Plastic Fantastic - How researchers are using plastic waste to build a better world

| 03 Feb 2021

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Plastic is an extraordinary product. Invented in the latter years of the 19th century, plastic, originally made from a combination of natural polymers, was designed to replace the ivory in billiard balls.

The discovery soon revolutionised manufacturing. Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, was produced in the early 20th century heralding an age of infinite plastic production.

In 2016-17 Australia produced 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste. Of this extraordinary number, only 9 per cent is recycled. While each year the percentage of recycled plastic increases, over 2.1 million tonnes are still being sent to landfill.

UNSW Canberra researcher Dr Jianfeng Xue, who is part of the UNSW Sustainable Communities and Waste Hub, can imagine a world where used plastics are no longer considered a scourge but a resource that can improve and enhance the attributes of our most important building materials.

“Plastic is such a durable material. Together with colleagues from across UNSW, we are exploring ways of using recycled plastic in pavement and in the building industry,” Dr Xue said.

“We believe that we can maximise the inherent benefits of recycled plastic and use this abundant waste product to increase the life and durability of pavement and construction products.

The research team is partnering with the ACT Government, Goulburn Mulwaree Council, and ACT Recycling to establish a pilot program for the reusing of waste plastics.

“Our hope is that in the future we can build using our waste products, where they are part of the solution, not only creating better construction materials but achieving zero waste,”
Dr Xue said.

Dr Jianfeng Xue is a Senior Lecturer in Geotechnical Engineering at UNSW Canberra and a Chartered Professional Engineer accredited by the Institution of Engineers Australia.

 

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