Every day, humans produce and dispose of large amounts of plastic waste, whether in the form of bottles, bags, containers, and other items manufactured from this material, such as agricultural plastics.
As is well known, the agricultural industry relies on the use of plastic films to improve its production levels and the quality of the food it grows. However, as it happens with other plastic products, what to do with the resulting waste is often an unanswered concern, so disposing of the same tends to become a ticking timebomb.
Faced with this reality, several projects are currently being promoted in different regions of the planet to take advantage of all the discarded plastic, so it can be transformed into building materials such as paving stones for sidewalks, plastic wood, oils, waxes and other products that end up being more durable and sustainable, in addition to being more friendly to the planet.
An example of recycled agricultural plastics can be seen in an initiative that emerged in 2009, which is responsible for recycling plastics from dairy farms, located in several counties of the United States. Until now, it has already collected more than one million pounds of used plastics, according to data published on the website Cornell Cooperation Extension.
We are talking about the Recycling Agricultural Plastics Project (RAPP) from the State of New York, which focuses on collecting plastics from these farms to give them a much more productive purpose, as a way to offer an alternative solution to other materials that have been used until now.
Agricultural plastics come from diverse sources e.g., bale wrap, silage and grain bags, bunker silo covers, bale netting, polytwine, feed and pellet bags, irrigation tubing, drip tape, maple tubing, green and hoop house covers, nursery pots and seedling trays, mulch and fumigation films, tarps, netting, rigid containers, seed and fertilizer bags, beehive frames and many other plastics that can be recycled for more efficient use.
Such recycling proposals benefit everyone equally. On the one hand, farmers have an excellent option to dispose of their plastics, avoid paying high fees to move such waste to landfills and keep illegal burning under control. On the other hand, they can make more connections with organizations, agencies, companies and other farmers interested in making better use of these waste material, which would otherwise go to landfills in a disorganized way, being burned in large campfires or left in the fields generating environmental pollution.
Another initiative that is an example of recycled agricultural plastics can be found in Australia, where scientists from James Cook University partnered with the company Fibercon to build rails for trains, but differently. The project contemplated making these rails with reinforced concrete made from recycled plastic, instead of using conventional steel mesh.
The project, promoted in 2017, proved to be less expensive than using steel or other metals, and its construction was done in a shorter time thanks to the high flexibility of the recycled material. The result promises to be much more sustainable compared to the usual method, where the physical properties of the metal pose an increased risk of oxidation that may end up compromising the integrity of the final result. In other words, the rails could crack or suffer damages in a shorter period than if they are built using recycled agricultural plastics, which certainly last longer.
There are other construction companies that are currently encouraging the test of such initiatives of incorporating recycled plastics to traditional composite products. Why?
- it can be a more durable product,
- you can save time while the construction process is taking place, and
- you save a higher percentage of capital since it’s easier to manage and more accessible than if you used the usual metals such as steel or iron.
Why choosing recycled agricultural plastics instead of steel?
Although it would not appear to be the case, recycled agricultural plastics are becoming one of the best allies for construction purposes, not only to create more durable and sustainable structures but also to improve the environmental conditions of the planet, since steel manufacturing has been from the beginning one of the main sources of greenhouse gases worldwide.
For this reason, many experts have seen with good eyes the possibility to replace steel concrete with recovered plastic, not only because it reduces the carbon emissions that end up in our atmosphere, but also because it significantly reduces the indiscriminate use of water, so the use of fossil fuels becomes less necessary.
According to information published in the website TPM Builders, thanks to the initiative promoted by James Cook University and Fibercon, emissions of more than 1000 tons of carbon, and more than 200 tons of fossil fuels have been reduced, plus more than 18 000 m3 of water have been saved. Also, it was found that reused plastic fibres create 90 per cent less carbon than steel production.
Benefits of using recycled agricultural plastics in buildings
Scientists worldwide continue working to find ways to give new uses to recycled agricultural plastic materials to achieve increasingly sustainable and environmentally friendly results.
Today, there’s a trend of ecological construction where you can find roads, concrete, bricks, and houses built from recycled plastics.
Many benefits come from using recycled agricultural plastic in constructions, for example:
- Due to its durability and strength properties, plastic is stronger, lighter, and ideal to keep humidity under control, especially when it comes to polyvinyl chloride. Additionally, it allows producing concrete that’s up to 40% lighter and longer-lasting than what’s usually used in constructions.
- A large percentage of capital can be reduced, as transportation is easier because the material is lighter and workers get less tired, which increases productivity levels, so the work may be finished in a shorter period than what’s originally stipulated.
- Due to its properties, plastic is more resistant to the action of chemicals or solvents, and even fire, because it consumes less heat than metal. Besides, plastics with thermoplastic characteristics are more flexible and malleable.
- They are ideal to prevent energy leakage and can isolate electricity, heat, cold, and even outside noise.
- Plastic is more economical compared to conventional cement mixtures, as it reduces water absorption by at least 30% when concrete is added.
- Roads made from plastic materials are more resistant to the impact of high temperatures and heavy transport.
Certainly, the use of recycled agricultural plastics has come to give a new twist to old building methodologies, highlighting the importance of betting on materials that were previously only seen as waste on a farm or container.
- Plastic waste can be stored in building structures, so the number of landfills decreases.
- Air quality improves considerably and becomes cleaner by avoiding the incineration of plastic.
- Wildlife is safer and preserved because waterways and habitats are protected from excess plastic waste.
- There are fewer carbon emissions and fossil fuels are no longer as necessary when plastic replaces metal, and water is preserved and treated in a friendlier way.
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