges.