Published On: Tue, Jan 25th, 2011

Canadian Project Illustrates Illogic of Plastics Recycling

Sixty-three metric tons of plastic trash will be converted to synthetic lumber for a new railroad bridge in Vancouver, BC.

204Engineers specified plastic lumber for the project in place of pressure treated wood.

“Major advantages of Altwood (plastic lumber) in this project are that it does not absorb water, will never rot, will not leach toxins into the soil or water and is safe for the workers to handle with their bare hands, none of which is true for pressure-treated wood, a toxic alternative,” says Brian Burchill, manager of Syntal Products. Syntal is making the material for the $43 million Lynn Creek Rail Bridge and Brooksbank Avenue Underpass project in North Vancouver, BC.

One of the ironies of the project though is rail cars using the bridge may be shipping local plastic waste overseas instead of using it in local projects.

“The cost of the final product is driven up by Syntal having to pay world prices for recycled plastics it has to import,” Burchill tells Design News. “Would it not make much more sense for Syntal to be given the local plastics, with the cost benefit to the local region being the avoidance of that much plastic going to landfill, the avoidance of export trucking and shipping costs and the benefit to all of the avoidance of the environmental damage caused by the pollution produced by all that transport?”

In one of the ironies of trash plastics’ economics, the locally discarded milk bottles, yogurt containers and other waste is collected and sent to dealers, many of whom ship to buyers in China. That stream was set up under an eight year contract with another company that collects and sells plastics waste in the area.

Syntal Products solicits waste drop-off at two locations in British Columbia and also buys plastics waste from other municipalities, local manufacturers and dealers.

Another problem is that the plastic waste is often not clean.

“Society still treats used plastics as trash,” says Burchill. “Hence, much of the plastics we receive contain so much food residue in it that we cannot use those plastics in our process. Also, the collection systems commingle the plastics with metal and/or glass, which either make the plastics unusable, or cause very labor-intensive sorting to be required to extract usable plastics from the mix.”

Syntal can produce final product at a rate of about 500 lbs/hr. The company was established in 1995 and is the first plant designed and commissioned by Industrial Recycling Systems Corp. a distributor for Julien Environmental Technology s.a., a world leader in commingled thermoplastics recycling.


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