Friday, April 9th, 2021
Ray’cycle Initiative: Characterizing and Productizing Community-Sourced Plastics
Certain everyday plastic product waste ranging from grocery bags to bottle caps and single-use coffee pods cannot typically be recycled in the United States due to municipality and recycling plant regulations. Driven partially by the COVID-19 pandemic, this campus sustainability initiative establishes a new community means of collecting plastic waste materials and reprocessing them into products in an innovative fashion. Post-consumer plastics made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and polypropylene (PP) are processed using the novel solid-state/melt extrusion (SSME) technique, which has previously been proven to compatibilize polymer blends and commingled plastic waste. Post-consumer plastic materials are often contaminated, non-uniform, and therefore lower quality than virgin plastics. However, SSME has the potential to yield recycled plastic materials with properties comparable to relevant virgin plastic pellets. The mechanical property characterization of these recycled HDPE, LDPE, and PP materials by way of tensile testing and thermal characterization, such as thermogravimetric analysis and differential scanning calorimetry, are benchmarked against as-received plastics as well as virgin analogs. Additionally, these community-sourced plastic materials are made into useable tools and Bucknell memorabilia through injection molding as a sustainable end-use for the polymer material. This project showcases the actual recyclability of “difficult-to-recycle” plastic waste products while also making a broader impact to the local community through plastics recycling education and public sustainability awareness.